Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Malara tea

A correspondent writes:
‘I am now in my 80s but I remember a plant which grew in marshy spots – in the edge of a river, difficult to reach – when I was a child.
It was considered to be unlucky to bring it into the house. I never knew its correct name but the local one used by children was MALARA TEA. How it came by that name I never knew.
Some of my friends are keen on flowers and have searched plant books, but have never come up with anything remotely like what I remember.
It is very delicate – fluffy pink/white blossom on very thin dark red stems and with a gorgeous perfume.
My childhood was spent in Caithness in the far North and this flower grew in the upper reaches of the Wick river, near what is known as Fairies’ Hill.
I hope someone can give me its correct name.’

Responses
1. From Ken Butler, Botanical Society of the British Isles recorder for Caithness, 25 January 2012:
My only contact with this name was on a botanical outing with the late Jimmy Gunn of Reay in Caithness. He pointed out Filipendula ulmaria [meadowsweet] and said it was known locally as Mallary Tea. He did not offer an origin for the name or a medicinal role for the tea. I have never come across any other reference to it.
2. Tess Darwin in her Scots Herbal, 1996: 73 & 74, lists moleery-tea as a Caithness name for both yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and sneezewort (A. ptarmica) [RV, October 2013].

Image: meadowsweet; O.W. Thome, Flora von Deutschland, Osterreich und der Schweiz, 1885.

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