Your daily walk gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy nature’s display of wildflowers, and reconnect with where you live. Even if you live in a city, you’ll still see some of these around, so here are ten wildflowers you can enjoy, and a little bit about them. Please just get to know them in their own habitat and don’t pick them to take home.
Also known as ‘Windflower’, Wood Anemone only opens when the March breezes start to blow. Its said to have sprung from the tears of Venus, as she wept for Adonis, and you’ll mostly find it growing in woodland or on shady banks. It hasn’t been used in western herbal medicine for a very long time, but was once used to clear catarrh, and treat sore eyes.
Wood Sorrel flowers between Easter and Whitsuntide, and it’s said that this was the original shamrock which St Patrick used to explain the trinity. It was also known as Alleluia, because it was seen when alleluia was not sung in churches, or Cuckoo meat, as it was a favourite food of Cuckoos and the two were usually seen together. It’s rarely used in British herbal medicine now, but was once used as a cooling remedy and in Russia it’s still used to treat fever.
This pretty member of the Primula family likes to grow on well manured soil, hence its name. Legend has it that it’s a herb of St Peter and the keys of heaven. With the shock of learning that the keys had been copied and used to allow sinners in the back door, he dropped his own set, and up sprang a Cowslip, whose flowers resemble a set of keys. In traditional medicine it was used to “strengthen the braine, preserveth against madnesse, against the decay of memory, and stoppeth headache”. The flowers made a useful tea for insomnia.
Also known as ‘Daddy’s Shirt Buttons’, this was used as a poor man’s button hole flower, but picking it was said to come with its own risks! In folklore, picking Greater Stitchwort was said to cause thunder and lightning, but there was also the chance of being bitten by an adder, as they tend to grow in places that adders like to rest. Although rarely used in medicine nowadays, it was traditionally used to treat cramps or ‘stiches’, hence it’s name.
One of the Buttercup family, Lesser Celandine is also fondly known as ‘Pilewort’ and is well known for its ability to treat haemorrhoids. I’ve never dug one up (and I don’t recommend you do either), but apparently the roots look rather like piles as well! Another name for it was Scurvywort, thanks to its very high Vitamin C content being used to reverse scurvy, and in the language of flowers it symbolised the promise of joy to come, because its one of the first Spring flowers to appear.
Seeing the yellow reflection of a Buttercup flower under your friend’s chin was sure confirmation that they liked butter, but there’s much more to them than that! You can’t fail to be cheered up by the sight of a golden Buttercup meadow, and in Ireland, the flowers were rubbed onto cow’s udders on May Day to increase their milk yield. Midsummer’s Day brought another ritual, where dairy cattle were adorned with Buttercup garlands, again to encourage plenty of milk, and of course, plenty of butter. A chain of Buttercups around the neck was said to cure lunacy.
One of my earliest memories was eating violets which grew at the end of the road where I lived. Being at the bottom of a street sign in suburban south London, they probably weren’t the cleanest, but I seem to have survived!. Crystallised violets make beautiful cake decorations, and the flowers have long been used to make wine, cordials and confectionery. Goat’s milk infused with violets was applied to the face and said to make a lady irresistible to any potential suitor, (including Princes). It’s rarely used in medicine now, but has a wide range of traditional uses, including for coughs, mouth ulcers, and high blood pressure.
Both Periwinkles were used as a protection from Witchcraft which earned the name ‘Sorcerer’s Violet’. In Italy the flowers were associated with death, as heretics were made to wear garlands on their way to the stake. In traditional medicine, it had several uses, with its astringency was used to stop bleeding, but modern medicine has also made use of Periwinkle. Isolated alkaloids from the plant: Vincristine and Vinblastine are used in chemotherapy to treat certain leukaemias, lymphomas and some childhood cancers.
There are a number of stories about how the Forget-me-not got its name. One was that as God walked around the Garden of Eden, he found a tiny pretty blue flower and asked it its name. The flower, feeling quite nervous, said that it had forgotten, to which God replied “Forget me not, and I will not forget thee”. Either way, these flowers have long been associated with loyalty and bunches were exchanged by lovers before they had to part. Blacksmiths also used to keep bunches in their forge to help protect the horses from injury, and they believed that if their steel was tempered with Forget-me-not juice, it could cut stone. It has lots of traditional uses but is rarely used by Medical Herbalists these days.
Daisies get their name from ‘Day’s eye’, referring to their eye like flowers which open at the start of each day, and close late in the afternoon. Although making daisy chains is not as popular as it once was, there’s nothing more mindful than carefully making a slit in each stalk with your thumbnail before threading the next one through! It was said that “Girls who wear a daisy chain grow up pretty, never plain”. In herbal medicine it was known as ‘bruisewort’ and used to treat wounds. Roman slaves were used to collect daisies and make juice from them to treat soldier’s wounds after battle.
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