Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Mother-die – 2

The name mother-die has been discussed elsewhere on this website, and more extensively in an article ‘Mother-die: Plant names and folk beliefs’, in Folklore 130: 89-96 (2019).  In the latter it is stated ‘there is little evidence that cow parsley [Anthriscus sylvestris] was known as mother-die before the 1930s’.

Recently a 1901 record of cow parsley being known as mother-die has come to light.  In The Naturalist 535: 229 (1901), a note ‘Plant names: Howsham, near Brigg’, William Booth reports:

‘On the 25th of April a child brought to the day school at Howsham an early flower of Anthriscus sylvestris Hoffm.  On inquiry I found that the children themselves knew this species by the local names, Humlock, Hemlock, Rabbit-meat, and Mother-die’.  This latter was from a girl …  “What a strange name!” I said, “however does it happen to have such a name?”  This elicited a reply to the effect that if girls take the flower into the house, and their mother smells it, she will die.  Asked if they meant she would die suddenly or within any certain time, they said they did not know.’

This received the response from W.E.L. Wattam, in The Naturalist 536: 268 (1901), ‘Plant names near Huddersfield: “Mother-die”, etc.’:

‘I well remember in my younger days, when with other children gathering wild flowers, none of us would pluck the blossoms of Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) to which we applied the name of Mother Die, our belief being that if the flower was taken into our homes our mother would die.  The superstition still lingers  …  I have never heard the name of Mother Die applied to Anthriscus sylvestris.’

Images:  main, cow parsley, Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, February 2021; inset Old Redding, London Borough of Harrow, May 2023.

Revised 13 May 2023.