Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hertfordshire plant-lore

Note received from Margaret Emery, aged 68, of Hemel Hempstead, ‘Hertfordshire born and bred’, August 2004:

Mother-in-law, also local, and I always argued about bird’s-foot trefoil [Lotus corniculatus]; I called it eggs-and-bacon, she Tom Thumb.

When I was attending Little Gaddesden Village School it was always the custom to carry a piece of oak [Quercus sp.] to school to prevent one being caught and stung with nettles [Urtica dioica] on Oak Apple Day [29 May].  When going on to secondary education in the town I never heard of it again …  Of course it was mostly boys who carried the nettles.

My father always quoted ‘First of May bean [?runner bean, Phaseolus coccineus] setting day’,

My father would never transplant parsley [Petroselinum crispum], he said it meant death in the family.

We were never allowed to take blackthorn [Prunus spinosa] into the house (crown of thorns).  Hawthorn [Crataegus monogyna] was okay.

Also quoted at home … ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May is out’, and ‘Oak before ash [Fraxinus excelsior] sure to be a plash, Ash before oak sure to be a soak’.  And also if it rained on St Swithin’s Day [15 July] so it’s going to rain for so many days.  I think father said it set the apples [Malus pumila].

Mother-in-law always referred to the early purple orchid [Orchis mascula] as the cuckoo-flower.  I don’t think she knew what it was really.  We always called the cuckoo pint [Arum maculatum] lords-and-ladies.

We made daisy [Bellis perennis] chains as children, and used buttercups [Ranunculus spp.] under the chin to see if we liked butter.

Dock [Rumex spp.] leaves well known to sooth nettle stings.

My husband, also local, always calls the red gall [caused by Diplolepis rosae] on the wild rose [Rosa canina] Ragged Robin.

Rowan [Sorbus aucuparia] well known for keeping witches at bay.

We lived two miles from the nearest village so always picked wild strawberries [Fragaria vesca] raspberries [Rubus idaeus] and blackberries [Rubus fruticosus] for puddings in the summer.  I was taught how to find pignuts [Conopodium majus] and we always picked sweet chestnuts [Castanea sativa] and hazel [Corylus avellana] if the squirrels left any.

I presume it goes back in time as a superstition to do with nature, my mother would never wear green.

Images:  main, bird’s-foot trefoil, St Nicholas’s churchyard, Tooting, London Borough of Wandsworth; inset, meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Wildlife Garden, The Natural History Museum, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, both May 2019.