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…..
Dear Readers, when I was a small girl I was prone to what were euphemistically called ‘bilious attacks’. These resulted in plenty of sleepless nights for my poor mother, and lots of changing of the bedsheets. What I remember most from these episodes is a cool hand on my forehead, and my mum singing the following song.
‘Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do.
I’m half-crazy, all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage.
I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet, upon the seat, of a bicycle made for two’.
This always seemed to do the trick, and I wonder if my mother sung it with a certain relish because she and dad did, indeed, have a tandem bicycle when they were courting. Once when they were riding it in Stratford Broadway, it got stuck in the tramlines and both my parents fell off. Mum never forgot that Dad went to pick up the bike before he rescued her, but all must have been forgiven. After all, they were married, and I had arrived.
Is there anything more homely, more gentle and more ubiquitous than a daisy? It’s often the first flower to show its face, and the lawn in front of the flats next to the cemetery has hundreds still in full bloom in early November. It is a flower of childhood, of a more innocent time. I remember making daisy chains on hot summer days, and adding the flowers to the bunches of buttercups and grasses that my brother and I picked when went to ‘the country’ for the day (often Waltham Abbey or Buckhurst Hill).
Daisy is a corruption of the phrase ‘Day’s Eye’, as the plant closes at night and opens during the day time. Its Latin name, Bellis perennis, is said to mean ‘Pretty Everlasting’. And at a time when flower names for girls are coming back into fashion (I’ve heard quite a lot of calls for ‘Lily’ and ‘Poppy’ in my local coffee shop) surely it can’t be too long until Daisy makes a comeback. It was, after all, the name of the heroine in The Great Gatsby, and is also the name of one of my closest friends.
Daisies have also been used medicinally. Roman slaves who were accompanying surgeons into war picked sackfuls of daisies – the juice was extracted and used to soak the bandages that bound up the spear and sword wounds. One interpretation of the Latin name of the plant suggests that the Bellis does not relate to prettiness, but rather to war (as in belligerent and bellicose). It interests me that this plant, so closely associated with innocence, may have such a war-like connection.
In Austrian medicine, the plant is used as a tea for respiratory and gastrointestinal purposes. The flowers have also been used to garnish salads and desserts, though I’d advise against picking them from areas where they may have been subjected to herbicides and dog-contamination. Daisies may look pretty, but they are also tough, and grow in some of the most polluted places in our urban areas.
Although each ‘daisy’ looks like a single flower, they are in fact a collection of small, tightly packed individual flowers or florets – this arrangement is known as a capitulum. The bright yellow centre contains ‘disc-florets’, which are surrounded by elongated petal-like ‘ray florets’. If you look closely at the photo below you can see that some of the disc-florets are opening, revealing their flower-like character. Our simple daisy turns out not to be so simple after all.
Daisy flower close-up at the end of the post – “Bellis perennis white (aka)” by André Karwath aka Aka – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellis_perennis_white_(aka).jpg#/media/File:Bellis_perennis_white_(aka).jpg
All other photos copyright Vivienne Palmer