Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


2014-03-31 11.51.061. [Early 1950s]  In Lichfield some local families would cut swedes.  They would hollow them out and cut out a face and put a candle in it.  My friend thinks they may have been made for bonfire night, and also used for Hallowe’en [Lichfield, Staffordshire, January 2015].

2.   I’m from Liverpool. Throughout my childhood swedes were always known as turnips. I never heard the word swede until supermarkets arrived. We used to make Hallowe’en lanterns with these large turnips as children. We would hollow out the hard flesh with a knife and cut slits to make a face. Then we would put candle stumps or nightlights inside and replace the top. This is an Irish custom and may have arrived here with Irish immigrants. It was commonly done in England in the 1950s and 60s [Childwall, Liverpool, April 2013].

3. [Ireland, about 4 miles from Newry, Armagh] Hallowe’en was a big event for children in my childhood (1950s).
Naturally we didn’t have Guy Fawkes Night, so it all happened on Hallowe’en – bonfires, trick or treat (though I think we called that something different, can’t quite recall), etc. We made our lanterns from large swedes, not pumpkins and the story is that it was Irish people emigrating to America who took the custom over there. Finding that pumpkins were bigger and better they were used for lanterns instead – and finally the custom came back to England from America – or so I heard! [Bristol, November 2010].

4. Every Hallowe’en at school we had to bring in a swede and a carve a lantern out of it – difficult enough, more so as the knives were blunt.  We then had to put a stub of candle inside and put the lid back on.  Nothing like the smell of scorching swede to put you off eating it for life!
I went to primary school in Bricket Wood and later Hemel Hempstead in the 1960s.  I remember that other classes made swede lanterns and my friends from other schools also had them, so it wasn’t limited to ours [Loughborough, Leicestershire, August 2009].

5. For kidney stones – drink water from boiled swedes [Llanuwchylln, Gwynedd, April 1991].

Images: Balham Market, London Borough of Wandsworth, March 2015; inset, sheep feeding on swedes, New Polzeath, Cornwall; March 2014.