A sneak preview of A Wild Plant Year: The History, Folklore and Uses of Britain’s Flora

Christina Hart-Davies is writing a series of very short monthly articles,  with illustrations from and text based on her forthcoming book A Wild Plant Year: The History, Folklore and Uses of Britain’s Flora (September, 2016), for  local newspaper, Dorset Echo. There will be one article every month. Dorset Echo were planning to publish them in their weekend supplements, but the supplements haven’t started yet.  So, here is a taste of what is to come…..

Butcher’s Broom, Ruscus aculeatus

Butcher’s Broom, Ruscus aculeatus


New year, new broom: a clean sweep. Country people used long flexible Birch twigs, gathered at this time of year and lashed to a Hazel handle, to make a useful broom or besom.  The aptly-named Broom plant has always been used for sweeping and did not even need a handle if you cut a long enough branch. Heather was good for a smaller brush, but used only when fresh or it disintegrated. The rather spiky Butcher’s Broom, still found at woodland edges in many parts of the country, is said to have been used for cleaning butchers’ chopping blocks. Rather surprisingly, it is related to Lilies. Its fat red berries and evergreen ‘leaves’ – actually modified stems – encouraged its use as a Christmas decoration. For brushing really delicate items people used the fronds of Hair Moss, so noticeable in acid woods in winter.

~by Christina Hart-Davies, for Dorset Echo