NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Marie Lep­per, by email

The plant de­picted in the ar­ti­cle on dye plants on page 49 of your Au­gust is­sue looks a lot like Gal­ium aparine or cleavers, not Ru­bia tinc­to­rum or mad­der as you re­fer to it. Cleavers, Gal­ium odor­a­tum (sweet woodruff), Gal­ium verum (lady’s bed­straw) and mad­der are all whanau and look sim­i­lar.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­scrip­tion in my herbals, the plant de­picted has rounded tips to the leaves and ap­pears much like the very com­mon gar­den weed with the rough leaves and round sticky seeds which cling to all and sundry, hence the com­mon name, cleavers. To con­fuse ‘mad­ders’ even more, Shera­dia ar­ven­sis or field mad­der is very sim­i­lar to Ru­bia tinc­to­rum, only dif­fer­ing in the colour of its pink­ish blue flow­ers.

When it is not pos­si­ble to have an ex­pert as­sist with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of plant spec­i­mens, I have found the Framp­ton Flora by Richard Mabey to be an ex­cel­lent and beau­ti­ful book. The ex­quis­ite paint­ings pro­duced by the Clif­ford fam­ily from 1828 to 1851 some­how cap­ture the sub­tle nu­ances be­tween sim­i­lar plants so much bet­ter than pho­to­graphs.

While ac­cu­rate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of dye plants is not a big is­sue, that of medic­i­nal herbs is. Ap­par­ently in the 1970s an em­i­nent sci­en­tific jour­nal pub­lished a pic­ture of Nepeta cataria along­side a de­scrip­tion of mar­i­juana. Pur­chases of cat­nip mice es­ca­lated as scores of mad hip­pies sought to get high by smok­ing the con­tents of the mice.

Editor’s note: thank you to Marie for let­ting us know, and our apolo­gies for the er­ror.

Photo: H Zell, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Ru­bia tinc­to­rum

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