Thank you to everyone who came on the Flower Fairies of the Spring: Walk and Playtime that myself and Nixi from Playful Possibilities held last Sunday in Meanwood Park, Leeds. This walk was not really intended to be educational like my other herb walks where we focus on the plants’ medicinal properties, but more of a time to just be with the beautiful flowers and the budding of Spring. We ended up with far more adults than children, but that was just perfect, and gave us all a good chance to get to know each other and enjoy the beautiful day. Meanwood Park has long been known for its association with fairies. The artist famous for his fairy paintings, John Atkinson Grimshaw is said to have painted in Meanwood Park. Here is one of his paintings:
The idea of the day was inspired by another fairy artist, Cicely Mary Barker, the creator of the beautiful Flower Fairy books, which so many of us grew up loving. I happened to come across the Flower Fairies of the Spring book in a charity shop recently and was enchanted once more by the lovely drawings and song-poems. It felt to me like the delicate spring flowers were calling out to be noticed and appreciated, so I arranged this walk to give time to honouring them, a chance to explore the tiny and the unseen at springtime. As we get older we sometimes forget to play.. the fairies would encourage otherwise.
I’m just going to share two of the flowers the we encountered with you, to give you a taste of the small beauties of the forest floor.
This is a bank of wood anemone in Meanwood Park, mixed in with the delicious wild garlic.
Otherwise known as windflower. Herbalists don’t use Wood Anemone anymore. It was once used as a bath for leprosy and as a kind of snuff juice to clear the head. However there is one of its relatives which you will probably have heard of, Pasque flower or Pulsatilla (Anemone pulsatilla) which is used a lot. Pulsatilla is a commonly used homeopathic remedy and Herbalists also use it in the whole plant form, usually as a tincture. It is an excellent nerve tonic and anti-spasmodic, I’ve often given it to women to help with period pain.
This is Pulsatilla (not taken on the walk):
THE SONG OF THE WINDFLOWER
While human-folk slumber,
The fairies espy,
Stars without number
Sprinkling the sky.
The Winter’s long sleeping,
Like night-time is done;
But day-stars are leaping
To welcome the sun.
Star-like they sprinkle
The wildwood with light;
Countless they twinkle-
The Windflowers white!
Windflowers are most commonly white. We were lucky to find some rare pink ones on our walk:
My other favourite tiny spring flower is Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). Wood Sorrell is easy to identify by its heart-shaped leaves folded through the middle, that occur in groups of three. The leaves look a bit like clover leaves, but they’re more folded down. The flowers are smaller than those of the windflowers.
Hundreds of years ago, this was a popular medicinal herb and salad herb, but has fallen out of favour as other herbs became introduced. There is a traditional use of it being used as a cooling drink in case of fevers. The leaves taste very sharp, and can be used in food instead of vinegar. This sharpness comes from it containing a special salt, binoxalate of potash, which is also present in Rhubarb. This constituent is also present in the other sorrels that you may have heard of, sorrel or sheep’s sorrel which have become famous as part of the Essiac tea that Rene Casse used to treat people with cancer. The Wood Sorrel is nothing like the other sorrels and is just grouped together with them because they all contain this sharp-tasting constituent.
But, anyway, I’m just being reminded that we weren’t supposed to be getting serious on this herb walk, so lets finish with the lovely picture of the Wood Sorrel fairy and some photos taken on the day.
Next event is a Medical Herb Walk on the 4th May, 2014. See the Upcoming Events page for more details. There will be a Flower Fairies of the Summer event, details to follow.