A Passion for Plants

Prince Charles at 60
Prince Charles at 60

As a child, I had such a passion for plants,
I covered the nature table to enhance.
In fields woods and rivers, my time I spent;
and watched plants change, as seasons went.

Country lore spoke of plants that heal,
the potential for cure can be real.
The botanic ingredients would have low cost,
but the ancient knowledge was often lost.

The coltsfoot pushed its way up in February
on stems that were white and woolly.
One country name was son-before-father.
Tussilago was smoked as a cough reliever.

The common groundsel, or ground swallower,
was always around and grew everywhere.
The French called the plant – toute-venue.
It was used to cure fever from the ague.

Another common plant that grew all year,
had small star-like flowers, called Stellaria.
It was also called the name – chickweed,
birds ate it, and poor folk in need.

The first flower in the ditch, the lesser celandine,
had glossy yellow petals that would shine.
It had a lumpy tuber root,
was used for piles, and called pilewort.

In Spring, the young shoots of stinging nettle,
were boiled to make soup, in a hot kettle.
The nettle stalk fibres were twisted to make yarn;
since the Bronze Age this cloth was used to keep warm.

Later, the nettle had hairs that would sting;
but nature has a cure for just this thing.
If you got those bumps from the histamine,
you grabbed a dock leaf and rubbed its juice in.

In March, the copse was decorated with wood anemone
their nodding white heads, the trees to accompany.
But be warned, if you decided to pluck,
the flower would bring lots of bad luck.

The soft silver buds of pussy willow in Spring,
and hazel catkins, or lambs tails, shaking.
Their golden pollen fell on scarlet spikes below.
Later on, in Autumn, the cobnuts would grow.

In the woods, by March, primroses would combine.
Thrum-eyed or pin-eyed, their sex to define.
In a green leaf rosette, the flower grows.
Prima rosa, Latin, for the first rose.

Daisy – a day’s eye – as it closes at night,
the first signal of Spring’s speckled white.
The petals were plucked to tell of fidelity.
Loves me, or loves me not, playfully.

The yarrow flowers smelled like a medicine chest.
Called – woundwort – because it healed blood best.
The plant was also called – nosebleed,
you could use its leaves to staunch with speed.

By April, the meadow had spots of pale mauve,
named – cuckoo flower, for the bird in the grove.
Cardamine – also called – lady’s smock,
healed the heart, in her pretty pink frock.

Marsh marigolds gathered on April 30th’s day,
were distributed to keep the witches away.
Beltane’s golden flower made you feel up,
in other places, it was called kingcup.

Old English for places where cows would plop,
and flowers that grew there – called cu-sloppe.
An ugly name for a pretty yellow flower,
with eight little heads on a pale green tower.

The orange spot at the base of the petal,
would tempt insects in with such a sweet smell.
May’s cowslip on a tall stalk waggles,
also called – from Tudor pantaloons – paggles.

Bluebells in May bowed their heads,
and covered the ground in many woods.
If you trod on their glossy leaves, a squeak it would make.
From afar it looked like a blue woodland lake.

Summer was now well underway
and May 1st was Beltane Day.
Sprays of hawthorn blossom, the bees to rouse,
but we didn’t take that flower into the house.

Some called it hagthorn, for some witch to please.
We ate the leaf buds as – bread and cheese.
Outside it was woven into garlands of flowers,
to top the maypole where we danced for hours.

Hawthorn flowers have a sickly sweet smell.
An aroma of death that was known so well.
Banned from inside the house, that was why –
folks knew another name for it was – motherdie.

Yellow dandelion flowers do smell like pee.
The French called them, pis-en-lits.
The serrated leaves they called, dents-de-lion.
Steeping the flowers made a powerful wine.

Later, when they seeded, like sheep in a flock,
we called them, blowbells, or dandelion clock.
The number of puffs to blow the seeds away
would tell us to count the hour of the day.

In the Middle Ages foul-smelling floors
were covered with plants to smell like outdoors.
Strong scented tansy crushed beneath feet,
also kept flies away from the meat.

Ivy-leaved-toadflax, a name that I like,
has mauve petal tubes, which end in a spike.
Also called mother-of-thousands or wandering sailor,
its Latin name is – Cymbalaria.

Near the river, comfrey would grow.
It was also called – knitbone – you know.
A poultice from its mashed root was in olden days used
to hold the wound together, while the bone fused.

An infusion from comfrey leaves tea
was used as an arthritis remedy.
But don’t use too many leaves from this plant by the river,
as they contain alkaloids which may harm your liver.

By the river I spent many happy hours
and got to know well the riverbank flowers.
I hope that the following story’s not true,
about the flower we called – forget-me-not blue.

A knight reached to pick this flower that he found,
but lost his footing on the wet ground.
It was to be given to his lady fair,
but she heard him shout in despair.

She needed help, and looked around,
but too late – the knight had drowned.
Calling to her to – “forget me not,”
such was this poor man’s lot.

By the riverside the meadowsweet blooms,
its creamy flowers were strewn in bride’s rooms.
The flower was also called – bridewort;
its sensual smell made the bride pert.

The prickly teasel plant has lilac flowers,
the base of the leaves collected rain showers.
The water in – bath of Venus – is a fairy broth.
The heads were used to raise a nap on cloth.

For purple fringes on the riverbank,
we have loosestrife and willowherb to thank.
The waxy yellow waterlily through the river weaves,
near the water crowfoot, with two different leaves.

Where a spring bubbled into the river,
we would collect watercress together.
Greens for our salad when we got home,
or sandwiches, made by my Mum.

Water figwort with flowers of small monkey faces,
also likes to grow in very wet places.
It was called fiddle-wood by some as they speak.
The square stems scraped sideways caused a squeak.

By August, you could suck nectar from honeysuckle blooms.
The bees crawled into those tubular rooms.
The woody stems wound around the tree,
which gave the name – woodbine – obviously.

If a sweetheart you do lack,
throw burdock burrs at someone’s back.
If they miss, or fall off, you are out of luck.
But you do have a chance, if they stuck.

Crushed burdock seeds made into a tea,
was the brew used by a local gypsy.
To cure – rheumaticks – if you paid a fee,
but people used it hesitantly.

The pretty blue flowers of the plant – chicory
had roots that were ground for a type of coffee.
The plant also cured jaundice or made a blue dye.
Another name that it had was – succory.

One name for the wild rose was – hip bramble.
In a hedgerow, with thorns, the rosehips ramble.
Dog rose was another name to endure.
Its root believed to be – for rabies – a cure.

An old name for England was – Albion,
white roses were found there on the thorn.
A sweet briar rose that said – “you are mine,”
would have been the fragrant eglantine.

Found in summer fields was – fumitory.
The colour of the flower was a pinky-grey.
Another name for the plant was – earth smoke.
It was burnt to hinder spirits by country folk.

In the yellow wheat, a spot of azure blue,
a cornflower that would dazzle you.
Marguerites, or ox-eye daisies, were also there,
and corn marigolds would grow everywhere.

The lesser goat’s beard, inside a green sepal crown.
The corn cockle, pink, in her pretty ball gown.
Red and white campions in green puffy capes,
were called – pudding bags – due to their shapes.

In those cornfields where we would play,
we found pimpernel, pheasant’s eye and poppy.
They are our only scarlet flowers,
and a closed pimpernel warned of showers.

Mugwort would ease childbirth pain,
and nipplewort would bring milk again.
Wormwood, when weaning, would stop the drips.
Henbane or poppy juice, for sleep, on babies’ lips.

Variegated violas, also called – heartsease.
Pansy, for the French thought – pensée.
There is another country name, I confess.
It’s also called – love-in-idleness.

When purple, the petal is for memories.
When yellow, it is for souvenirs.
A white petal is for loving thoughts given.
The whole flower, to ease the pain of separation.

We called some trefoil plants – eggs and bacon.
They were yellow yolks and red rashers, we reckon.
I heard that – bird’s foot trefoil had 72 names.
I think that some were repeated for that claim.

There were many parsleys, some called kecksie.
The hollow stems made a home for a pixie.
If the kecksies were spotted and tall,
they could be hemlock, poisonous to all.

The fool’s parsley is dangerous too.
Best not to eat any, I advise you.
Their umbrellas in fields all over the place,
decorating the meadows with lots of white lace.

The small flowers of the lime tree, I remember well,
many stamens, no colour, but such a sweet smell.
Tilia flowers also made linden tea,
and they perfumed many a toiletry.

In Autumn, the hedge was tied by traveller’s joy,
its wooden stems were smoked by small boys.
It went to seed as – old man’s beard;
the silver whiskers, after flowers, appeared.

The wood sorrel folds its leaves at night.
The three leaflets to Druids were a delight.
Their belief in three-in-one was present,
and each leaflet also had a moon’s crescent.

Druids had seven magic herbs, number one was mistletoe.
It was even more revered, if on an oak it would grow.
The plant was used in a ceremony, long gone.
It was also used to cure hypertension.

Ground ivy over the soil would trail.
It was used to clarify and preserve ale.
Another name for the plant was – ale hoof,
from the old English word for herb – hofe.

When the last winter storms had blown,
all the plants had by then, gone.
I gathered twigs with berries to brighten the place,
and the delicate brown umbels of Queen Anne’s lace.

People who only live in an urban space
don’t see these plants, face-to-face.
They can’t appreciate the plant ecology,
and may see no need to act protectively.

From country to town many have been driven.
Whether or not a choice had been given.
Attitudes and values, all have changed.
Nature’s prominence has been rearranged.

I was so fortunate to have had a rural childhood;
to have spent so much time in field, river, and wood.
If I could ask for anything more,
it would be to preserve country folklore.