It’s a wonderful world…

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Earlier in the week, and in between leaf gathering for the allotment leaf mould project, finishing off a short story about Swahili spirit possession, I took myself on a wander around Wenlock’s byways to see what was what. We are very lucky in that respect. Our town is compact, having grown up around the medieval Wenlock Priory. One minute you’re on the High Street, the next you’re out in the Shropshire countryside. And there’s just so much to see out there.

This wild clematis, aka Old Man’s Beard, caught my eye (above and below). It was arching over the path beside the abandoned Shadwell Quarry, and had then anchored itself on the fence. I like the congruity of the barbed wire and the twining plant stem.

It comes into its own in the autumn with its feathery seed heads, and as you will see in a moment, it is an impressive climber.

During the summer it mostly creeps greenly through the trees and you tend not to notice it. I’m also grateful to Richard Mabey’s treasure book Flora Britannica for reminding me that another country name for this plant is Traveller’s Joy.  Mabey tells us that the plant was christened by 16th century botanist and herbalist, John Gerard who named it  thus because of its habit of ‘decking and adorning waies and hedges, where people travell’. He sounds like a sound chap, to pay tribute to the joy-making qualities of plant life.

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Like many varieties of clematis, this one does have medicinal properties – for kidneys and skin complaints – but as the whole plant is very acrid, it requires careful preparation. The most common traditional use is to roll the dried stems and smoke them as cigarettes, hence the plant’s other names of boy’s bacca and smokewood.

But this next plant is definitely one you do NOT want to consume in any form, despite its being related to cucumbers. All parts of White Bryony are poisonous and cattle deaths from eating it have been well recorded. But in autumn it is so very beautiful, and twines through hedgerows like strings of red and gold amber beads.

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The roots, though, are particularly toxic and grow very large. In 18th century Britain they featured in the mandrake root scam. Mandrake is a Mediterranean plant with a root that looks pretty much like a naked man or woman. It was in great demand as an aphrodisiac and narcotic. (If you know your Harry Potter, you will know that mandrake shrieks when it is being uprooted.) Unprincipled persons of the rabbit-catching variety thus began to fashion bryony roots into the highly desirable mandrake root. It was by no means an easy process either, and involved several phases to complete the subterfuge. Presumably the recipients did not live to tell any tales.

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And here are some crab apples, Malus sylvestris  in Latin, woodland apples. They make brilliant, jewel like jelly which is good on toast or with roasts. Mabey says they are the ‘most important ancestor of the cultivated apple, M. domestica. More than 6,000 named varieties have been bred over the centuries, of which probably only a third still survive.’

I found these, a little bruised, beside the old railway line that once served Shadwell Quarry. Now a footpath, this is one of the town’s most attractive places to walk. Ash trees and ivy overhang the track these days, and it has an other-worldly feel, far removed from industrial quarrying, trucking and smelting .

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It is hard to imagine that steam trains once came chugging down this track. The branch was built specifically to haul away Shadwell limestone to use as fluxing stone in the iron-smelting industry. In 1873, alone, 22,500 tons was shipped out of Wenlock.

You can walk ‘there and back’ along the path, or there’s a longer circular route that takes you across fields, and down the lane to the Priory and into town. Out in the fields I found that the rose-hips, fruits of wild roses,  were doing pretty good jewel impressions too. They are also known as heps or itchy-coos.

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The fruit have hairy insides which are a powerful irritant (and presumably much known to aggravate the coos or cows), but once removed, the hips have highest vitamin C content of any common native British fruit. During World War 2 and into the 1950s there was a national campaign to collect hips to make syrup according to Ministry of Food guidelines. It involved much mincing, stewing and straining, and a lot of sugar which I think was possibly counterproductive health benefit-wise. Nonetheless, caring mothers spooned it into their children.  Some of us will still remember the taste.

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Finally a note about this post. Apart from celebrating the Shropshire countryside, it’s also inspired by 1) Lucile Godoy at Photo Rehab and Perelincolors who in Tech of the Month have been urging us to ‘fill the whole picture’ in our compositions. See their blogs for some useful guidance. (Photos here taken with a Kodak EasyShare 380).

And 2) by Jo’s Monday Walk.

Happy composing and walking everyone.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

49 thoughts on “It’s a wonderful world…

  1. Another most informative and beautiful post. Love the photographs, especially the first, and I can remember gathering hips when I was a child for the purpose that you describe. Mother Nature offers us so much more than we often recognise or understand….and one day I would love to explore your area…it’s filled with so much interest and history. Have a lovely weekend. janet/.

  2. It’s definitely another well elaborated post, rich with information that’s is interesting and useful. The photos are equally enticing.
    I didn’t know about clematis benefits for the kidneys and skin. Do you know how and where it’s used?
    And is hips the same as hibiscus?
    Thank you so much for joining us and also for the shoutout.
    Cheers!

    1. Hello Lucile. I think Germany probably has the longest heritage in the usage of European plants like clematis. It’s definitely a plant that should be administered by a herbalist. As to hips, no they’re not hibiscus, but fruit from the briar rose, but both are good for colds 🙂

  3. I could certainly use some guidance on photo sizes, Tish, so I’ll be off there later. T’ai chi first- you just caught me 🙂 Thank you so much for the link in your lovely ramble. You always astound me with how knowledgeable you are. I especially love the close up of the wispy clematis and the railway track, full of leaves. There are some wonderful jewels out there when we stop to look, aren’t there?
    Many thanks, again! Have an excellent weekend 🙂

  4. What a beautiful walk Tish and fascinating information. I am surprised by how green everything remains. Here the trees are now naked and shivering waiting for their blanket of snow.

      1. Pleasure. One can imagine all these ”foruners” running around the Shropshire country side munching away crying, ”Well, Tish said … eeeerk!”

        Oops!

      2. I think this will fly. One can safely take it as a given that your general readership is plenty savvy enough to spot a simple typo.
        They were probably all too polite to mention it that’s all. 😉

        I’m just a hooligan!

  5. A most informative and enjoyable read with lovely photos, Tish. Last year we sadly had to say goodbye to our crab apple tree as it had a virus. I love crab apple jelly …
    Have a great weekend!
    Dina & co

  6. A lovely autumnal walk – love the jewels of nature you found and the most interesting information. I notice the old man’s beard in the hedgerows in Shropshire during winter, but never notice the flowers in summer. Why is that?

  7. This is fabulous, I love to learn the old names of plants (think I was a healing woman in a previous life!) and I’ve never heard of itchy coos. I’m very fond of Old Man’s Beard and I like them in flower too. I have about a dozen jars of crab apple jelly and some that are mixed with hawthorn, have you tried it?

    1. Not tried mixing with hawthorn, but that’s a great idea. Hawthorn berries are highly therapeutic according to my Elisabeth Brooke’s Herbal Therapy for Women: blo0d pressure, low and high, palpitations, hot flushes, and for healing hurtful emotions, and lots more besides.Of course it goes without saying, people need to consult a registered herbalist if they have specific conditions.

  8. Interesting walk in the Wenlock area assault . What is leaf allotment recycling – as opposed to just making a pile of leaves and scraps in the back of the yard?

    1. Ah-ha. My pet project du jour. I’m making leaf mould for seed compost. It’s different from the ordinary compost heap which has everything in it, and thus higher nutrient content. Leaves take at least a year to rot down, but the resulting loam is low nutrient but light and crumbly and idea for seeds. Did you really want to know this, Stephen. I could become a compost bore 🙂

  9. Tish, this was such a surprise nature walk- surprise because I did not expect a plant tutorial and because it was so delightful. I have a little bit of experience with clematis – and my husband always jokes about that name – ha! but I actually took it off of the metal attic on my porch because it was such spring and fall plant – and I wanted a summer bloomer – but the mandevilla I put in never took off and so for the last few years – it has been bare and I miss the purple clematis. I did not know the little factoids about it – and also had no idea about the Mandrake root looking “like a naked man or woman” (nature is so cool) – anyhow, your botanist side is layered – have a nice day – xoxo

  10. What a joy to return to your Shropshire, after a stubborn attempt to withdraw from the blogging world a bit. That pathway is indeed magic and so is the easy way you incorporate plant lore. One of my neighbouring properties is called Itchycoo Park, a name now illuminated, although it doesn’t run coos. Mabey sounds like a book well worth owning: I always imagined him as a sort of nineteenth century parson with a passion for botany, but I gather I was wrong. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/01/the-cabaret-of-plants-richard-mabey-review-tim-dee)
    I wonder if there’s an Australian equivalent? There are a number of books about bush tucker I mabey should explore, but I suspect I won’t find Mabey’s poetry.

    However, the greatest pleasure was that wonderful path.

    1. Hello Meg. I’ve misssed you. Really! So welcome back to my neck of the woods. Richard Mabey became famous for his Food For Free book back sometime when – 1970s. Seen as a bit hippyish at the time, but has wonderful recipes like Pontack Sauce which you make out of elderberries and rivals Worcestershire Sauce – if you have such a thing in Oz. And now I’ve just been to your link which confirms the ’70s Mabey era etc.
      ‘Mabey’ explore indeed! Bush Tucker – from what I’ve seen, is a bit more of a challenge palate-wise than Mabey, but hey – go with what you’ve got 🙂

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