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Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Hello,

Along with a passion for words, I also enjoy foraging. There’s something satisfying about finding local plants and using them in old recipes. Last weekend, for example, I took a walk to gather elder flowers and bottled up some elder flower cordial. I’m far from expert and take great care to pick sustainably and with careful identification, but with help from a handful of good books on the topic I’ve been expanding my hedgerow harvest from simple blackberrying to blackberry and apple jam, crab apple whiskey, and wild garlic pesto. Pinterest is a good starting place for information, if you’d like to try it yourself.

Beware of nettles

When I was walking back with my elder flowers I passed a large clump of nettles and remembered a strange fact about them from “Foraging” by John Lewis-Stempel – “In Scotland, the natives made cloth from nettles as late as the 18th century”.

Nettle’s word history ties in with the idea of cloth. Nettle entered English from Old English netele which in turn came from Old Saxon netila and related words netele (Middle Dutch), netel (Dutch), Nessel (German), and naedlae (Danish). All of these terms come from the root ned which means “to tie or bind”.

Twisted fibres used to bind are but a short hop to cloth via a loom and it wasn’t just done in Scotland. I recently read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales (for my ongoing quest to read the entire 501 Books list) and in one of them (The Wild Swans) a princess must knit nettle shirts to save her brothers from an evil queen. She suffers terribly during her task due to nettle stings.

The history of nettle cloth is well documented elsewhere online, if you’re curious, and dates back to 3000 B.C.. Nettle cloth, or ramie, which is like linen was widely used worldwide even during World War II, even next to the skin.

To nettle someone is a more recent verb use of the word. It means to irritate or provoke someone and is from the 1560s. I imagine touching a stinging nettle would provoke you alright.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be nettle stung I do have one piece of advice based on a foraging talk I attended a few years ago. The charming expert began with a demonstration of how to handle nettle stings. He was scathing on the common misconception that dock leaves help. They don’t and I can vouch for that from my own childhood. At best the application of dock (also called burdock) leaves makes you feel a little better as a distraction/attention thing.

Dock – pointless for nettle stings

He introduced us to another plant, smaller leaved than dock, which generally grows on the edges of paths worn through grassland – plantain (plantago major). Apparently it was called whitefoot by native Americans as it grew where the colonists walked. It has strong anti-histamine properties and is well known for this in some countries and totally unknown in others which is a shame. He demonstrated with sheer bravado, holding a fistful of nettles for a minute, showing us his red, welted hand (to groans from his audience), and then rubbing the welts with dampened, crushed plantain leaves. In half a minute the welts and pain were gone.

 

Plantain – try it on nettle stings

I’ve yet to try this myself but I spread the word and both my children have helped stung friends with good effect.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Stay away from those nettles, unless you’re making nettle soup.

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is cohort (pronunciation here), which I came across in “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald.

A cohort is a Roman military term. You might remember a legion, it contained 600 soldiers. Each legion was sub-divided into cohorts of 60 infantry men each. They were a self-contained company, which makes sense as the original Latin referred to enclosure.

Roman Helmets

Cohort arrived in English in the 1400s with the meaning of being self-contained and it came to mean a walled court, garden, yard, or enclosure. It also retained the meaning of a group of companions which has persisted to modern English.

The hort element of the word, which has Latin roots as hortus or garden, went on to be part of horticulture. Perhaps the idea was that a garden is a way of enclosing part of nature. I love the notion of Roman infantry sharing linguistic roots with the flowers of a walled garden.

Enclosed medieval garden (Bloom 2016)

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I got that damaged thumb of mine checked out – I’ve torn ligaments apparently so my blog posts will be shorter than usual for the next 6 weeks.

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Hello,

This week’s word is forage. I was chatting about hedgerow harvesting this morning with Scout friends (it’s part of our Backwoods badge) and then couldn’t resist thoughts of foraging while walking. When I returned home I pulled out recipes for gorse wine and hawthorn blossom liquer. Foraging is addictive.

Hedgerow jam – damson & blackberry

Foraging entered the English language c. 1200s from Latin. Foragium was the Anglo-Latin word for fodder or food for horses and cattle. Around the same time it was in Old French as fourrage or fuerre which meant hay or straw, typically for animals. Frankish and old German had fuotar, fodr and fodr which all related to fodder or food.

Nettle soup anyone?

By the 1400s the word had moved on in meaning and related to plundering or pillaging. By the late 1400s that had changed to encompass the idea of roving around in search of provisions. From the 1700s onwards the notion had acquired a military twist. Foraging for provisions for the army’s beasts and soldiers was a vital skill when moving through the countryside. Those with the ability to live off the land were more likely to survive a campaign.

Plantain or Whitefoot – perfect for nettle stings

Luckily I don’t have to feed an army, although my teenage son gives me some insight into that particular challenge, but I love being able to use the environment around me to vary my diet and continue local traditions and folklore. Each year I add one or two new items to my foraging menu. If you’re interested there are great resources on Pinterest (you’ll find me and my foraging board there as GraceTierneyIRL) and the book “Wild and Free Cooking from Nature” by Cyril and Kit Ó’Céirín is a great starting point if you’re foraging in Ireland or the UK. There’s so much more out there than a few blackberries in the autumn.

Primrose – edible flower

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and foraging,

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word is exquisite. I was hiking on Sunday and admiring the new season’s ferns. I love the way they unfurl from the tightest little buds. A stem relaxes into existence and then each leaflet unrolls out from the stem itself. During high summer they’re easy to ignore, providing a green carpet under trees and along stone walls but on a bright spring day their exquisite growth dance is beauty in miniature.

The adjective exquisite entered the English language in the early 1400s from a Latin source and it meant “carefully selected” as it was a direct borrowing of the Latin word exquisitus which meant “careful choice” from the verb exquirere. Exquirere is compounded from ex for out (think exit, for example) and quarere meaning “to seek” (think query, for example).

It’s unclear how but exquisite’s meaning in English mutated with use. By the late 1500s it had changed to mean “something of delightful excellence”. By the 1700s it had refined to mean “something of delightful excellence produced by art rather than nature”. By the early 1800s it had a noun form which was used as another term for a dandy or foppish character.

Hence I shouldn’t describe the delicate tendrils of the new ferns as exquisite. They require no artist to tend them, but I still think they out-shine any sculpture.

Until next time, enjoy the small details in life. Happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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hazelnutsHello,

This week’s word is squirrel. They have been on my mind this week as I beheld my tiny hazelnut harvest (pictured left) and muttered darkly about “bushy-tailed urban criminals”.

I grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for my family’s table. I planned my garden to be productive, including as many native plants as I could. This involved me planting a hazelnut tree in my front garden. I researched it in the hope I could get hazelnuts (my favourite nut) but the books all said to plant at least three together if you wanted nuts and I didn’t have the space, so I selected a contorted hazel with curled stems that looks great in winter and an unholy mess in the summer.

We wind lights around it at Christmas and during the unwinding process one January I was stunned to find a scattering of hazels on the (hazelnut coloured) gravel beneath. I shouldn’t have been shocked. As I explored the lanes around our village I noticed other bushes in gardens and the motorway embankment is planted with native trees, including hazels.

Contorted hazel covered in ice

Contorted hazel covered in ice

I came to depend on a small hazelnut harvest each Christmas, growing as the tree grew in size. Not this year. This year it has halved and many of the nuts show signs of attack by tiny claws. I’m blaming the squirrels. There’s a healthy population of red squirrels in old woodlands nearby and I’ve spotted one clinging to the wall of my neighbour’s house. I’m all for squirrels and I’m happy to support our native reds over invasive grey squirrels any day but do they have to eat my hazelnuts?

Squirrels have been with us for some time (about 36 million years according to the fossil record) and they get everywhere, not just at my hazel tree. The word entered the English language  in the early 1300s. It came from the Anglo-French word esquirel. That came from the Old French word escurueil which was used for the beast or its fur (perhaps culled by angry nuttery owners). It came from scurius and sciurus in Vulgar Latin and Latin but it’s when we reach Greek that the fun starts.

The Latin words came from the Greek word skiouros which is formed from skia (shadow) and oura (tail or backside) with the idea being that the squirrel was a beast whose tail cast a shadow. I have a vision of ancient Greek squirrels using their tails to shade themselves from the relentless Greek sunshine, probably while nibbling on stolen hazelnuts.

Until next time remember to share the hazelnuts, the squirrels need them too,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

At the beginning of June I had a wonderful day out at Bloom (the Dublin version of the Chelsea Flower Show) and was delighted to find an unexpected local connection amongst the show gardens. Bremore Castle, a 15th century fortified house, has been undergoing renovation since 1994 by Fingal County Council and I pass it regularly. As the renovation process draws to a close the council joined with students from Blanchardstown Institute of Technology to create a medieval garden showcasing the skills they’ve learned during the work – stone carving, willow weaving, stone wall construction, etc.

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

It was a beautiful garden and particularly fascinating to me as I’m working on a novel set in that time period which has such a garden as a key setting #EasyResearch. One element which I loved was the small woven beehive, or skep, which was included as a reference to local Saint Mologa whose bee-keeping was legendary and contributes skeps to many emblems in these parts (even the logo of my Scout group which is apt as one of our former leaders is a bee-keeper).

Busy Bee

Busy Bee

The bees have been busy in my own garden with recent warm weather, especially around the patch of foxgloves. One packet of foxglove seeds 12 years ago is still giving us colour every year. They move around the garden, presumably with the wind, but I don’t mind where they turn up as they are so elegant.

Foxgloves / digitalis

Foxgloves / digitalis

The word skep was new to me however, so I had to investigate.

Merriam Webster tells me it’s a domed hive made of twisted straw. Beespoke (great name!) gave me loads of background info including how to make your own skep. The straw skep is now used for transporting summer swarms but formerly were used year round.

A skeppa was an Icelandic Norse word for a half-bushel grain measure – typically a rounded basket (turn it upside down and you have a skep). This travelled to sceppe, the Old English word for a basket, and finally to skep.  The first skeps were brought by Saxons to Britain about 400 AD, and would have come to Ireland shortly thereafter. First official mention of them in Ireland was when St. Gobhnait in Cork drove off cattle thieves by throwing bee skeps at them c. 500 AD. Irish saints were radical.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

p.s. Look who I found in the plant pavillion at Bloom. Definitely a friend of the blog.

IMG_0866

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Hello,

Today is glorious here. It’s only April so temperatures are still hovering around 10 Celcius (50 Fahrenheit for my US readers) but the sky is a clear endless blue and the weeds are growing in my garden. The breeze smells of summer and I spent Saturday planting early vegetable seeds – beetroot and peas outdoors, courgette, cucumber, borlotti beans, basil and peppermint indoors. There will be more to sow in May and June and my tomatoes are already six inches tall on the windowsill behind me as I write this.

My Garden Harvest

My Garden Harvest

With this lovely weather I couldn’t resist investigating an outdoor word and having taken my morning walk today on the local back roads I passed plenty of large open fields, some ploughed for crops, others in grass for livestock. Hence this week’s word is prairie (pronunciation here).

Local sunflower meadow

Local sunflower meadow

Most of you probably know that prairie is wide open grassland, typically in North America. I will always associate it with the wonderful children’s book series “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the television series. Do you recall the little girl running down through the prairie in the opening credits? I think my childhood obsession with having plaits sprouted from that child! Having short curly hair, I never did manage those plaits.

But did you know that prairie is actually a French word dating back to 1682? It originates with an Old French word praierie which in turn comes from the Latin word pratum – meaning meadow.

My own little wildflower corner in the garden - always alive with bees and butterflies

My own little wildflower corner in the garden – always alive with bees and butterflies

I’ve never been lucky enough to visit the American prairies but I can only imagine that they are much larger than any European meadow. It’s easy enough to imagine French settlers using their own term for grass fields and it catching on for the meadows’ larger cousins.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling. If you see a meadow, I dare you to run through it – but check for bulls first!

Grace

p.s. I’m still working away on Camp NaNo – ten days to go and plenty still to write.

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