Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Primroses and poultry

According to a report in Notes & Queries, 1 ser., 7: 201 (1853):

‘In East Norfolk some old women are still found who believe that if a less number of primroses than thirteen be brought into a house on the first occasion of bringing in, so many eggs only will each hen or goose hatch that season.  When recently admitted into deacon’s orders my gravity was sorely tried by being called to settle a quarrel between two old women, arising from one of them having given one primrose to her neighbour’s child for the purpose of making her hens hatch but one chicken out of each set of eggs.  And it was seriously maintained that the charm had been successful.’

Variatons of this belief persisted well into the twentieth century with records being received from Thorncombe, Dorset, in 1983, and Cappamore, Co. Limerick, in 1984.  According to the latter informant:  ‘I have always heard that it was unlucky to take primroses indoors before April, particularly if one had fowl hatching!’

In his Pattern Under the Plough, 1971: 68 George Ewart Evans commented that 13 is the usual number of eggs to be placed under a broody hen:

‘Each yellow flower was … the analogue of a young chick which would eventually emerge from the egg.  If one grants that like produces like – an unquestioned assumption of the primitive mind either in Britain or in Borneo – it is folly then to bring in fewer primroses than you hope to have healthy young chicks.’

006Although the 1853 report mentions geese as well as hens, it seems that good luck with the hatching of goslings was more often associated with the male catkins of goat, or pussy, willow (Salix caprea) than  with primroses.  In her Shropshire Folk-lore, 1883: 250, Charlotte Burne noted:

‘The strongest condemnation of all lights on willow catkins.  The soft round yellowish blossoms are considered to resemble young goslings, and are accordingly called in various localities “goosy goslins”, “gis an’ gullies” or “geese and gullies”.  Whatever the name, however, the ban on the blossom is the same.  No vegetable goslings may be brought into the house, for if they be, no feathered goslings will be hatched.’

023Elsewhere there was a similar belief concerning lambs and the male catkins of hazel (Corylus avellana).  According to W.H. Howse in his book Radnorshire, 1949: 207:

‘It is …  thought unlucky to take the catkins of hazel (“lamb’s tails”) into the house, farmers holding that it will cause a bad lambing season.’

Images: main, primrose, Eynsford, Kent, March 2016; upper inset, male flowers of goat willow, Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, March 2016; lower inset, male flowers of hazel, Misterton, Somerset, February 2016.