Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


2014-05-23 14.59.381.  [Cornwall, 1960s]  My grandfather always used to say that something was ‘as thick as haglets’.  This meant that there were lots of them, like there were lots of people – the crowd was as thick as haglets.  Haglets was the Cornish name for the red hawthorn berries [e-mail, September 2015].

2.  Hawthorn trees were, and still are, known as fairy trees.  They were thought to have magical properties and were often left uncut, even if hedges were being removed or other farm ‘improvement’ practices were being carried out [National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Dublin, August 2014].

3. From from my Mum and Nan. My Mum was born in Hednesford, Staffs, and my Nan was born in Colton, near Rugeley, Staffs. My Nan was a keen gardener, so I suppose she influenced me in these things and I would have picked them up when I was little.
Mum would never let us bring lilac or may (hawthorn) into the house, apparently they are unlucky!
Hawthorn berries were known as hickies [e-mail, April 2012].

4. A good crop of haws in the autumn means a hard winter [Whitstable, Kent, January 2012].

5. In Hatfield, Hertfordshire, on the bus a few weeks ago I was listening in on a conversation between two men in their 70s. One who had heart problems explained to his friend he needed heart surgery. He collected hawthorn berries [and] made a juice. When he went back to his consultant his health had improved and he didn’t need surgery [Stevenage, Hertfordshire, October 2011].

6. I remember as a child that one of the older ladies in the village would not come into the hall as we had decorated it with hawthorn flowers and she was convinced that it would bring her bad luck! That was in Studland in Dorset in the 1960s [Redhill, Bristol, July 2011],

7. We used to eat young hawthorn leaves, we called them bread-and-cheese. That was in south Wales [Natural History Museum, London, March 2011].

8. I had a friend from Sandbach [Cheshire] who always collected hawthorn leaves to put in her dumplings on Sundays [Orpington, Kent, March 2011].

9. I was always told it was unlucky to bring may (hawthorn) into the house. Never told what the bad luck would be. That was Yorkshire, but London parents [Streatham, London, December 2010].

10. When I was a child we knew young hawthorn leaves as poor man’s bread and butter. I think I might have got this from my mother who was from Derbyshire [St John’s Wood, London, June 2009].

11. My mother, who’s Irish, told me that unbaptised children were buried under isolated thorn trees [London, SE1, June 2009].

12. The old saying ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ was always referring to the May flower. So many people in the countryside now have no country roots – they moved out from the towns and they say it must mean the month of May, but it was always the flower which we watched and believed you could start to shed your winter woollies as soon as you spotted some May blossom locally [Muchelney, Somerset, January 2007].

2014-09-08 15.39.4713. It was unlucky to take in may – the flower of hawthorn [Cowes, Isle of Wight, January 2007].

14. In Ireland, Donegal, where my husband comes from, they had to divert a road because they couldn’t cut down a hawthorn tree. I didn’t believe it, but I’ve seen it [Stirling, April 2005].

15. I remember as a child being forbidden to take hawthorn (or may as we called it) into the house as it would bring bad luck. Also we’d eat the hawthorn leaves and call them bread-and-cheese [Kingston, Kent, January 2004].

16. We weren’t allowed to leave off our liberty-bodices until the may was out – that’s the flower, not the month [Holland Park, London, June 2001].

17. According to my mother. who was from the superstitious North, hawthorn should never be brought indoors as it was unlucky having provided the material fo Christ’s crown of thorns [East Sheen, London, February 1998].

18. In Ireland hawthorn trees are associated with fairies. I personally know a case where they had to divert a new sewer they were putting in, because there was a hawthorn in the way [Tooting Common, London, March 1999].

19. Hawthorn must not be brought into the house, however beautiful the blossom – I never have done, or would – You’d bring the witches in? I don’t know, but just don’t do it! [New Malden, Surrey, January 1998].

Images:  main, Arundel, West Sussex May 2016; upper inset, Helm Crag, Grasmere, Cumbria, May 2014; lower inset, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, September 2014.