Hawkwell Herbology: Old Wives' Tales

Hawkwell Herbology: Old Wives' Tales

Who doesn't love a good Old Wives' Tale? A bit of herbacious folklore from our resident Herb Expert.

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There are many Old Wives' tales associated with herbs. Many, it seems, made up in Medieval Times to portray women as clever and wonderful and men as ... well, a bit thick! (I make no comment about that...).

Here are some of the less sexist ones:

The size of the Rosemary reflects the power of the woman of the house.

Sage only grows where planted by a stranger (I can imagine a medieval middle aged housewife asking a stranger that!).

If you put Marjoram under your pillow, you will dream of your future love (best not do that if you are happily married...).

Basil grows best where people swear!

And, as for your sex life, Winter Savory dulls it, Summer Savory livens it!

Sage Herb Close up


I like the idea that people in the past felt that herbs were an intrinsic and important part of their daily lives. Enough to make them part of their daily beliefs and rituals of words. We make up stories about things that affect us. We make up sayings, we compile poetry.

It got me thinking about my bees -

'The keeping of bees is like the directions of sunbeams' (Thoreau).

And this one about bees AND herbs by Walter de la Mare:

A poor old Widow in her weeds
Sowed her garden with wild-flower seeds;
Not too shallow, and not too deep,
And down came April -- drip -- drip -- drip.
Up shone May, like gold, and soon
Green as an arbour grew leafy June.
And now all summer she sits and sews
Where willow herb, comfrey, bugloss blows,
Teasle and pansy, meadowsweet,
Campion, toadflax, and rough hawksbit;
Brown bee orchis, and Peals of Bells;
Clover, burnet, and thyme she smells;
Like Oberon's meadows her garden is
Drowsy from dawn to dusk with bees.
Weeps she never, but sometimes sighs,
And peeps at her garden with bright brown eyes;
And all she has is all she needs --
A poor Old Widow in her weeds.

? Walter de la Mare, Peacock Pie


I love the line, "all she has is all she needs". I often think how lucky I am to have all I need: herbs, ducks, bees, hens, dogs, allotment - oh and the lovely humans that surround me in my life. What sayings, poetry, tales exist in your life about the things that are important to you?

And I leave you with this thought:

If you soak the flowers of the herb Chicory, you will see into the future...

And with this wish:

May you always find the fairy hidden behind your cowslips. 

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