Mountain Flora & Fauna

Broom (Cytisus scorparius)

Brom is old English for ‘coarse shrub’. Place names like Bromley, ‘broom clearing’, come from it. Local names for the plant include Golden chair, Banadle in Wales and Beesom, from its use for sweeping. The green tips of flowering branches contain sparteine, a powerful diuretic helpful for kidney ailments. An infusion of it was used to treat jaundice and relieve rheumatism. On the Isle of Man it was used to procure an abortion. In modern herbalism it is used to regulate the heartbeat, but it is best avoided by those with high blood pressure. Flowering in spring, it is symbolic of romance and amorousness, often to be seen decorating country weddings. At Whitsuntide, the orange-yellow flowers symbolised the fire, which descended on Jesus’s disciples and enabled them to speak in tongues. The buds were either picked or eaten raw in a salad, a popular 17th C. hors-d’oevre. They also flavoured beer before hops. The wood is used in fine furniture as veneer.

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Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Named either after Robert, Duke of Normandy, who commissioned a herbal in 1490, or from the Latin ruber, red, after the flower colour. Its foxy smell gives it the country name Stinking Bob. It is associated with goblins, and known as Robin Goodfellow and Hop-o’-my-thumb in Somerset. It was traditionally used to stem bleeding, and modern research has shown that it lowers blood sugar levels and so can be useful in the treatment of diabetes. In Devon, South Wales, Yorkshire and parts of Scotland, where it is known as Cancer weed, it is believed to be an effective against cancer, particularly of the skin. An infusion of it is used as an eye lotion and mouthwash. The fresh leaves rubbed on the body repel mosquitoes. It yields a brown dye.

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Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Prunella is from the German brunella, quinsy, a severe form of tonsillitis, for which the plant was used, possibly because of its throat-shaped flowers. Known as Sicklewort and Hookweed, after the hook shaped upper lip of the flower, it was used for ‘ all green wounds to close the lip of them’, earning another name, Carpenter-herb, from its use in treating tool injuries. The Scots boiled it in milk and butter, dried it and stored it over the winter to treat chest ailments, calling it Heart o’ the earth. It was also popular in Wales in the 18th C. for colds and respiratory difficulties. To cure fevers in Irish children, the leaves were rubbed on temples to cure a headache, and finds uses as a general strengthener, a treatment for internal bleeding and piles, and a gargle for sore throats. A cold water infusion of the young leaves makes a refreshing beverage. The flowers and stems yield an olive green dye.

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Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

Also called Buckbean and Marsh trefoil, and known in Yorkshire as Threefold and Gulsa-girse, and Jaundice grass in the Shetland Isles.The leaves and roots were used as an ancient treatment for jaundice, scurvy, malaria and rheumatism. An infusion of it was given, particularly in Scotland, as a general tonic, to strengthen the heart and to help increase weight and vitality. It helps open the tubes for asthma sufferers. In the Highlands it was used to clean fisherman’s rope burns and as a general pain killer. the bitter leaves were used as a flavouring for beer in northern Britain and Europe, as well as a herb tobacco. In Ireland, the roots were boiled for a spring tonic to cleanse the system, assist digestion and cure boils and other skin problems, the plant yields a green dye and the roots a brown one.

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