Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A bank full of betony

Just below the south of the junction of Compasses Lane and the B2244 Hawkhurst Road on the western bank at TQ7763820510 is a magnificent stand of betony (Betonica officinalis formerly Stachys officinalis). Their rich purple flowers make a landscape feature and the small white-flowered umbellifer pepper saxifrage (Silaum silaus) also grows here, indicating this is long undisturbed grassland.

20100727 BHW & Killingan 031

Betony was much used by herbalists in the past and in the Domestic Encyclopaedia of 1803 it says that, among other things it "affects those who gather any quantity of its leaves, with a disorder resembling the effects of intoxication."

Betony garlands worn round the neck were said to suppress nightmares and the Anglo-Saxon Herbal said it would protect against"frightful goblins that go by night and terrible sights and dreams."  If one put an adder within a garland of betony it was said that it would kill itself, while thrusting a leaf up one's nose was regarded as a cure for toothache (Medicina Britannica, 1748).

The now rare great case moth (Coleophora wockeella) feeds only on betony and, as the name suggests, goes about like a hermit crab or caddis larva in a small (not great) case made of bits of the leaves.  There is a picture here:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Killingan Coppice again

The fruit are already ripe on the bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) and here it looks as though the sloe bug (Dolycoris baccarum) centre right is enjoying some of the juice while standing on its head.

20100727 Killingan bittersweet & sloe bug

The plant is toxic to humans and, although quite large quantities have to be eaten before there are any serious effects, it is important not to experiment.  Sloe bugs appear not to be affected.  The stems are said to be sweet when first chewed, but quickly turn bitter hence, I assume, the name dulcamara meaning sweetbitter.

Spear thistles (Cirsium vulgare) are in full bloom now and very attractive to bumble bees.

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Another plant doing exceptionally well along the coppice edge in response to higher light levels is upright hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica).

20100727 Killingan Torilis japonica

In Korea seeds of this species are one of the ingredients in the 18 herb concoction called paeng-jo-yeon-nyeon-baek-ja-in-hwan (PJBH for short).  In Oriental medicine PJBH is reckoned to activate brain function, promote memory and lengthen life span.  Might try some if I can find the other 17 ingredients.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why 'black' bryony?

With is shiny green leaves and bright red berries, black bryony (Tamus communis or sometimes Dioscorea communis) is anything but black.

However, it does have a tuber (which was used in medicine) with a black exterior and the leaves, like those shown below, sometimes turn purplish black in summer and autumn.

20100715 Tamus communis black leaves 004

The name also helps to differentiate the species from the unrelated white bryony (Bryonia dioica), the mandrake, also much used in medicine.

Both plants are climbers with red berries.  This is white bryony at Pagham Harbour, where it tends to sprawl.

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