Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
As I may have mentioned before, I’m not a botanist. In order to identify a plant that has appeared in the garden, I usually have to allow it to bloom before I can even start to put a name to it. And so it was with this delicate, straggly yellow flower, which turned up for the first time this year. At first, I wondered if it was some kind of buttercup, or even a renegade yellow strawberry. But eventually I worked out that it is a Herb Bennet, or Wood Avens, a member of the rose family and closely related to the cinquefoils and, yes, the strawberries.
The name ‘Herb Bennet’ comes from the word Benedictus, so the whole plant is seen as a blessing. Hanging the plant up above your door was said to protect against evil spirits, and also against venomous snakes and rabid dogs. These virtues were absorbed into the early Christian tradition: the plant has three leaves, said to reflect the Holy Trinity, and, usually, five petals, reminiscent of the Five Wounds of Christ. I say usually because my plant appears to have six petals.
The roots of the plant apparently have a clove-like smell, which has been used to flavour ale, and to deter clothes moths. The root, which had to be picked by 25th March in order to retain its vital qualities, has been used to treat everything from diarrhoea to fever to headache. The lovely foraging site Celtnet suggests using it as a pot herb, or as a clove substitute in apple pie.
Herb Bennet, like Pendulous Sedge last week, is a plant of ancient woodland. Again, I am intrigued by the way that it has turned up in the garden for the first time. The seeds of this plant are normally transported by animals:As you can see, the seedheads are covered in tiny hooks, and these can be transported from place to place on clothing, or in the fur of dogs, cats and rabbits. So, did my plant arrive attached to a wandering cat who had previously been in Coldfall Wood, and set up home because the conditions were right? I fear I will never know, but again I wonder if the land beneath my feet remembers that less than a hundred and fifty years ago, it was a wood too. Whatever the reason, I am very happy to be hosting this little plant, with its long tradition of culinary and medicinal blessings.