There will be many people arguing if March 1st really is the start of spring. Take your pick…today is the meteorological start of spring or you can wait for the astronomical start with the vernal equinox on March 20th. I’m going with today! After an unseasonally warm and record-breaking February, the weather has cooled somewhat but still remains above average for this time of year. A few days ago I was basking in temps of 24c and working in the garden in shorts and T-shirt. Crazy, but very nice! The exceptional temps have really brought the garden and countryside to life, possibly a bit premature, but blossom has appeared, buds have popped and the willow is in leaf, wearing a mantle of pale green.
The celandines are in full flower cheering the road verges and hedgerows. This wildflower was also known as ‘Pilewort’ as its use was also thought to be beneficial in the treatment of haemorrhoids. It was also known as ‘Scurvywort’ for the use of its vitamin C containing leaves. In the Middle Ages it was used for treating jaundice, cancer, eczema and other diseases.
The sweet violet or wood violet is in flower and the scent is beautiful (even if it does remind me of old grannies). This tiny wild flower has a long and romantic history in European and Asian folkelore. The Greeks used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine…all I can think of is drinking parma violets! (ugh). Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics and Mediaeval French troubadours used it to represent constancy in their tales of chivalrous love. Apparently Josephine threw Napoleon a posy of sweet violets when they first met. After he was defeated at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time before he was sent to Saint Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked some. Upon his death these were found in a locket around his neck.
With it’s yellow ruff, there is nothing more cheering that the wild cowslip. It is closely associated with English folklore and tradition, including adorning garlands for May Day and being strewn on church paths for weddings. Over the centuries it has been called ‘Herb Peter’ as it was supposed to have grown where St Peter dropped his keys. The name actually means ‘cow-slop’ (ie a cowpat) in reference to it’s habitat. If you can get your way through the cowpats, it is supposed to make a very good wine! In ancient times this humble plant was used as a sedative, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and an expectorant to name a few.
Be assured that I am not about to start my own country pharmacy…I’m just content to enjoy the beautiful sights and smells of the early wildflowers. Happy Spring to you all.