Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, a common, widespread and conspicuous plant in wet habitats, seems to have attracted little folklore.  The Local Names page on this website lists about 18 such names, ranging alphabetically from brian-braw in Co. Donegal to willow-strife in Somerset.

James Britten and Robert Holland in their Dictionary of English Plant-names, 1878-86,  list red sally as a name from Southport, Lancashire, where, they state, ‘it is much gathered for medicinal purposes’, but fail to record what these purposes were.  According to David Allen and Gabrielle Hatfield, in their Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, 2004, in the medicinal use of purple loosestrife in the British Isles was restricted to Ireland: ‘the Gaelic name in general use for it in the west and south-west of Ireland translates as ‘wound herb’.  However, they were unable to find any evidence of it being used in recent centuries, though there are ‘generalised statements in the literature’ of it being used by Irish peasants to treat diarrhoea, and Caleb Threlked in his Synopsis Stirpium Hibernicarum, 1726, recorded that by using a preparation of the plant he cured a patient of severe dysentery.

Iamge:  Salisbury, Wiltshire, July 2020.