by Society members
featured in Wharfedale Newspapers
I had intended my Notes this week to be about signs of Spring
- all those bluebell shoots, pussy willow catkins and subtle
colours in the twigs of alder (amethyst) and Willow (barley-sugar
gold). Unfortunately, the weather was against me and, penned
in by rain and gales, I could only imagine. However, it did
get me thinking about how we first learn about wild flowers
and trees. In my case the answer was easy: before I even started
school, an elderly neighbour took me for walks locally and
told me the names of the flowers we saw and I had a book.
It wasn’t a reference book, it was Flower Fairies of
the Spring by Cicely Barker, a collection of short verses,
each illustrated by a water colour of a plant and its fairy.
Sentimental, you may think, but actually the verses carried
a lot of botanically correct information and the artist seemed
to capture the essential quality of the flower in her fairies
- the dandelion bold and open-faced, the wood sorrel small
and modest. I’ve had many more grown-up identification
guides since, but the fairies’ flowers are the most
firmly lodged in my memory!
Then, a couple of weeks ago a friend said, 'We were going
to send this to a charity shop but I thought you might like
it.' It was well-thumbed copy, a 1930s reprint of Nicholas
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Culpeper, botanist, astrologer
and physician, was born in 1616. He trained as an apothecary,
married a rich wife and opened a pharmacy in Spitalfields
where he treated as many as forty patients a day - most of
them for free. He wrote his famous Herbal to educate the public
in the use of freely available medicines. Injured in the Civil
War, he died in 1654. A short life and a great achievement.
His description of plants are clear and easy to use and,
though we may smile at some of his prescriptions, based on
astrology and the old theory of the four humours, several
are in use today - comfrey for sprains, senna for constipation.
I looked up one of my Spring favourites and learned that colt’s-foot
'shooteth up a tender stalk, with small yellowish flowers'
earlier than the leaves, and that 'syrup thereof is good for
a hot dry cough.' I can remember such cough medicine from
my childhood. It was as effective, and much nicer than, the
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