Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

BOOK REVIEWS: Roy Vickery, Garlands, Conkers & Motherdie: British & Irish Plant-lore

1. Bookbag (online review at, by Sharon Hall:
‘The book is organised by theme … organising it this way means that information about the same plant may be scattered through the book, but the material is so interesting you won’t mind … There is a wealth of fascinating material in the book and it lends itself well to being read through or dipped into, whether you are interested in plants, folklore or social history. The index is excellent and there is a long list of references for the reader to follow up.’

2. Church Times, 26 November 2010 (online at, by Ronald Blythe:
‘The plants of these islands were, on the whole, powerfully misunderstood. Pagan and Christian mythology overwhelmed botany. Time itself, the calendar, with its saints and sowings, the seven ages of man, and seasonal weather, etc., gave many species a richly unscientific ‘biography’ – Vickery’s task was to return this to view. He does so handsomely … Their story, their cult, has no end. But here is a wonderfully readable part of it, that helps us comprehend the mind of the nation. Politics, wars, manufactories, art, literature, etc., will claim to this, but so will what is native to our soil – and with greater right.’

3. Irish Times, 4 December 2010 (on line at brief mention:
‘Vickery’s book is filled with historical facts and folklore about plants that predict events, that cast spells, that have tales to tell.’

4. Sunday Times, Culture section, 19 December 2010, by James McConnachie:
‘This earthy compendium of plant customs, superstitions, games and remedies, gathered over 30 years by the botanist and green activist Roy Vickery … Vickery doesn’t always specify when these superstitions flourished, but it’s clear that where real, modern remedies are lacking, many practices survive … Today, women approaching their due dates are often told to drink “mother’s friend” or raspberry-leaf tea, to bring on labour … but it’s frustrating that Vickery doesn’t chase down modern medical research into such treatments … Nobody regrets the loss of birth control by juniper sprig, but it would be a miserable shame if all that we bequeathed to our children from this savoury store of wisdom was Christmas trees and conkers.’

5. Folk Life, 49: 169-70, review by Anne Barker:
‘The first two chapters, relating to farming and harvesting, are particularly good … Less successful is the rather disappointingly short chapter ‘Healing Hedgerows’, where his tone is patronizing … No table of common names and scientific equivalents is provided, although the index does include both scientific and common names …’

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