Plant Lore


The fruit of the blackberry bramble is vulgarly known in this district by the name of bumble kyte, from its being supposed to cause flatulency when eaten in too great a quantity. No knowledgeable boy will eat these berries after Michaelmas Day, because the arch-fiend is believed to ride along the hedges on the eve of that great festival and pollute everything that grows in them, except the sloes, by touching them with his club foot. The same notion prevails further north, where the bramble-berries are called lady’s garter berries.

bramble print


It was formerly supposed thought “fern seed” was obtainable only at the exact hour of midnight, on the eve of the day on which Saint John the Baptist was born ; and people believed that if they gathered it at that particular time, it would endow them with the power of walking invisible. The right way to obtain it was to hold a plate under the plant, and let the seed fall into it of its own accord, for if was shaken off by the hand it lost its virtue. This belief was founded on the doctrine of signatures, according to which certain herbs were held to be specific remedies for particular diseases, because they bore upon them some impress of the symptoms accompanying them. Thus the liver wort was supposed to be a sovereign remedy against the heat and inflammation of the liver, because it was shaped like that organ ; the lungwort, from its spotted leaves, was a popular remedy for diseased lungs ; the pilewort, on account of the small knobs on the roots, was administered in cases of hemorrhoids ; The seed of the fern, being on the back of the plant, and so small as to escape the sight of ordinary observers, was assumed to have the property of rendering those who tasted it, or carried it about their persons, invisible for the time.

The mercy of God… maketh… Herbes for the use of men, and hath… given them particular Signatures, whereby a man may read… the use of them.

William Cole (1626-62)


Country people plant the house-leek or sen-green, locally termed “full ” or ” fullen,” on the thatched roofs of their cottages, in order to preserve them from thunder and lightning, which, it is said, will never strike this evergreen herb.

house leek


The common purple clover {Trifolium pratense) is very good for cattle, but very noisome to witches. In the days when there was at least one noted witch in every hamlet, the leaf was commonly worn as a potent charm, being regarded as an obvious emblem of the Blessed Trinity. The belief in its magic virtue is not extinct even yet.



One saying is —

If your whipstick’s made of rowan

You may ride your nag through any town.

Another —

Woe to the lad

Without a rowan tree gad.

The latter has fallen into disuse since tlie old fashioned twelve-oxen plough was laid aside. When that cumbersome affair was at work, making those enormous S-shaped ridges of which are still seen the traces left in some outlying old grass fields, a gadman to take charge of the team was as necessary as a ploughman to take hold of the stilts, and his iron pointed instrument was made of a young mountain ash or rowan tree, which kept the witches away from making the cattle “camsteery.”


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