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The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace

AtoZParticipant2017

Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Two Queens, Anne of Great Britain and her great grandmother, Anne of Denmark, loved the flowers of the Daucus carota or wild carrot because it resembles lace. In this way, the plant became known as Queen Anne’s lace. The small red flower in the center of the flower represents a droplet of blood where the needle-working queen pricked her finger in the diligent creation of the fine lace. Other names for the white-flowering plant include bird’s nest and bishop’s lace.

Carl Linnaeus first described the wild carrot in his 1753 “Species Plantarum.” Because of its elegant and lacy appearance, some modern brides carry the flowery caps of the plant. In floral language, Queen Anne’s Lace mean ‘sanctuary.’ The biennial blooms in the summer and grows wild over much of the northern United States. Its off-white inspired PPG Pittsburgh Paints to create a latex interior color.

Herbaceous and prolific, this member of the Umbelliferae family grows to two feet in height. Like its relative the cultivated carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace produces an edible root, but it is best enjoyed when the plant is young. As it matures, the root becomes woody. Historically, the leaves have been used for contraception and abortifacient, and the cell sap can cause skin irritation. Farmers plant Queen Anne’s Lace as a companion for tomatoes and lettuce. It attracts bumble bees, lady bugs, lacewings, and hoverflies. Because of its resemblance to poison hemlock, however, caution should be exerted when gathering and handling.

A traditional British song begins, “With every golden curl in place, she’s as fine as Queen Anne’s Lace…” However, a superstition involving the plant involves matricide. Some believe Queen Anne’s Lace in the house brings about mom’s death. Thus another nick-name is “mother die.” Also, because of its tenacity and naturalizing, Wild Carrot is classified as an invasive and noxious weed that outperforms native prairie wild flowers.

Jennifer Reeser, Williams, and Leo L. Amadore included the flower in their poetry, and Genevieve Smith Whitford named her collection of assembled poetry after the plant. Wayne Sapp wrote a Nither poem “Queen Anne’s Lace” which includes a refrain, “…but as for me I’d sooner see a field of Queen Anne’s Lace…” Frances Parkinson Keyes wrote a novel for young people titled “Queen Anne’s Lace,” and children’s author Elizabeth Howard called her memoir “Queen Anne’s Lace and Wild Blackberry Pie.”

Queen Annes Lace 8

P is for Primrose

AtoZParticipant2017

P is for Primrose

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

To protect her little sister, Primrose, Katniss Everdeen enters “The Hunger Games,” the title of Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed young adult series. Later in the series, diminutive Prim becomes a caring medic and saves lives.

Primrose produces delicate blooms in April and May in most planting zones. Other names for the plant include cowslip, herb Peter, and key flower. It is the flower of St. Peter, and the ancient Norse peoples celebrated the goddess Freya by decorating with the primrose blooms.

Medically, it is an astringent and is used as a sedative. Gout, nervous headaches, and paralysis are said to be helped by the plant, and it is used for insomnia, restlessness, and minor skin wounds. The whole plant is used for its expectorant qualities. However, canines sicken if they consume primrose.

Primrose ointment treated facial spots and wrinkles, and the Renaissance poet John Donne in his “Primrose” wrote, “…live primrose, then, and thrive with thy true number five; and woman, whom this flower doth represent, with this mysterious number be content…” William Shakespeare adds primrose to the ingredients of the eye ointment Oberon had prepared in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Ophelia in “Hamlet” describes “…show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, whilst, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads…” likening the road of youthful indiscretion and indulgence. William Wordsworth, John Keats, T.S. Eliot, and Amy Clapitt included the delicate flower in their poetry. Anne Bronte in “Memory” wrote, “…that I might simply fancy there one little flower – a primrose fair, just opening into sight; as in the days of infancy, an opening primrose seemed to me a source of strange delight…”

The protagonist in Oliver Goldsmith’s 1766 novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” featured Dr. Charles Primrose and explored domesticity and wealth, and the crime novel “The Man from Primrose Lane” by James Renner investigates a murdered, mitten-wearing Ohioan. Jerry Spinelli developed a friendship between David and Primrose in his novel “Eggs,” and Linda Lael Miller wrote about frontier tenacity in her series “The Women of Primrose Creek.” A number of novels feature Cowslip in their titles, too, and Cowslip is one of the “Warren of Shining Wire” rabbits in Richard Adams’ “Watership Down.”

According to garden folklore, primrose attracts fairies and protects the gardener from adversity. In the language of flowers, primrose means “I can’t live without you” and “early youth.” Primrose serves as one of the birth flowers for February.

Primrose-Flower-Fairy

O is for Orchid

AtoZParticipant2017

O is for Orchid

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

In China, the orchid is one of the “noble four” plants along with the plum, chrysanthemum, and bamboo. The Chinese people cultivated this elegant plant for over two thousand years. Confucius wrote of the flower, “The orchid’s fragrance should be enjoyed by royals in their palaces, yet they look solitary among grasses in the wild.” He then likened the orchid’s plight to those of unappreciated scholars. He also referred to being in good company as “like entering a room full of orchids. After a while, you become soaked in the fragrance and don’t notice it.” The Fai Cheun translates to something like, “With your heart noble like an orchid and your speech like elegant embroidery, you have shown great magnanimity and abundant affection.”

Orchids represent nobility, elegance, and excellence of character. Their toughness becomes symbolic of tenacity. Because of their perceived resemblance to human reproductive organs, the orchid also represents virility, fertility, and sexuality. Orchids are found everywhere on the earth except deserts and glaciers, and there are over 20,000 species in the world. The smallest measure a mere 2 MM in width. They were named by the ancient Greek botanist Theophrastos.

Ancient Greeks believed prospective parents could influence the gender of their child by eating orchids. If they desired a male, the father ate thick, fleshier tubers. If they wanted a female, the mother ate thin, small tubers. The Turks made an ice cream from orchid tubers to enhance male sexual performance. Other cultures that used orchid for fertility included Africa, Asia, and South America.

In Greek mythology, the son of a nymph and a satyr, Orchis, attempted to rape a priestess at a feast honoring Bacchus. As punishment, wild beasts tore him apart. The pieces transformed into orchid plants. In another creation myth, a Filipino Queen vowed to keep herself apart from everyone until her husband the King returned from a war. She tied herself to a tree and magically transformed into an orchid which bore the pattern of her gown. In Medieval Europe, people believed slipper orchids sprung from the ground where animals mated.

Samurai and shaman in the Americas used the flower to see visions. Native American tribes called a variety of orchid “Moccasin Flower” and took it to relieve pain and as a sleep aid. A tale of how these pink flowers came to be springs from the Ojibwe who tell of a girl who embarked on a journey to retrieve medicine during a storm. Along the way, the girl lost her slipper, but because of the urgency, she persisted, though her feet grew bloodied. Where her bloody footprints touched the earth, moccasin flowers bloomed.

Aztecs harvested vanilla, a type of orchid, and mixed it with cocoa and pepper to create a strengthening elixir. When the plant arrived in Renaissance Europe, fashionable ladies adopted a variation of this custom, having their maids bring melted hot chocolates to church services since liquids were not technically breaking the fasting required on days of religious obligation.

During the Victorian age, the fashionable set collected orchids as status symbols. Gifts of orchids were understood as declarations of passion. The color of the flower was code for further messages. For example, a white bloom represented innocence.

The orchid is the traditional flower for fourteenth and twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries. Ancestral practitioners in China used orchid as a remedy for coughs, kidney disease, and problems with lungs, stomachs, and eyes.  Orchids were consumed by the Chinese and Greeks as aphrodisiacs. It is used in perfumes and aromatherapy, and of course, vanilla extract remains a prized culinary ingredient.

Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief” explores how obsession leads to madness. Michelle Wan wrote three novels named for orchids, “Deadly Slipper,” “The Orchid Shroud,” and “A Twist of Orchids.” Nero Wolfe was an avid orchidist, and Mary Motes wrote a tongue-in-cheek look at the orchid industry in south Florida. One of the Nancy Drew Mysteries had an orchid as a central plot point. Luigi Berliocchi wrote a non-fiction book “Orchid in Lore and Legend” which explores the fascinating history of the plant at length. H.G. Wells’s short story “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” tells of Wedderburn and a hot house holding a mysterious plant. As a pop-culture reference, the wrestler “Gorgeous George” uses the handle “Wild Orchid.”

vanilla orchids

N is for Narcissus

AtoZParticipant2017

N is for Narcissus

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

A vain man named Narcissus mistreated an enamored young woman named Echo until she became no more than a haunting voice repeating his words, or so relates one version of the Greek myth. The gods grew angry and cursed the youth to fall in love with his own reflection. He spotted himself in a clear, deep pool and leapt into his reflected outstretched arms. The water accepted his embrace and pulled Narcissus to a watery death. (From this myth comes the name for the psychological disorder Narcissism.) Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, mourned the loss of the comely young man and transformed him into a proud flower sometimes called a jonquil, daffodil, daffadowndilly, or lent lily.

Ancient cultures cultivated narcissus flowers, whose name derives from the Greek for intoxicated (narcotic). Pliny pointed to the plant’s fragrance as the reason for its name. Theophrastus mentioned the flower in his writings dating somewhere around 300 BC. The poet Virgil wrote of the flower in his fifth Eclogue. Carl Linnaeus in his 1753 “Species Plantarum” described the flower which is a part of the Amaryllidaceae family. The prophet Mohammed enjoyed daffodils and wrote of them in the 6th century. Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder examined narcissus for its medicinal properties, and their writings influenced botanists and herbalists until the Renaissance. Matthias de l’Obel, Clusius, Albert Magnus, and William Turner wrote of the plant. Europeans planted narcissus with enthusiasm by the 16th century, and by the late 19th century, it became an important commercial crop for the Netherlands. According to legend, Sir Geoffrey de Fynderne brought the flower to England when he returned from the crusades, but historians believe the plant arrived with the Romans who believed sap from the plant possessed healing powers. (In fact, narcissus sap contains skin irritating crystals.)

Since it blooms early, narcissus symbolizes spring and rebirth. When the flowers, with their six petal-like tepals surrounding a trumpet-shaped corona or cup, open, many festivals around the world commence with gusto. Many people decorate loved ones’ graves with the plant.

Narcissi mean anything from egotism and death to chivalry, friendship, and prosperity. Given singly, a daffodil bloom brings misfortune, but presented in a bunch, and this birth flower for march, which also represents tenth wedding anniversaries, ensures happiness. It has associations with the Greek Underworld since it was the flower Persephone gathered when Hades abducted her. In William Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale,” daffodil is twice mentioned. “O Prosperpina, for the flowers now, that frightened thou let’st fall from Dis’s wagon! Daffodil, that come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty.”

The plucky perennial inspires writers and poets. In “Personal Helicon,” Seaumus Heaney says, “…to stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring is beneath all adult dignity.” J.K. Rowling names Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter’s nemesis in the series that bear’s his name) Narcissa Malfoy. William Wordsworth wrote “The Daffodils.” “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils…” A.A. Milne of “Winnie the Pooh” fame wrote this: “She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head and whispered to her neighbor, ‘Winter is dead.’” Robert Herricks wrote “To Daffodils,” saying, “Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon…”

Today, the over fifty species of narcissi come in a stunning array of sizes and colors. It naturalizes, and its bulbs live long, perhaps because their natural poison deters deer and squirrels from eating it. Some sources say eating two narcissus bulbs kills an average human. Wales adopted the daffodil as its national flower, and a folk belief there says people who spot the first daffodil of the season are blessed with good fortune for the year. In China, people force daffodil blooms for the New Year to ensure good luck. The cheerful yellow bloom serves as a symbol for cancer charities around the world. In March in Ireland, people wear the flower to support those afflicted with cancer.

Modern medicine produces galantamine from the daffodil which is used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. France and the Netherlands cultivate the Narcissus Poeticus and other varieties for essential oil.

M is for Marigold

AtoZParticipant2017

M is for Marigold

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Marigolds bloom most of the year, opening their petals to greet the dawn and closing them at dusk. This hearty annual produces an abundance of blooms varying in cheerful colors ranging from pale yellow to russet. Scientists dubbed it calendula, but other names for this cheerful plant are Holigold, Pot Marigold, and Bride of the Sun. Marigold dissuades insects from entering the flower bed.

Parkinson told of the usefulness of the plant, either green or dried, within “possets, broths, and drinks, as a comforter of the heart and spirits.” In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, marigold was used to draw “evil humours” from the head and protected against pestilence, poisoning, and intestinal trouble. It colored cheese, butters, and custards. By the ending of the nineteenth century, marigold only grew in cottage and farmhouse gardens, and by the First World War, cookbooks didn’t mention the plant.

William Shakespeare mentions marigold six times in his works, but not as a food. Instead, he invokes its beauty with such passages as “…winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes: with every thing that pretty is, my lady sweet, arise!” Mary-bud refers to closed marigold buds. In the twelfth century, Macer wrote merely looking at the marigold plant could improve eyesight and lighten the observer’s mood.

Legend calls the flower “Mary’s Gold” for the mother of Jesus. In South Asia, families craft marigold flowers into garlands to decorate religious statues and buildings for festivals and to embellish weddings and funerals. Marigolds also feature in decorations for Dia de los Muertos. Perhaps its use stems from its floral language meaning – comforts the heart.

Marigold is used to treat skin ailments such as acne, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. As an ointment, it remedies sunburn. The sap of the stem is a folk remedy for wart, corn, and calluses removal.  Marigold water is made from the blossoms and imparts the ability to see fairies when rubbed onto eyelids. Flowers added to pillows give prophetic dreams. Marigold pigment is used as a food coloring.

medieval_raised_beds

L is for Lavender

AtoZParticipant2017

L is for Lavender

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

The color of its flower give lavender its name. The plant attracts bees and butterflies, its symbiotic relationship therefore of value to other garden plants. Alice Hoffman included an understanding of the magic of gardening in her novel “Practical Magic.” “There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”

Izaak Walton associates its scent with cleanliness, who used it as a measure of “…an honest ale house, where we shall find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows…” Parkinson writes “Lavender is almost wholly spent with us, for they perfume linen, apparel, gloves and leather, and the dryed flowers to comfort and dry up its moisture of a cold braine.” Lavender was prized by our Regency and Victorian ancestors, and it is indeed used in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, and for aromatherapy to this day.

Lavender oil repels insects and has antiseptic properties. Lavender is made into flowery teas given to bring calm and inner peace. Burning dried lavender sprigs provide a fumigant in a sickroom. A spritz of lavender on pillows or in the bath are said to help bring about sleep. Rubbing lavender oil into the temple is said to cure headaches, fatigue, and weakness, and the Mediterraneans prevented headaches caused by sun exposure by wearing lavender in their hats.

A lavender oil massage is said to help loosen stiff joints and stimulate paralyzed or palsied limbs. Gerard in his 1597 Herball mentioned taking lavender mixed with oil to treat palsies. Victorian snake-oil salesmen continued to market a mixture called “Palsy Drops” which included lavender, rosemary, cinnamon bark, nutmeg, sandal wood, and spirits. Some believe rubbing lavender oil into balding scalps stimulates hair growth, and it was offered as a remedy for snake bites.

However, consuming too much lavender causes stomach upset and even narcotic poisoning.

Lavender is included in love spells and rituals, and it is said to attract money. For sleep divination, interested people place lavender sprigs under their pillows before bed. Folks in the Middle Ages believed its fresh scent provided some protection from the Plague. In Spain and Portugal, folks throw lavender onto bonfires on St John’s Day to ward off evil spirits. In the language of flowers, lavender means either devotion, enchantment, or distrust. When given as a gift, it offers new opportunity.

Lavender can be candied and used as breath mints. Its flower heads lend a floral taste to recipes such as lavender shortbread and scones. (Yum.) It is crafted into wreaths and swags for scented home décor.

One of the Pokemon incarnations included a graveyard called Lavender town around which several urban myths revolved. Lavender Brown studies witchcraft at Hogwarts with “Harry Potter” in J.K. Rowling’s series. A popular lullaby goes “Lavender Blue, dilly dilly, lavender green. If you were king, dilly dilly, I would be queen.” Perdita in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” lists the plant among many plants “given to men of middle age.” Gatsby’s room was decorated in lavender color and scent in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Great Gatsby.”

Dioscorides-Lavender-Ancient-Greeks

K is for Kelp

AtoZParticipant2017

K is for Kelp

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Native to the North Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Northern Pacific, kelp grows perennially, mostly in deep waters and rapid tideways. It is light yellow to brownish-green in color and stands from two to three feet in height. The plant attaches itself to aquatic rocks by root-like, discoid extremities emitting from the plant’s stalk. It begins narrow at the base and fans out with a flat, leaf-like form. Other names for the Fucus Vesiculosus are kelp, seawrack, black-tang, bladder focus, cutweed, tangles, and and sea weed.

The health and beauty industry uses kelp. Spas offer seaweed wraps. Cosmetics companies add kelp ash to soap and glass. Pharmaceutical companies add kelp to some vitamin and mineral supplements, as it is reportedly a good source of folic acid and iodine. Alginate, a kelp-derived carbohydrate, thickens toothpaste as well as ice cream, jelly, and salad dressing.

Kelp has been used in the treatment of goiter and scrofulous swellings, and it is a part of the cuisine of Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. The Alaska Energy Desk released a news story about the growing industry of faming kelp for culinary use, describing the process of creating kelp salsa for sale. In Walter Farley’s “The Black Stallion,” shipwrecked Alec dries and eats kelp.

“Percy Jackson” of Rick Riordan’s young adult series is frequently called “seaweed brain.” Elle Strauss published “Seaweed” in 2012, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow devoted a poem to the plant. In “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell, a seaman wonders, “…but, after the shipwreck, tell me what help is its iron thew, still true to the broken hawser, deep down among seaweed and ooze?”

Impulsive and bad-butt Captain Holly Kelp is the first female Lep Recon Officer in the “Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer. Dr. Octavia Kade not only studies sea plants, but she also published a post-apocalypse short story called “Kelp” in the August, 2016 issue of “Takahe.”

kelp

J is for Juniper

J is for Juniper

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

AtoZParticipant2017

Juniper grows as a shrub or tall tree whose berries are used in Scandinavian cuisine. A recipe from South Tyrol, Italy also calls for juniper. Ancient and medieval people used the berries as a spice and a diuretic. In the Scottish Highlands, juniper is called aittin, samh, and perhaps mountain yew. Scottish and northern English recipes call for ground juniper juice to impart a spicy flavor to breads, cakes, and game meat. Native North Americans eat a milder version of juniper, and they dry and seal juniper seeds for decorative use. Although not a true berry but rather a variation on a cone, the juniper spice imparts a sharp, distinctive, and piney flavor.

In medieval times, juniper berries flavored whisky in Scotland. The berries flavor other alcoholic beverages such as Swedish “health beer” and French “genevrette.” Today, they flavor gin; in fact, the name gin derives from either the Dutch or French word for juniper.

Burning juniper wood releases aromatic smoke and was burned for purification and to facilitate contact with the Otherworlds. In the British Isles, juniper was burned during the outbreak of plague. During World War II, French nursing staff burned juniper in hospital rooms to fumigate them. Many people use an essential oil extracted from juniper for aromatherapy and in perfumes.

Juniper is not recommended for consumption by pregnant women by the US Medical Association, as it may cause miscarriage. Indeed, some Native American tribes use it as a female contraceptive. In times of famine, tribesmen consume juniper as an appetite suppressant. In Lothian during the Middle Ages, people used the phrase “under the savin tree” as a euphemism for juniper-induced abortion. (Savin was another name for juniper.) Interesting that juniper served as a symbol of the Canaanites’ fertility goddess Ashera. (Astarte in Syria)

Two varieties of juniper have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. It was used during embalming, but a papyrus dating to 1500 BC records using juniper to cure tapeworm infestations. Archeologists believe the Egyptians imported the spice from Greece where the plant grew. Ancient Greeks record using juniper as medicine and they believed the plant increased physical stamina in athletes. Ancient Romans used juniper as an inexpensive substitute for pepper. In Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History,” he reported juniper was blended with pepper, since juniper “have the property, to a marvelous degree, of assuming the pungency of pepper.” The Romans also used the berries for purification and to cure stomach complaints. When avoiding Queen Jezebel, the prophet Elijah hid beneath a juniper, and in the apocryphal bible, Joseph hides Mary and baby Jesus beneath the plant during their flight into Egypt.

During the middle ages, some European cultures believed planting a juniper beside the door deterred a witch from entering a dwelling. However, it was not an infallible stop, because if a witch could correctly guess the number of needles on the plant, entry was unimpeded. Culpepper wrote “Juniper provokes urine exceedingly; it is so powerful a remedy against the dropsy that it cures the disease.” Chinese herbalists regarded juniper as a blood purifier and kidney tonic. The twentieth century European herbalist R.F. Weiss recommended juniper for gout, chronic arthritis, neuralgia, and rheumatism.

Saint Francis of Assis had a friend whose name was Brother Juniper in English, and the Saint wished for a “forest of such Junipers.” Miguel Serra took the name Juniper as well and became a loved and generous missionary to California. During his 2015 visit, Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra which made Juniper the first saint canonized in the United States. (Native Americans of the region, however, associate Serra and his missions with the destruction of their culture.)

Juniper features in many written works, including those by T.S. Elliott, Victor Hugo’s “To Knight Errant,” John Milton’s “Paradise Regained,” Walt Whitman’s “American Feuillage,” and Oscar Wilde’s “Charmides.” Christopher Smart in “Jubilate Agno Fragment D” says, “Let Pulteney, house of Pulteney rejoice with tragion a shrub like juniper.” Allen Ginsberg’s “Rocky Mountain Dharma Center” says, “…tail turned to red sunset on a juniper crown a lone magpie caws.” Monica Furlong wrote a children’s novel titled “Juniper” about a princess who chooses a different path, and Kelley and Thomas French wrote a memoir about their micro-preemie daughter by the same name. Famed protagonist from the children’s series ”

Juniper is a name growing in popularity, though most Junipers are girls. Pokemon hosts a Professor Juniper.

juniper

I is for Ivy

AtoZParticipant2017

I is for Ivy

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

“Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens, and wallflowers need ruin to make them grow,” said Nathaniel Hawthorne. Evergreen ivy represents fidelity, eternity, and strong affection. Thus ivy is used at weddings. Its hardy, adaptable nature and perennial life makes it a symbol for immortality. Ivy’s symbolism is both phallic and feminine. Ladies wore ivy to ensure fertility.

Christianity adopted ivy as a symbol for the Virgin Mary mother of Jesus. It has been a part of Christmas decorating since at least the fifteenth century, and the song “The Holly and the Ivy” is a perennial carol of the season. (The sharp holly leaves and red berries serve as reminders of Christ’s crown of thorns.) Sharp describes an older carol “The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly” which boasts such lines as, “Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring… ivy hath berries black as any sloe; there come the owl and eat him as she go… good ivy, what birds hast thou? None but the owlet that cries ‘how, how.’” Ivy’s need to cling to a structure for support reminds Christians to cling to God for support. Decorating with too much ivy, however, could invite bad fortune, so many people incorporate ivy with other plants when they adorn their halls. At the end of the season, rural revelers fed their ivy to cattle.

Because of is long strands, people have long twisted ivy into wreaths and headdresses. Greek priests presented a wreath of ivy to newly-weds. Crowns of ivy adorned the heads of conquerors and celebrated poets in ancient times. To wear such a crown granted the ability to recognize witches and those with magic. The Golden Ivy of Virgil is supposed to be the yellow-berried variety, Hedera Chrysocarpa.

Ivy grown upon the outside of buildings protected the structure from the entry of ill-intended guests. To dream of ivy portends friendship, happiness, good fortune, honor, wealth, and success. In Germany, folk beliefs see ivy tied to the outside of a church as protection from lightning. In fact, most decorating with ivy is left to the exterior of the dwelling. Bringing a gift of ivy was to invite bad luck into a home, and certainly, no ill person should be subjected to the plant. Signs featuring ivy hung above Old English taverns to advertise excellent liquor.

In the British Isles of old, some placed an ivy leaf into a bowl of water on New Year’s Eve. This leaf predicted the fate of the family for the upcoming year. If the leaf remained fresh and green, the family should anticipate good fortune. If, however, the leaf withered or developed black spots, they expected ill fortune and poor health.

In historic medical use, ivy helped expel jaundice and dropsy. The juice from its berries or leaves were stuffed up sick peoples’ noses to help with malfunctioning eyes, defects in breathing, and to dispel running sores. Gum found on thick ivy stocks killed nits and lice and removed unwanted hair. However, modern day practitioners caution against using ivy, as its effects can harm people. The plant is mentioned in Fuch’s 1543 Herbal.

Semele, mother of Bacchus, Greek god of wine and revelry, abandoned her son beneath an ivy vine. Thereby, ivy became a symbol of the god. Carrying the plant for a Bacchanal is mentioned in I Corinthians. Priests of Jupiter touched the plant, believing it could keep them from becoming intoxicated and grant prophetic powers. Modern Wiccans see ivy as a representation of the goddess.

ivy-bonnefont-ivy pillars

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