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, the oxeye daisies are in full bloom in the cemetery, especially in the area which has been designated for meadow burials. I love the way that they seem to glow (one of their alternative names is ‘Moon Daisy’) and the way that their broad, single flowers are used by all kinds of pollinators, but especially hoverflies. The Latin name, Leucanthemum vulgare, literally means ‘common white flower’, but in the language of flowers oxeye daisies are said to represent patience. It always seems to me that there is something stoical and unassuming about this plant, and it’s very easy to just pass it by and not notice how exquisitely formed the flowers are.
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see how the yellow middle part of the flower looks rather bulgy and uneven. This is because each of the segments is actually a separate flower – a ‘disc floret’. Each petal is a separate flower too – a ‘ray floret’. Each ‘petal’ is female, but the florets in the middle are hermaphrodite, with both stamen (male) and a style (female). If you examine an oxeye daisy at this time of year, you will see the disc florets erupting, one at a time, to enable pollination, and this is what gives the bumpy appearance. The sex life of a plant is indeed a wonder to contemplate.
Oxeye daisy is native to Europe and the western parts of Asia, but has been naturalised in North America and Australasia as well. It is common in the Alpine flower meadows of Austria and Switzerland, and in these countries it is believed that hanging it in the home or in a barn would repel thunder. In Somerset in the UK it was associated with Thor, the God of Thunder (though what the folk of Somerset have to do with a Norse god puzzles me somewhat. Maybe those blooming Vikings).
In Scotland, it appears that oxeye daisy (known as ‘gool’) was considered a significant pest (not only in arable fields, but also because if cattle eat the plant it can taint their milk). ‘Gool-riders’ would ride through the parish, and any farmer with an unacceptable number of the flowers in his fields was fined up to 3s 4d or a ‘wedder sheep’, which I think may be a castrated ram (though any sheep-farming readers can correct me!)
Oxeye daisy is also known as Marguerite in some French-speaking parts of the world, after the ‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not’ game ‘effeuiller la marguerite’. I suppose that a daisy the size of this one makes it much easier where petal-counting is involved!
As with many members of the daisy family (many of which have ‘fleabane’ somewhere in their names), oxeye daisy was believed to deter parasites if it was included in the bedding of domestic animals. It is also said to be useful medicinally, especially in cases of respiratory disease. The plant, if added to ale, was said to be a traditional treatment for jaundice, maybe because of its yellow centre. It was also used in an ointment to treat bruises and rashes, and there’s something logical about those pure white flowers being used for healing.
As a plant which often bursts into flower around the Solstice, oxeye daisy is associated with the feast day of St John the Baptist on 24th June. And as it is one of those plants that goes on and on, it is also associated with St Mary Magdalene, whose feast day is on 22nd July.
It appears that you can also eat oxeye daisies. On the Eden Project website, there is a recipe for Tempura-Battered Oxeye Daisies, which are said to taste a little like pineapple. I suppose that this is not surprising, as I always think that tea made from the chamomile, a close relative, reminds me of the tropical fruit. And on the Eat The Weeds website there are details for how to pickle the buds, which are said to taste like capers. Maybe this tastiness is what explains the denuded flowers of some of my oxeye daisies, who look as if someone has systematically nibbled off every petal.
This is undoubtedly the work of our old friends, the snails (and possibly the slugs as well). I have been fighting a running (or maybe crawling) battle with these molluscan devils all summer. I have a pot of oxeye daisies on my front porch, and every evening I check the rim of the pot, and the surface of the soil, for any sneaky shells. I then toss the miscreants into the lavender, where they will have a long journey back. But every morning, a few more petals seem to disappear. I suppose that they are such tasty morsels that the snails will eat them in preference to anything else. What I really need is a hedgehog, but, in spite of encouragement, I have not seen so much as a prickle. In fact, the last hedgehog that I saw was a squashed one in Somerset last week. I wonder if you can rescue a hedgehog, like you can a cat or dog? There would certainly be lots for them to do in my garden.