Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Witches’ brooms

Witches’ brooms, the dense clusters of twigs formed by the fungus Taphrina betulina and other organisms on birch (Betula pendula) trees, appear to have attracted little folklore.  Plant-lore Archive has received no information on them during the 40 or so years in which it has been collecting material.

It is also noteworthy that Anna Newington, in her book Birch published by Reaktion Books in 2018, which ‘explores the multiple uses … as well as the ancient folklore’ of the tree, mentions that witches’ brooms are formed ‘owing to infection by infection by ascomycete fungi’, but includes nothing else about them.

Therefore we are grateful to receive the following from Ash Mills:

‘In northern Britain and Scandinavia folklore these witches’ brooms were hung up above the bed to ward off nightmares or prevent the sleeper being hag-ridden (sleep-paralysis).

In a post on the Facebook group ‘Scottish Cunning Ways’  a woman  Jo Ælwine reported that she has had hers for some 50 year and has never suffered since from sleep-paralysis.

In Finnish it’s called markvast (mare, witches’ broom), mare referring to the night-mare in folklore.’

Further information would be much appreciated.

Comment:  In Dutch also known as witches’ broom, heksenbezem [Isabela Pombo Geertsma].

Images:  Wimbledon Common, London Borough of Merton, December 2020.