Friday, 22 August 2014

Coastal Walk to Corbiere - Gorse Dodder

Gorse Dodder

Gorse Dodder (Cuscata epithymum)

A tangled mass of slender, reddy-coloured threads draped over gorse or heathers; tiny, pale-pink, densely clustered bell-shaped flowers. An annual, parasitic plant, that entwines itself, always anti-clockwise, around the host plant.

Latin Name

In Latin, Cuscuta means Dodder. However, Cuscuta is thought by some to have Arabic origins in the word “Kushkut.” The specific epithet suggests the plant that this dodder was found growing on: Thyme. The Greek prefix “epi“ means upon or over, and “thymum” is Latin for thyme

Other Names

It is also known as Adder’s cotton, Beggarweed, Bride’s laces, Clover devil, Clover dodder, Common dodder, Cuscute du thym (French), Devil’s guts, Devil’s net, Devil’s thread, Dodder of thyme, Epiphany, Fairy hair, Klein Dodder (Afrikaans), Hairweed, Hairy bind, Hellbind, Hellweed, Herbe d'emeute (Channel Islander-Guernsey), Kokotice povázka (Czech), Kuskuto timiana (Esperanto), Lady’s laces, Lesser dodder, Llindag Lleiaf(Welsh), Maiden’s hair, Mulberry, Red tangle, Scald, Scaldweed, Strangle-tare, Strangleweed, and Touothelle (Channel Islander-Jersey Norman-French); and in flower language is said to be a symbol of baseness, and meanness.

Certainly the common names like Bride’s or Lady’s laces are descriptive of the thread-like stems, and Strangle-tare well explains how dodder throttles to death any plants it winds through.


One of the common plants on the property is gorse. Everyone will be familiar with the thorny evergreen gorse shrub with its bright yellow flowers. Gorse begins to flower in late autumn and then flowers through winter. It flowers most strongly in spring. It has a strong scent that smells just like coconut.

But you may see something rather odd—gorse bushes sometimes completely covered with a strange, tangled, mass of red threads. This is gorse dodder.

Gorse dodder is a parasitic annual plant. In spring it starts to grow and twines round any nearby plant. Once it has found a plant to scramble over, the lower stem withers and from then on the dodder is entirely dependent on its host for food. The dodder suckers penetrate the stem of the host and food is “sucked” out of the host.

Dodder grows very quickly and it does not take long for a large gorse bush to be totally covered.

It is a small parasitic plant which contains no chlorophyll, therefore has no green colouration.


Plant parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship in which plants obtain nutrients directly from another plant. Although parasitic plants are commonly known to lack chlorophyll, some species have green organs.

Dodder is a unique plant because it is a true obligate parasite. That is, dodder’s host receives no benefit whatsoever from dodder and dodder must have its host to survive. Dodder does not have any leaves nor any chlorophyll to produce its own food. It lives by attaching to a host with small appendages (called “haustoria”) and extracting the host plant’s carbohydrates.


Cuscuta epithymum is capable of both cross-pollination and self- pollination. Many different species of insects may contribute to pollination. One study indicated that ants were some of the main pollinators, while another observed visits to the flowers by species of bees, wasps, flies and other insects, collectively from 8 families of insects.

History and Folklore

In medieval times, the health benefits of dodders were believed to be determined by their respective hosts. C. epithymum occurred frequently on thyme. Thus, because thyme was considered – figuratively, not literally – a hot, dry plant, it was believed that C. epithymum was therapeutic because of its warm characteristics. It was also believed that when ground up and mixed with dog blood or other plants, Cuscuta epithymum would help keep an individual safe from evil spirits

Medicinally it was used by herbalists to treat melancholia, fainting, heart complaints, jaundice and kidney ailments

Cuscuta earned the common name “love vine” because of a Native American Pawnee belief. A girl would pluck part of a vine and throw it behind her while thinking of a certain someone. If, on the next day, the parasitic vine had reattached itself, it was a sign that the certain someone would be a good suitor.

Cuscuta epithymum is known in Jersey as “fairies' hair.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Railway Walk - Field Horsetail

Field Horsetail

Field Horsetail

Equisetum arvense, the field horsetail, common horsetail or Mare’s tail is a herbaceous perennial plant, native throughout the arctic and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

The Latin root equis and common name horsetail refer to this primitive plant's thin, branchlike leaves, which resemble the coarse hair of a horse's tail. Its other common name, scouring rush, derives from the tough plant's use as a natural scouring pad for pots and pans.

The fertile stems are produced in early spring and are non-photosynthetic, while the green sterile stems start to grow after the fertile stems have wilted, and persist through the summer until the first autumn frosts. It dies back completely in winter.

For the gardener, it is is an invasive, deep-rooted perennial weed that will spread quickly to form a dense carpet of foliage, crowding out less vigorous plants in beds and borders. Roots extend to 2m deep.

Though mostly inhabitants of watery places, flourishing where they can lodge their perennial roots in water or string clay which holds the wet, the Equisetums will grow in a garden near water, under a wall, or in the shade and will spread rapidly.

The Horsetails belong to a class of plants, the Equisetaceae, that has no direct affinity with any other group of British plants. They are nearest allied to the Ferns. Like ferns, field horsetail does not produce flowers or seeds.

The class includes only a single genus, Equisetum, the name derived from the Latin words equus (a horse) and seta (a bristle), from the peculiar bristly appearance of the jointed stems of the plants, which have also earned them their popular names of Horsetail, Bottle-brush and Paddock-pipes.

Other common names are pewter brush, scouring rush, pewterwort, shave grass, bottle-brush, paddock pipes and Dutch rushes. These names refer to the many historical uses of this plant. Because of its abrasive silica content, horsetail was used for polishing a wide variety of materials. In Europe it was used on objects made of pewter. European comb makers polished their wares and dairy maids scrubbed their milk pails with horsetail. It was also used for polishing wood in both Europe and North America.

It is so rough and brittle that it once was used to clean and polish metal instruments and utensils. Its old German name was "tin weed."

Ancient History

Horsetail is a member of the Equisetaceae family; the sole survivor of a line of plants going back three hundred million years. Horsetail is descended from huge, tree like plants that thrived 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic era. These ancient plants that grew as tall as trees during the carboniferous period of prehistoric times and members of this family gave rise to many of our coal deposits.


In the first century AD, Galen described it as cooling and drying to the body. Culpeper, in the 17th century, described it as a hardening medicine, meaning it reduced inflammation and excess moisture in the body.

Since being recommended by the Roman physician Galen, several cultures have employed horsetail as a folk remedy for kidney and bladder troubles, arthritis, bleeding ulcers, and tuberculosis. The Chinese use it to cool fevers and as a remedy for eye inflammations such as conjunctivitis and corneal disorders, dysentery, flu, swellings and hemorrhoids.

Horsetail is an astringent herb and has a diuretic action. It has an affinity for the urinary tract where it can be used to sooth inflammation, haemorrhaging, cystic ulceration, ulcers, cystitis and to treat infections. It is considered a specific remedy in cases of inflammation or benign enlargement of the prostate gland and is also used to quicken the removal of kidney stones.

Horsetail remedies prepared from Equisetum arvense are generally considered safe when used properly. Another species of horsetail, however, called Equisetum palustre is poisonous to horses. To be safe, never take that form of horsetail. Be sure to buy products made by an established company with a good reputation. When possible, select products with guaranteed potency or standardized extracts.

Horsetail must be properly dosed (no more that 2-4g per half litre). Overdoses can be irritating and deplete vitamin B.


Field horsetail is reported as very toxic to livestock. Animals poisoned by this plant are said to have "equisetosis", a phenomenon documented on several continents and throughout the world. In monogastric animals such as horses, consumption of field horsetail can cause vitamin B1 deficiency. This species also contains high levels of toxic alkaloids. Sheep and cattle are more likely to be poisoned by fresh plants, while horses are more susceptible to poisoning from contaminated hay. General symptoms of poisoning include weakness, lack of coordination, and difficulty breathing.


In the days when blacksmiths were closely allied with alchemists and knew some of their secrets, Horsetail was valued for giving magical strength to weapons and armour

Strange but True

Field horsetail may accumulate more gold than any other plant. Up to 4 1/2 ounces of gold per ton of fresh plant material has been recovered. Mining engineers consider field horsetail an indicator species of gold, but not a viable commercial source.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Railway Walk - Ragwort



Jacobaea vulgaris, also known as Senecio jacobaea is a very common wild flower in the family Asteraceae that is native to northern Eurasia, usually in dry, open places, and has also been widely distributed as a weed elsewhere.

Common names include ragwort, benweed, tansy ragwort, St. James-wort, ragweed, Stinking Nanny/Ninny/Willy, staggerwort, Dog Standard, cankerwort, stammerwort, mare's fart and cushag.

Ragwort is not usually a significant problem in gardens, but its poisonous qualities can make it a serious weed of paddocks and gardens backing onto fields grazed by horses or cattle.

Common Names

Ragworth has a number of other names including "Stinking Willy" and "Mare's Fart". These arise from the fact that this plant foliage has an unpleasant smell.

The poet John Clare had a more positive opinion of the plant, as revealed in this poem of 1831:

Ragwort thou humble flower with tattered leaves
I love to see thee come & litter gold...
Thy waste of shining blossoms richly shields
The sun tanned sward in splendid hues that burn
So bright & glaring that the very light
Of the rich sunshine doth to paleness turn
& seems but very shadows in thy sight.

On the Isle of Man, the Ragwort, known locally as Cushag, is the national flower, despite the fact, that like here, farmers are obliged to clear it from their land.


Ragwort is a tall erect plant to 90cm (3ft) bearing large flat-topped clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers from July to October. It has finely divided leaves with a basal rosette of deeply-cut, toothed leaves.

The plant is usually a biennial (living only two years and flowering in its second year) but damage to the base of the plant can make the plant behave like a perennial (living indefinitely), as new rosettes are formed.

Poisonous to Horse and Cattle

Ragwort is rarely a problem in gardens but may occur in pony paddocks, railway embankments and areas of unimproved pasture. Cattle and horses are particularly susceptible to poisoning. Cutting, wilting and the treatment with herbicides make ragwort more palatable to livestock and poisoning mainly arises from eating contaminated hay.

Only in exceptional circumstances or when there is a food shortage, horses will eat fresh Ragwort. Horses, however, don't recognize dried Ragwort plants as poisonous and contaminated hay may cause Ragwort poisoning. Incidentally ingesting small amounts of Ragwort will not result in illness. If, however, horses eat several kilograms of Ragwort a day or small amounts for extended periods, this may lead to irreparable liver damage.

In reality, the dead plant, unseen in a bale of hay, is far more harmful than all the living plants seen along roadsides and in fields.

Beneficial Qualities

Although Ragworts can be a significant nuisance to horse keepers, these species are a very important source of nectar and pollen.

At least 77 invertebrate species have been recorded eating Ragwort leaves, or living in the stems and flowers. About 52 of these are known to regularly feed on Ragwort and, more importantly, 30 species are entirely dependant on Ragwort, the Cinnabar moth for example, a beautiful macro moth. About a third of these 30 species are scarce or rare.

Ragwort is also an important nectar source for over one hundred species (117, says English Nature) of butterflies (Small copper is just one), bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to maintain insect populations generally in the UK countryside.

The efficiency of wind dispersal

Scientific research into the efficiency of wind dispersal of ragwort seeds shows that most seeds land close to the mother plant. Only 0.5% of all seeds that a plant produces travel more than 25 meters. Although each of the up to 200.000 seeds has a chance to be dispersed far away from the mother plant, only a few seeds get that far in reality. The majority doesn’t get much further than several meters away. It is, however, important to realize that it only takes a single seed to be dispersed over a large distance to enable this species to reach a new area.

Ragwort like all other wildflowers subject to regular surveys by botanists. The recent surveys show its distribution has not changed significantly since the 1960s. The 2007 UK Countryside Survey shows significant declines of ragwort.

Folk Sayings and Folklore

I come from the Isle of Man. My father told me that ragwort was a magical plant; if you pulled it you had to apologise to it, or else the fairies might get you. He wasn’t a Manxman himself, but he might have got it from an old Manxman [Natural History Museum, London, December 1995].

Ta airh er cushagyn ayns shen.
"There is gold on cushags there."

Cushag is the Manx name of the weed, Ragwort, which grows luxuriantly in Man. The expression is an ironical one, and was used when people spoke disparagingly of the Island, and boastingly of other places.

In my native Highlands masses of the common ragwort grows in fields, roadsides, etc. … it is usually referred to in the North as Stinking Willie, partly on account of its unpleasant smell, but more for the fact that it sprang up everywhere that William, Duke of Cumberland, otherwise the Butcher, had been when he perpetrated the massacre after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and Stinking Willie it has remained.
The seeds were supposed to have come from the fodder provided for the Butcher’s horses [Evesham, Worcestershire, January 1982].

Throughout Scotland there was a belief that witches and fairies travelled on ragwort stalks: 'Tell how wi' you on ragweed nags, They skim the moors and dizzy crags [Robert burns, Address to the Deil, verse 9, 1785]

Medical Qualities

Ragwort was formerly much employed medicinally for various purposes. The leaves are used in the country for emollient poultices and yield a good green dye, not, however, permanent. The flowers boiled in water give a fair yellow dye to wool previously impregnated with alum.

The whole plant is bitter and aromatic, of an acrid sharpness, but the juice is cooling and astringent, and of use as a wash in burns, inflammations of the eye, and also in sores and cancerous ulcers - hence one of its old names, Cankerwort.

It is used with success in relieving rheumatism, sciatica and gout, a poultice of the green leaves being applied to painful joints and reducing the inflammation and swelling. It makes a good gargle for ulcerated throat and mouth, and is said to take away the pain caused by the sting of bees. A decoction of the root has been reputed good for inward bruises and wounds. In some parts of the country Ragwort is accredited with the power of preventing infection

En Jèrriais:

d'l'entaillie (also may be heard as entaillée in the East of the Island)
du gros snichon (this name is more common in the East of the Island - snichon on its own refers to groundsel and various spp of Senecio)

In literature, snichon (or s'nichon, variant spelling) turns up in Frank Le Maistre's version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (adapted from FitzGerald's English translation during the Occupation):

Et va douochement à chutte touffe dé S'nichon,
Prend garde dé n'l'êglianmi; Pouor tchi raison?
Sai-tu tch'est tch'a pâssé tout près d'vant té
Ou tchi belle Main li'a touchi? - Tu n'sai pon!

(And this reviving Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River-Lip on which we lean—
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!)


Monday, 21 July 2014

Sand Dunes - Common Centaury

Common Centaury 

Common Centaury

Centaurium is a species of flowering plant in the gentian family known by the common names “common centaury” and “European centaury”.The petite flower is pinkish-lavender and about a centimeter across, flat-faced with yellow anthers. The fruit is a cylindrical capsule.

Common Centaury is a low-growing biennial which is found on sand dunes, heaths, woodland rides, quarries and other dry, grassy areas. It is in bloom between June and September and, like other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

What other names is Centaury known by?

Bitter Herb, Centaura Menor, Centaurea Menor, Centaurium erythraea, Centaurium minus, Centaurium umbellatum, Common Centaury, Drug Centaurium, Erythraea centaurium, Érythrée, Lesser Centauru, Minor Centaury, Petite-Centaurée, Petite Centaurée Commune, Petite Centaurée en Ombelle, Petite Centaurée Rouge.

In some parts of Europe, centaury is affectionately referred to as Stand Up and Go Away because anyone partaking of its bitter taste in a tonic or tea is likely to do exactly that.

The plant’s botanical name also gives rise to several alternate common names. For example, medieval Europeans, who took centum to mean 100 and aurum to mean gold, called the plant Hundred Guilder Herb.

By the 15th century, however, German country folk inflated the name to Thousand Guilder Herb. The significance of this literary interpretation and the perceived value of centaury as a medicinal herb worth a thousand pieces of gold is preserved in the following translated verse penned by the 20th century Austrian novelist and poet Karl Heinrich Waggerl in Heiteres Herbarium: Blumen und Verse (A Volume of Verse, Humorous Herbarium):

Tired of my debts, I will plant some
Thousand Guilded Herb in my garden.
Thereafter I will guard my golden treasure,
Attend to arts and belles-letters,
And when I die, leave my heirs
This Croesus [wealth] of plants.


The name Centaurium derives from the Greek kentaúreion, the mythological creature with the head and torso of a man on the body of a horse. The centaurs were held to be masters of healing. Pliny wrote that the centaur Chiron used this plant to heal an arrow wound in his foot. The Romans called the bitter-tasting plant “Herba felis terrae”, which means “earth bile plant”.

Pliny also noted that “There is another centaureum which is given the added name lepton {"the tender one"}, it has tiny leaves. The people of old used to call it libadeon because it grows around wells and springs'. And a little further on Pliny says: “This centaureum we Romans call fel terra {i.e. "gall of the earth"} because of its intense bitterness; but the Gauls call it "etena".

The species name minus derives from the Latin minor for “smaller” or “lesser”.

The medicinal use of centaury can be traced back to the Hippocratics (5th and 4th centuries B.C.). Dioscorides recommended it as a purgative, emmenagogue, and eye- and wound-healing agent.

Lucan, in his “Pharsalia” (915-921) mentions it as one of the plants burnt for the purpose of expelling serpents:

“There centaury supplies the wholesome flame,
That from Therssalian Chiron takes its name;”

The Anglo-Saxons used it for snakebite and other poisons, and for curing fevers, hence its common name Feverwort.

Culpeper described it as 'very wholesome, but not very toothsome'. The German herbalist Father Sebastian Kneipp, recommended Centaury for melancholy and for calming the nerves. It was an ingredient of Portland Powder, a treatment for gout.

Medical Properties

Parts Used---Herb and leaves

Centaurium is well known to herbalists as a ‘stomach bitter’ – one of the classes of herbs with bitter taste and used to aid digestion. For these herbs, it is important to taste the bitterness – and because of this, it is better to use herbs such as Centaurium as a tincture taken 5 minutes before meals. It can also be taken as a herbal tea.

Centaury's bitter action stimulates digestive secretions; the secretion of gastric juice increases as soon as the herb acts on the mucous membranes of the mouth. It also stimulates the sympathetic system and circulation, and has a tonic effect on the blood vessels.

It is gently laxative and, taken after meals, is an excellent remedy for heartburn. It can also enforce the action of anthelmintic herbs. Like many of the bitter tonics, it is effective in reducing fever and has been used as a quinine substitute in the past.

Research also confirms the plant's potential for treating rheumatism and gout, as the alkaloid gentianine has demonstrated strongly anti-inflammatory properties.

Unless advised by health professional, centaury should not be taken during pregnancy and lactation. At higher doses tan recommended it causes gastrointestinal irritations (with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea). Otherwise, there are no reports of contraindications or side effects when used properly.


This plant was used as a ‘nerve calmer‘ – by drinking an infusion of the leaves and flowers [St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, September 1992].

As a boy on holiday at Towyn, Merioneth, c.1915?, I watched an old lady gathering a large bunch of this on the sand dunes, and was informed that this was to make ‘tonic‘ [Charlbury, Oxfordshire, February 1991].

Magical Traditions

An old Pagan ritual that seeks to gain the blessing of the Goddess upon the healing herbs of the field still takes place in Germany today, although among the Catholic population in these regions the festival is known as the Day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

The herbs, which traditionally includes centaury, are gathered and presented in bundles of seven or nine (being magical numbers) and are afterwards placed over the entryway to the home to safeguard its occupants from disease and mishap. Should serious illness or misfortune still befall any of the family members during the year, the bundle is burned in the hearth or outdoor bonfire to banish its source.

En Jèrriais:
d'l'hèrbe d'Saint Martîn, d'la centaurée


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Railway Walk - Yarrow



Achillea millefolium, known commonly as yarrow  or common yarrow, is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae. It is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Myth tells us it was given to Achilles by the centaur Chiron so he could use it on the battlefield and its Latin name, Achillea millefollium, still reflects this tale.

Its specific name, millefolium, is derived from the many segments of its foliage, hence also its popular name, Milfoil and Thousand Weed.

Other Names

It is also called Old Man's Pepper, Soldier's Woundwort, Knight's Milfoil, Herbe Militaris, Carpenter's Weed, Bloodwort, Staunchweed, Sanguinary, Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Yarroway.

The name Yarrow is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant - gearwe; and the Dutch name is similar - yerw.

In New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo (Spanish for 'little feather') from its leaf shape and texture.

Locality and Season

Yarrow grows everywhere, in the grass, in meadows, pastures, and by the roadside. As it creeps greatly by its roots and multiplies by seeds it becomes a troublesome weed in gardens, into which it is seldom admitted in this country, though it is cultivated in the gardens of Madeira.

It flowers from June to September, the flowers, white or pale lilac, being like minute daisies, in flattened, terminal, loose heads, or cymes. The whole plant is more or less hairy, with white, silky appressed hairs.

Plants with only white flowers grow on calcium-rich soils, but pink-flowered yarrow may grow on acid soils. Plants grown on acid soils contain greater quantities of the active constituent azulene.

Herbal Properties

Yarrow was found amongst other medicinal herbs in the Neanderthal burial site in Iraq which dates from around 60,000 BC and has become famous in herbal medicine as one of the earliest indications of human’s use of medicinal plants.

Yarrow was formerly much esteemed as a vulnerary, and its old names of Soldier's Wound Wort and Knight's Milfoil testify to this. It was called by the Ancients, the Herba Militaris, the military herb.

The Highlanders still make an ointment from it, which they apply to wounds, and Milfoil tea is held in much repute in the Orkneys for dispelling melancholy.

Yarrow has been credited by scientists with at least minor activity on nearly every organ in the body. Early Greeks used the herb to stop hemorrhages. Yarrow was mentioned in Gerard's herbal in 1597 and many herbals thereafter.

Yarrow was commonly used by Native American tribes for bleeding, wounds, and infections. It is used in Ayurvedic traditions, and traditional Chinese medicine credits yarrow with the ability to affect the spleen, liver, kidney, and bladder meridians, or energy channels, in the body.

The herb contains salicylic acid (a compound like the active ingredient in aspirin) and a volatile oil with anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful to relieve pain associated with gynecologic conditions, digestive disorders, and other conditions. The dark blue essential oil, azulene, is generally used as an anti-inflammatory, or in chest rubs for colds and influenza.

Yarrow also has antiseptic action against bacteria. The bitter constituents and fatty acids in yarrow are credited with promoting bile flow from the gallbladder, an action known as a cholagogue effect. Free-flowing bile enhances digestion and elimination and helps prevent gallstone formation. Because of these anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and cholagogue actions, yarrow is useful for gallbladder complaints and is considered a digestive tonic.

In rare cases, Achillea can cause severe allergic skin rashes. Prolonged use can increase the skin's photosensitivity.  Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy because the herb is a uterine stimulant. Excessive doses may interfere with existing anticoagulant and hypo- or hypertensive therapies.


In the Victorian language of flowers, Yarrow can mean both war and healing.

During the middle ages, yarrow was purported to be able to assist in both summoning the devil and driving him away. It was used in complicated Christian exorcism rituals.

Yarrow, in the eastern counties, is termed Yarroway, and there is a curious mode of divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken. If the operation causes the nose to bleed, it is a certain omen of success:

'Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.'

An ounce of Yarrow sewed up in flannel and placed under the pillow before going to bed, having repeated the following words, brought a vision of the future husband or wife:

'Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name it is Yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me to-morrow.'

It has been employed as snuff, and is also called Old Man's Pepper, on account of the pungency of its foliage. Both flowers and leaves have a bitterish, astringent, pungent taste.

En Jèrriais:

d'la tchèrpentchiéthe
d'l'hèrbe au tchèrpentchi (i.e. carpenter's herb)
d'l'hèrbe à tchèrpentchi
d'l'hèrbe à mille fielles (i.e. thousand leaf herb)

Some traditional Jersey remedies for cuts and piles:

Nou fait sèrvi d'la tchèrpentchiéthe pouor êtantchi eune cope (yarrow's used to staunch a bleeding cut)

Nou m'ttait des fielles dé tchèrpentchiéthe dans eune bouqu'tée d'ieau bouoillante et nou s'assiévait d'ssus, pouor les morrhouites - et chenna trais matinnées d'siette (one put yarrow leaves in a bucketful of boiling water and one sat down on it, for piles - to be done three mornings in succession)


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Les Creux Country Park - Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut

Castanea sativa or Sweet Chestnut is a species of flowering plant in the family Fagaceae, native to Europe and Asia Minor, and widely cultivated throughout the temperate world. A substantial, long-lived deciduous tree, it produces an edible seed, the chestnut, which has been used in cooking since ancient times. The Latin sativa means "cultivated by humans"

The word “chestnut” has travelled through time and across Europe! The English form is found around the 1560s as “chasten nut”, and that derives from the Middle English “chasteine”, which itself comes from Old French “chastain” in the 12th century – the Modern French form is châtaigne.

That comes from a Latin form “castanea”, but before that from the Greek “kastaneia”, which the Greeks thought meant either "nut from Castanea" in Pontus, or "nut from Castana" in Thessaly, but probably both places are named for the trees, not the other way around.

From the Latin Castanea (as in Castanea saliva - sweet chestnut) we also get castanets, those finger clicky things used by flamenco dancers, hence too that the sweet chestnut although native to Europe generally are though to have originated on the Iberian peninsular - Spain.

Sweet chestnuts grow into beautiful tall trees, with elegant large, but quite narrow serrated leaves, which develop before the flowers appear. The flowers grow as long golden yellow catkins, which are reminiscent of arboreal fireworks, especially when seen en masse covering the canopy of native woodlands.

The flowers of both sexes are borne in 10–20 cm (4–8 in) long, upright catkins, the male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower part. In the northern hemisphere, they appear in late June to July, and by autumn, the female flowers develop into spiny cupules containing 3-7 brownish nuts that are shed during October.

Sweet Chestnuts are not to be confused with Horse Chestnuts (inedible conkers). The horse chestnut fruit is soft with short stubby spikes containing one rounded conker (although very rarely two or three). The sweet chestnut spikes are longer, with hair-like spikes which make the skins harder to tackle, and contain numerous nuts that have a flat side to them.


The raw nuts, though edible, have a skin which is astringent and unpleasant to eat when still moist; after drying for a time the thin skin loses its astringency but is still better removed to reach the white fruit underneath. Cooking dry in an oven or fire normally helps remove this skin. Chestnuts are traditionally roasted in their tough brown husks after removing the spiny cupules in which they grow on the tree, the husks being peeled off and discarded and the hot chestnuts dipped in salt before eating them. Roast chestnuts are traditionally sold in streets, markets and fairs by street vendors with mobile or static braziers.

Unlike most commercial nuts which contain relatively large amounts of protein, sweet chestnuts consist of up to 70% starch, between 2 and 5 % fat and only 2 to 4 % protein.


Native to the deciduous woodlands of southern Europe, western Asia and north Africa, and a member of the same family as oak and beech, the sweet chestnut is thought to have been introduced to the British Isles by the Romans.

The sweet chestnut is a long-lived tree which can reach huge stature and girth, often developing burrs and becoming hollow in advanced old age.

In the UK, the best known ancient sweet chestnut is the Tortworth Chestnut, in Gloucestershire. Written records of this remarkable tree go back to the 12th century and it was said to have been a boundary tree to the Tortworth estate at about this time. Although only part of it remains today, many of the branches of its huge twisted trunk have rooted to become trees themselves, giving the appearance of a small wood.


To the ancient Greeks, the sweet chestnut was dedicated to Zeus and the name castanea comes from Castonis, a Town in Thessaly in Greece which cultivated the tree extensively. However, the Greek name was Sardis Glans, (sardis acorn). This name comes from the name of the capital of Lydia, now in Turkey, from where the trees originated. They were also called the "acorns of Zeus", as were walnuts.

In the world of dreams it is said that eating the fruit indicates a business problem, and cooking them implies that the dreamer could be exploited.

Like many other plants sweet chestnuts were once used in love divination rituals. One involved placing appropriately named nuts near the fire to see which exploded first in the heat.

Maidens, name your chestnuts true. 
The first to burst belongs to you! 

The sweet chestnut also features in Christian lore. It signifies victory over temptations of the flesh, and chastity.


An infusion of the fresh leaves was used in the past in a treatment for whooping cough, and a decoction of bark was relied upon for fevers. Today’s herbalists still recommend the use of the sweet chestnut for dealing with fevers, diarrhoea, piles and respiratory problems, particularly coughs, catarrh and whooping-cough.

Dying Agent

A brown and ‘fast’ honey-coloured dye once used in the tanning industry (for dying leather) can be extracted from the tannins present in in the husk of the sweet chestnut -  hence ‘chestnut’ is also used to describe such a colour, especially when in connection with horses - a 'chestnut mare’.

En Jèrriais:

un chât'nyi, un mârronnyi = a sweet chestnut tree
eune châtaine = a chestnut
un mârron = a large chestnut
un coffîn = a chestnut burr (prickly case)

Sources Quoted

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Oak Lane, St Brelade - Part 4

Wild Mallow

Wild Mallow

Malva sylvestris is a species of the mallow genus Malva in the family of Malvaceae and is considered to be the type species for the genus.

Known as common mallow to English speaking Europeans, it acquired the common names of cheeses, high mallow and tall mallow (mauve des bois by the French) as it migrated from its native home in Western Europe, North Africa and Asia through the English speaking world. It is a vigorously healthy plant with showy flowers of bright mauve-purple, with dark veins; a handsome plant, often standing 3 or 4 feet (1 m) high and growing freely in fields, hedgerows and in fallow fields.

Flowering time: July–September.

Plant Lore

An old lady in Cricieth, Caernarfon, tells me that mallow leaves, when she was a youngster over 60 years ago, were used as a remedy if one suffered from toothache. The leaf would be pressed on the area of the mouth where pain seemed to be at its worse [Caernarfon, Gwynedd, August 1995].

Malva sylvestris – large colony around farmyard at Llanfaredd, Radnor, said by owner to have been used as a leaf poultice to cure sprains of horses’ legs [Llandrindod Wells, Powys, September 1991

Medicinal Properties

Common mallow was traditionally a useful plant which was highly regarded as vegetable, but most of all as a versatile medicinal plant. Up to the beginning of modern times, the species had a reputation of being a universal remedy.

Mallow reduced fever, relieved nearly all pains and healed insect stings and wounds. Mallow leaf was used to induce childbirth and act as an indicator for a woman’s fertility. It was believed that mallow helped people rise above their urges and passions, so it was an important antidote for love potions. And best of all, mallow pills could cure stupidity!

A large part of those folk traditions connected with mallow’s medicinal uses are purely superstitious, but no smoke without fire: mallow contains compounds which activate the immune defence system as well as substances soothing infections, and its medicinal uses are still being researched.


The mallow also can be eaten as food, in salads mixed with other vegetables. Moreover its medicinal properties, is a plant very rich in vitamin A, B, C, and E. The resulting liquid from boiling a handful of flowers is also a good facial toner.

En Jèrriais: 
p'tite mauve

"Aut'fais nou faîthait d'l'onguent dé p'tites mauves pouor des bliesseûthes"
"Time past one made ointment from wild mallows for wounds"
(Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français)"

Sources Quoted: