All of the ferns have unfurled, giving the woodland floor as green and leafy a look as the canopy above. Ferns are some of the earliest and most primitive plants. They reproduce by spores rather than seeds. Fern fossils have been found that date back 360 million years when trilobites filled the oceans. There is childlike joy in the tactility of fondling fern fronds as you walk through them.
Well, okay it isn’t just green. There are lots of woodland flowers in bloom at the moment. These are really testing my amateur flower ID skills, so please do let me know if I have got them wrong!
First up, St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum. This cheery yellow flower is associated today with the treatment of mild depression. Back in ye olden dayes, it was known as the “fairy herb”. The Greeks used it to ward off evil spirits, whereas Christians purified their homes by hanging up the plant on 24th June, St John’s Day. Witches were thought to ride about on the Eve of St John the Baptist Day. The oils in this plant, when burnt on a bonfire, release a scented smoke not unlike incense. Leaping through this smoke was thought to protect the individual from witches.
I believe this flower may be Enchanter’s Nightshade, Circaea lutetiana. The name derives from the Greek enchantress, Circe and the Latin name for Paris, which was known as the “Witch City”. Circe is the the one who turned Odysseus’ crew into pigs with a magic potion. Later she redeemed herself by giving the Greek hero directions – a GPS you wouldn’t want to have tea with.
My best guess is that this is Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica. As the name suggests, it was used to promote the staunching and healing of wounds. It seems that it was also used to treat gout, along with rhubarb root and willow bark boiled in water and ingested. I don’t know if it was efficacious, but it sounds better than another method for treating gout: place the right foot of a frog inside a mummified owl (every pantry had one), bake in oven, then smash it into powder, mix with some boar fat and serve in a raven broth. On a happier note for wildlife, hedge woundwort is good for bees.
Next up is Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris. As you might guess from the name no self respecting herbalist would be without this versatile plant. It is applied, to quote Culpeper, “…with good success, either inwardly or outwordly … as also to cleanse the foulness of sores …”. Nicholas Culpeper was a 17th century botanist who despised the exploitation of the poor and sick by money grabbing physicians, he sought to educate the public in matters of health. He was accused of witchcraft during the English Civil War, but went on to become a battlefield surgeon. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 37.
At first glance I would have said this was some sort of a thistle. However, closer inspection of the leaves suggests that it might be Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa. People of a certain age may remember a soft drink called “Dandelion and Burdock”. The modern drink rarely contains either plant, just carbonated water, sugar and flavourings. The original medieval drink was a mead made of fermented dandelion and burdock roots and was considered to be a tonic. Burdock roots do indeed contain vitamins and minerals and it acts as a diuretic, so it could be considered beneficial to one’s health. Culpeper recommends it for many things, including “…any fretting sore or canker”. The leaves provide food for the caterpillers of the Thistle Ermine moth. The flowers turn into burs which attach themselves to the fur of passing animals, aiding seed dispersal. They are also popular with childish pranksters who throw them at people, hence the nickname, “sticky bobs”.
In the dark dank underbelly of the woods, the paths become so muddy that some thoughtful souls built a little wooden bridge. Closer examination of the underside of the wood reveals some curious insect life and some fungi. Going out on a limb here, I think these might be Clustered Bonnet fungi and the other some sort of death cap fungi.
Heading for the light, at the top of the woods is the grazing area. It is looking lush and green and mottled with purple foxgloves. You have to be careful where you tread at this time of the year, the ground nesting Meadow Pipit is currently rearing the second brood of the year. You may remember their parachuting displays as they courted in April. Their nests are very well camouflaged, but if you step too close they will give a warning “pit-pit-pit” sound. This particular bird took to a tree to warn us to keep a safe distance.
On the way back down through the woods a squirrel chatters angrily and throws pine cones at us. Suitably chastised we leave our woodland friends to the serious business of raising young and dispersing seeds and head home for a well deserved ice cream and a cold water foot bath.
I hope that you enjoyed this bimble. Can you spot the honeysuckle creeping up the tree branch in the final photo? See you next time.