Country Diary: Plant associated with legend and true love


To me, the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

William Wordsworth

There can be few flowers that evoke more feeling than the sky-blue forget-me-not. As I walked beside the old stone wall of a local village church, I needed no reminder that it was 40 years since mother passed away.

Stooping to pick a single stem, I recalled an old legend associated with the plant’s name.

In Medieval Germany, a knight was strolling along the bank of the River Danube with his beloved. Suddenly the maiden noticed dainty blue flowers growing downstream. Enchanted by them, she begged him to pick a bunch. Leaning over to reach them, he was overcome by the weight of his armour and fell into the river. Flinging the posy of flowers to the bank, he sank from sight. His last words were: “Vegisz mein nicht” – “forget-me-not”. From that moment, the plant was so-named, and associated with true love.

Common Comfrey is quite widespread in damp places. The coiled sprays of bell-shaped flowers may be cream; white; pink or purple. Usually we find purple ones, but near one entrance to Scarborough Mere grew white specimens. It’s quite tall, with hairs or bristles on its stems and leaves. We have eaten the leaves as
a vegetable, and when
boiled, the hairy texture disappears and the leaves resemble spinach. I like them with butter, but Michael is not so enthusiastic.

Medieval herbalists dug up roots in spring, and grated them to a sludge. This was packed around a broken limb and hardened like plaster of Paris. It was called knitbone, or boneset.

Taking Tigga a walk beside Scalby’s Sea Cut proved a 
delight. We met only one gentleman with his lovely labrador.

Two large white butterflies were observed, and bird-song all around. The most obvious change, was the extensive work carried out in bank management. Many large trees had been felled and undergrowth cleared. At last, one could view the beck once more, and any kingfishers speeding by. Deep ruts along the footpath had been in-filled with wood-chippings. Wonderful!

On one felled tree were many cramp balls (daldinia concentrica). These were black, globular fungi and very hard. If you cut one across, you see concentric rings - hence the Latin name. It was once believed to ease cramp, if you carried one.

Mole hills erupted beside the path. One had its tunnel still exposed, surrounded by fine excavated earth.

‘Pools’ of bluebells, and patches of softly hairy, creeping ground ivy with blue, nettle-like flowers, crept through the soil. The leaves bear no resemblance to true ivy, but handle them and they have a minty, aromatic smell.

Before hops became accepted, ground ivy leaves known then as alehoof or gill, were added to ale during brewing. They cleared fermenting liquid and put a ‘kick’ into the flavour!