Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Appeal: Lichen-lore

Posted on by royvickery |

Jordan Hoffman is trying to assemble information on the folklore of lichens, if anyone knows of any appropriate sources please could they send them to, so that they can be forwarded to Jordan.

Image:  Christmas card prepared by William Purvis, then of the Lichen Section at the Natural History Museum, London, 2006.

Lichen-lore – a preliminary bibliography

Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. 2004, Lichens, in Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland, Portland, Oregon: Timber Press: 41-43 [medicinal uses].

Kenicer, G.J., 2018. Lichens, in Scottish Plant Lore, Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden: 128-9 [medicinal uses, and use in dyeing].

Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S., 2004. Flora Celtica, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. [used for dyeing (pp.177-80, etc.), and medicinal uses (p.220) in Scotland].

Power, R., 2022. Feeding the ravens:  clothing food, women’s work and the recollection of change in northern Iceland, 1976-82, Folk Life 60: 41-65 [Cetraria islandica, used as food for humans and horses; draws attention to information on ‘the widespread use of this lichen’ in H, Gísladóttir, Substitutes for corn in Iceland, in P. Lysaght (ed.), 2000, Food from Nature: Attitudes, strategies and Culinary Practices. Proceedings of the Twelfth Commission for Ethnological Food Research, Umeå and Frostviken, Sweden, 8-14 June 1998: 149-54].

Simpson, J., 1972. Icelandic Folktales & Legends, London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.: 60-3 [yellow lichens growing on rocks result from the splattered brains of an old couple who quarrel with a elf, and white lichens result from porridge which the couple were carrying to present to the Virgin Mary].

Vickery, A.R., 1978. The use of lichens in well-dressing, The Lichenologist 7: 178-9.*

Vickery, [A.] R., 1995. A Dictionary of Plant-lore, Oxford: Oxford University Press: 219 [use in dyeing].

Wise, J.R., 1880. The New Forest: Its History & Scenery, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., p.176 [‘One of the commonest remedies for consumption in the Forest is the “lungs of oak”, a lichen (Sticta [now Lobaria] pulmonaria) which grows plentifully on the oak [Quercus sp.] trees, and it is no unfrequent occurrence for a poor person to ask at a chemist’s shop for a “pennyworth of lungs of oak”.  So too for weak eyes, “brighten”, another lichen is recommended’].

Wyse Jackson, P., 2014. Lichens, in Ireland’s generous Nature, St Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press: 669-671 [medicinal uses (mainly taken from Allen & Hatfield, 2004), and use in dyeing].

*Between 25 and 27 August 2023 three well-dressings, a total of five wells – one in Chesterfield, three in Eyam, and one in Taddington – were visited, but as far as could be seen none of the dressings utilized lichens.

Middle image, well-dressing at Wormhill, Peak District, Derbyshire, August 1973; lower image, Lobaria pulmonaria, La Granja de San Ildefonso, Castile & Léon, Spain, March 2016.

Other lichen-lore

It depends on how you define ‘the folklore of lichens’, but this floral tribute, one of thousands in Green Park, London, as tributes the Queen Elizabeth II, and composed mainly of reindeer lichen, Cladonia rangifera, may be of some interest.  Photographed 21 September 2022.

Edited 20 March 2024.


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