The fronds of the male fern fade during the winter time and leave behind a flaky root-stock, which grows bigger every year and turns black at the center, whereas new fern fronds sprout at the periphery. I like to think, as the years pass, the root begins to look like the scaly back of a dragon hiding beneath the earth, whereas the fronds form the dragon’s wings…
…and one may even spot the dragon’s head lurking in the soil.
The root has been used until recent times as an anthelminthic to expel tape worms. This is supposedly due to flavaspidic acid, a Phloroglucinol derivate, which is contained in the glandular hairs. The root stock and leaf stalks are deadly poisonous, especially in young plants. Overdosage may result in severe poisoning and death.
Banded grove snails (Cepaea nemoralis) overwintered between withered fern fronds. Snails and slugs are a gardener’s nightmare, though I’d like to think these banded snails are the “good ones” as opposed to the brown Spanish slug (which I myself battle by the means of sharp iron tools and worse).
However, not only gardeners of modern times are struggling in the fight against terrestrial molluscs, but also medieval knights went to battle the creatures in full armor, as a recent article at the Smithonian.com website elucidates utterly strange and still unexplained depictions in medieval manuscripts:
And as if that wouldn’t be enough, snails occur also as a metaphor for death and withering in the biblical Psalm 58:8
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
Not enough? I strongly recommend you to check out the Hunting for Snails blog, for a plethora of wondrous examples of snails in medieval manuscript art and this collection by the British Library.
The 1st and 2nd of February respectively are associated with Imbolc, the Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring, and Candlemas, the day, when all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed.
This time marks the midpoint of winter between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It signals the return of the light of the sun and the days getting longer again.
Romans celebrated the Candelarum festival in honor of Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades, and searched by her mother Demeter, bearing a torch. The return of Persephone from the underworld, signaled the return of the light and the end of the winter season. Romans lit candles and torches to drive out evil.
February, from Latin februum, meaning “purgation”, “purging”
The Roman Februalia was a festival of purification and purging, which later merged with the Lupercalia. The Latin term febris, meaning “fever”, might be related. (see)
In Jewish tradition the mother of a boy was considered impure for the 40 days following its birth (and for 60 days following the birth of a girl) and was not allowed to enter the temple. At the end of this period the mother underwent a purification ritual. This custom was incorporated into the Christian Catholic festival of Candlemas, also known as the “presentation of Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem” and the “purification of the blessed virgin Mary”.
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.
There is still time until the vernal equinox and the winter may still be long and cold, especially if this day is clear and sunny. A rainy and
cloudy Candlemas on the other hand means the worst of winter is over. The animals, such as bears and bumble bees, come out of hibernation for the first time. Snowdrops begin to flower, Christmas roses are in full bloom and the winter seeds begin to grow.
Now start sowing indoors those seeds that require warmth and light. The seed trays are kept on the window bench until April or until the last frosts are over. Then the young plants will be ready to be planted outdoors.
Traditional offerings: beeswax candles, Chandeleurs = pancakes (also kown as crêpes)
Plants: snowdrops, early flowering plants
Deities: Brigid, Persephone, Father Martin (Romanian)
Rituals: cleansing and purification rituals, divination
Superstitions: If someone brings snowdrops into the house on Candlemas day it symbolizes a parting or death. Any decoration left from Christmas, such as holly twigs, should be taken down completely by Candlemas, else there would be a death among the community before the year was out.
Another tradition holds that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative; each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.
Sailors would not set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster.
Btw. we had a very rainy and cloudy 1st day of February and tomorrow looks no different… 😉
Wuth only few days left until the Winter Solstice, I am excited to share my next plant riddle with you! This time the herb I’m looking for is not a poisonous one. It is a classic healing plant, which belongs in any herbal apothecary. A giant in the garden, its name relative is associated with an adversarial hero, who helped man and offended the gods.
The riddle is again accompanied by a new illustration I did earlier in autumn and which may help or confuse…
Tonight I share this new artwork with you, which is again a riddle. The game is as usual: guess the plant depicted and leave a comment with your suggestion! If you have been following my recent postings here you will easily find the plant in question. A hint: it has to do with autumn. 😉
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a wonderful and mighty plant in the garden. It is for example a nectar source for hover flies. Hoverfly larvae feed on aphids (one hoverfly larva may devour as many as 700 aphids during its development) and thus are very useful creatures in the garden, providing long-term protection for infested plants.
Fennel seed is a remedy against all sorts of digestive disorders, both in man as well as animals. A quick first aid for young birds that have fallen out of their nest and occur starved is dextrose/honey solved in fennel tea. Birds in the wild love to eat the seeds, hence another reason for making fennel a constant companion in your garden.
My fennel plants are 4 years old and come back every year. (Who said fennel was biennial?) They are quite the sight, get over two meters tall and always remind me of the fire Prometheus stole from heaven and brought to earth for mankind to master… (tbc that myth applies to Ferula communis, but our common fennel can be viewed as worthy substitute). The sulfur yellow flower umbels also make for a nice contrast with the dark green leaves of monkshood and yew.
Sometimes I spend a moment in the sun and just watch the fennel sway in the wind… I perceive it as an ultimate summer/air plant, which also has the power to clear a chaotic mind as well as inspire artistic vision. The seeds I have here are VERY aromatic, sweet but also with a strong camphorous note.They would make a fine addition to prophetic incense blends as well as oils and decoctions. E.g. I love to sip some fennel tea in the evening and when my mind feels tired or scattered, as it brings back focus and clarity.
Of course you can also sow them. Now is a good time to harvest fresh ripe fennel seeds and sow them directly.