nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

growing and gathering – names of edible wild plants

with 15 comments


As I have worked on my poetry project about eating local foods, I have researched each wild plant, found it in its natural environment, and then written about it.  With all this, I am exposed to the words and characteristics of a particular plant and it is never certain which way the ‘muse’ will take me when I write the poem.  Sometimes, I end up creating a poem about eating local food, and sometimes, I get a poem about something else.  Usually these stray poems are, in some way, about the name of the plant.

I find the names of plants are very inspiring.  First is the Latin or scientific name, familiar to me after years of botanizing, but mysterious to most people.   I love to find out about the origins of the name and I usually discover the name is descriptive of the plant.  An example is the scientific name for Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta L.), a small yellow-flowered, three-leaved plant of waste areas.  The name stricta means ‘erect’, referring to the way the plant grows when young or the way its seed pods are held.  The word oxalis is from the Greek oxys meaning ‘sour’, a reference to the taste of the leaves.

The common names of plants are also intriguing.  Sometimes these are different for each area where the plant is found.  For example, the Cloudberry (Rubus Chamaemorus L.), a small relative of Blackberry with a peach-colored fruit, is known locally (and particularly in Newfoundland) as Bakeapple.  Plant names may also refer to a characteristic of the plant.  A good example is Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris L.), a small purple flower.  It inhabits waste areas and lawns, becoming small and compact if mowed.  One of its common names, ‘Carpenter Weed’, comes from this characteristic… Carpenter Weed mends holes in lawns!   The name Heal-all comes from the old belief that the plant has medicinal properties.

‘heal-all’ Copyright Jane Tims 2011

So, among my collection of poems about edible plants, I have a group of poems about the plants and their names, but not about their use as local foods.  I have to decide whether or not to include them in my collection, or to set them free!

~

~

Heal-all

(Prunella vulgaris L.)

~

snug Prunella, neat little weed

prim and proper, gone to seed

~

first called Brunella: gatherers found

Prunella purple fades to brown

~

a carpenter weed, busy, strong

mends bare patches on the lawn

~

heal-all, self-heal – your name suggests

an herbal secret you possess

~

~

©  Jane Tims  2012

15 Responses

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  1. Names of plants inspire me to like them 🙂 For instance, Wood Sorrel is just a flat-out good-sounding name. I appreciate the plant more for the attractive sounding name!

    Like

    Watching Seasons

    September 21, 2012 at 11:33 am

    • Hi. I agree. Who could resist a plant with the name Viper’s Bugloss… it grows in our ditches and is very prickly to the touch but I love it for its name. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      September 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm

  2. Really interesting. How do you do it all? Text, photo, illustration AND a poem for each post? And I think you’re posting every day?

    Like

    dearrosie

    September 20, 2012 at 1:51 am

  3. The names are fascinating. Our lawn is littered with Heal-All. Your drawing of it is wonderful. The flowers look like little hooded monks, perhaps setting off to do some healing.

    Like

    Robin

    September 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  4. I am always so intrigued – and often enchanted by common names. Your poem is so lovely!

    Like

    seedbud

    September 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

    • Hi. Thanks! I like this plant… it was the first plant I ever learned to identify! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      September 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm

  5. There’s not a “unique” section crying out for them? Setting them ‘free’ seems so sad – unless of course they could be the beginning of a follow-up volume!

    Like

    Jane Fritz

    September 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    • Hi. I have decided to submit all the poems to artsnb… these poems will go in a section called ‘call me by name’…I can’t abandon them. It is the hardest part about selecting poems for a collection… what to leave out and what to keep… I will still have to make the hard decisions down the road when I select a sub-set to send to a publisher….. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      September 14, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      • I like this approach. I especially like the name of the section!

        Like

        Jane Fritz

        September 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      • Hi Jane. Thanks! The names of the sections are as hard to think of as the names of the poems! Jane

        Like

        jane tims

        September 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm

  6. More beautiful illustrations Jane, highly impressive. Love the poem, too.

    Like

    dfb

    September 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  7. This is wonderful. I really like the inspiration that comes from the name of the plants. How poetic, yet ordinary and practical they seem….I especially like the carpenter weed common name!

    Like

    weedimageoftheday

    September 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

    • Hi. The common names probably also have local significance… I find myself wondering who in a particular area first gave a plant a name that stuck! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      September 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      • I wonder that too. And I wonder if that person is secretly pleased that their word coinage caught on? I think so!

        Like

        weedimageoftheday

        September 15, 2012 at 1:24 am


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