The Organic Gardening Medley – Irish Wild Plants Folklore and Healing Traditions

May 17, 2010


Niall MacCoitir’s book Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore is an excellent reference to the folklore and cultural traditions associated with native plants in Ireland.

MacCoitir offers an example of an Irish folklore tradition for May, with his description of the use of May Blossoms to protect the home and farm from influences which would impede a good harvest and livelihood. Two flowers associated with this tradition are the pale yellow Primrose and the Marsh Marigold. The Primrose and Marsh Marigold were symbols of vitality and strength, and on May Eve (April 30), they were gathered by children at dusk and hung in the house, over the door or laid upon windowsills. They were also strewn on the thresholds of the front and back doors of the home and around farm buildings.

Nettles also had an association with May Day. In some areas of County Cork, May Eve was known a “Nettlemas Night”, according to MacCoitir, “Boys would parade the streets with large bunches of nettles, stinging their playmates. Girls would join in too, usually stinging the boys whom they held in affection. In west Galway the man of the house would go out on the night of May Eve and gather a handful of nettles. The nettles were pressed and everyone in the house would drink a mouthful of the juice to keep ‘a good fire’ in them for the rest of the year” (MacCoitir, Irish Wild Plants).

“Emotionally we derive from nature pleasure, fulfillment, inspiration and solace; nature is fundamental to our culture, language, psychological and spiritual well-being” (ENFO Ireland, Environmental Information Service).

Examples of Herbal Wild Plant Teas:

In general these wild plants are cooked or seeped in hot water, and can be drunk warm (with honey) or used cold with fruit juices and fresh herbs such as Lemon Balm and Mint. Consult a herbalist for specific ailments, the following are general associations to wild plants taken from the book 20 000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak. Elderflower differs in that it is soaked in spring water, sugar and wine vinegar strained through muslin and bottled – refer to the Recipe Section for more information.

Nettle Tea (Tonic, Recovery, Energy, Vitamins A,C,D,K + Iron and Silica)

Yarrow Tea (Fever, Indigestion, Circulation, Fights Infections, Cleaning Wounds, Vitamins A,B,C,E and Iron, Magnesium, Selenium)

Meadowsweet or “Nature’s Aspirin” (Restores health and Vitality after an Illness)

Elderflower (Colds, Coughs, Flu, Sore Throats, Strengthens the Immune System, Vitamins A, C)

Sweet Woodruff  (The fresh leaves flavour non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, traditionally used as a diuretic)

References for Herbal Teas:

20 000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak

Jekka McVicar’s New Book of Herbs

Photos: The photos from top to bottom are Sweet Woodruff, Campion, Columbine and Scabious blooming in May within the Groundswell Garden

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