Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1. About 10 years ago at the Royal Welsh Show I was manning a small plot of arable weeds in barley, planted by the charity Plantlife to publicise their conservation when I noticed an elderly famer inspecting the crop.  I struck up a conversation and shared views and opinions about arable weeds, etc., for some time before he made to leave.  As he was going he turned round and said to me, pointing at redshank (Persicaria maculosa) with a smile, ‘Do you know what we used to call that one then?’  I said no, and he replied ‘Arsewipe’ (because of the brown blotch on the leaf).  Unfortunately I was laughing so much I forgot to ask where he came from, so the record in unlocalised, but he had a borders accent [Llanbadarn, Ceredigion, January 2017].

2. I was talking with a lady from Canada in Alton and she told me that redshank is called lady’s thumb there [Alton, Hampshire, January 2015].

0433.  Polygonum persicaria [syn. Persicaria maculosa]. My aunt [Miss Jessie M. Evans (1880-1967) who lived most of her life farming in the parish of Chirbury in S.W. Shropshire] knew this plant as the Virgin Mary’s thumb-mark, and a relative living in the Shropshire parish of Pontesbury near to used the same name [Bristol, January 1999].

4. Talking to a man from Norfolk, I told him that common persicaria also had the name Calvary plant (which I’d read in a book). He told me that in East Anglia they’d known it as devil’s arse-wipe [London, N1, February 1997].

5.  I was an examiner for the Naturalist Badge for Guides and Scouts in the 1930s, in those days there were so many more wild flowers than now, and having rhymes and stories attached to plants made them easier to remember …  The spotted persicaria [red shank] – when we found this we used to sing ‘She couldn’t find it in time of need, And so she pinched it for a weed’.  Believing it to be one of the plants the Virgin Mary needed to make an ointment, and couldn’t find, was cross about it, so gave it a pinch when she did – hence the dark red spot [Chard Junction, Somerset, May 1985].

Images:  main, Standen Avenue, Hornchurch, London Borough of Havering, July 2014; inset, Templecombe, Somerset, August 2015.