I spend as much of my free time as is possible outside. I walk, run, bike, sit, sleep, eat, weed, work, and think surrounded by trees and fields. I’m very lucky; I know. So shame on me for tra-la-la-ing along with my eyes on the sky, or my focus on the horizon, or, as is often the case, on my watch, instead of taking in the furious complexity of the green growing things around me. I worked for a herbalist a few years ago, and my love for our native flora, and all the folklore attached, remains, but my lazy brain has muddled all my labels and merely shrugs its shoulders as I stand on the road side mouthing random flower names and feeling very cross at myself.
So, as additional research for the second book, the folklore aspect especially, I am giving myself a summer long lesson in local flora, and if you wish, we can do it together. I’m going to leave the science-y bits to the amazing blogs I have discovered over the last few weeks – resources to follow – and just stick to the basics, along with any weird bits I uncover on the way; and, of course, all the folklore I can find.
And here is the current star of the show. He’s covered in flies and smells like a pig….Ladies and gentlemen, I present….
HOGWEED. (Heracleum Sphondylium)
Folk Names: Devil’s Tobacco, Cow Parsnip.
I have passed a million Hogweeds, spent my life knocking against them, running through them and clipping them with my wing mirrors. My Grandma Katie called it Pigweed and told me, as a grotty child, that if I continued to use its sturdy trunk and pongy flower heads to wack my younger brother with, I would, without doubt, inadvertantly ingest a sub molecular fragment and consequently shit myself to death – not her exact words. This dire warning worked most of the time.
Although Hogweed shoots, rich in Vit C, used to be eaten as a young spring green and its flowers utilised for medicinal purposes, it bears such a scary resemblance to a swathe of truly deadly flowers, that it is best avoided. I cannot confirm if terminal evacuation of the bowels is part of its arsenal.
In the rosy olden days of our rural past its hollow stem was used as both a cigarette substitute, hence its folk name ‘Devil’s Tobacco’, and as a peashooter; my inner eight year old feels downright cheated at this revelation coming many years too late.
Pig smelling, fly attracting and (possibly) squits inducing this plant may be, but it is King of the Hedgerows right now, and it’s a title well deserved. This statuesque and indefatigable road side superhero is a major source of nectar for a whole host of insects; something else my inner eight year old wishes she had known.
So the next time you’re out walking the dog or in the car whizzing past a frothy hedgerow dense with slightly battered Hogweed, give this vital nectar plant a nod and a smile – he wasn’t named after hercules for nothing.