Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Where missus is master …

The culinary herb parsley, Petroselinum crispum, has a reputation of being slow to germinate, hence it has gathered a number of folk beliefs concerning its cultivation. One such belief is that parsley grows best where ‘the wife wears the trousers'[1]; ‘where missus is master, the parsley grows faster’. Alternatively parsley grew best when sown by the dominant partner in a marriage [2], or when it is sown by a rogue [3] or a witch [4].

Another widespread belief was that parsley seed should be sown on Good Friday [5].  In May 1991 a correspondent from Hamworthy, Dorset, wrote: ‘We had to parsley seed on Good Friday because it had to go three times to the Devil before it germinated’.  This belief was widespread, but the number of visits made to the Devil varied in different parts of the country, apparently without any connection with local climate or geology.  In Devon ‘parsley goes three times to the Devil before it comes up’ [6].  In south Wales, it was said to go ‘six times to the Devil’ before germinating [7].  In Sussex, ‘its roots go seven times to Hell and back before it will sprout’ [8].  Similarly, in Walton-le-Dale, Yorkshire, the seed went seven times to the Devil before it came up [9], while in the North Riding of Yorkshire [10] and Herefordshire [11] parsley seed was said to go nine times to the Devil.

1.  Parkstone, Dorset June 1991; similar beliefs recorded from Wimbledon, London, November 1983, and Barry, South Glamorgan (Daily Mirror, 7 June 1989).

2.  Purley, Surrey, January 1978; Reading, Berkshire, February 1987, and Whitwick, Leicestershire (Hornchurch, Essex, August 1992).

3. letter from London, NW1, in the Daily Mirror, 26 May 1962.

4. Witham Abbey, Essex, March 1991.

5.  Devon (P.F.S. Amery, Twenty-second report of the Committee on Devonshire, folk-lore, Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. 37:  114, 1905), the ‘north country’ (letter from Orpington, Kent, in the Daily Mirror, 26 May 1962), and Sussex (J. Simpson, The Folklore of Sussex, 1973: 113).

6.  P.R. Chope, Thirty-second report on Devonshire folk-lore, Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. 64: 155, 1932.

7.  Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan, October 2000.

8.  Simpson, op.cit.

9. Notes & Queries, 4 ser., 6: 211, 1870.

10. Notes & Queries, 6 ser., 11: 467: 1885.

11.  E.M. Leather, The Folk-lore of Herefordshire, 1912: 21.

Image:  parsley seedlings; Wiki Commons.