DAZ­ZLING FLOWER

Bird Watching (UK) - - Seasons Spring -

Speed­well was an of­fi­cial herb in me­dieval times, when Veron­ica of­fic­i­nalis (Heath Speed­well) was com­monly used as a wound-healer. It had a rep­u­ta­tion as a heal­ing plant in gen­eral, par­tic­u­larly in skin com­plaints. “The wa­ter of Veron­ica dis­tilled with wine, and re-dis­tilled so of­ten un­til the liquor wax of a red­dish colour, pre­vaileth against the old cough, the dry­ness of the lungs, and all ul­cers and in­flam­ma­tions of the same,” wrote 16th Cen­tury herbal­ist John Ger­ard. In the 18th Cen­tury, peo­ple were so con­vinced that speed­well cured gout that it al­most dis­ap­peared from around Lon­don be­cause of over-pick­ing. Veron­ica was pre­scribed “to be taken in the spring for some time, es­pe­cially by per­sons who drink much ale and are in gross habit of body.” A mem­ber of the fig­wort fam­ily, with 28 na­tive species and 250 species world­wide, the veron­i­cas rep­re­sent fidelity in the lan­guage of flow­ers. V. chamaedrys, bright blue way­side flower of spring hedgerows, is the com­mon­est of the species, and ‘speeds-you-well’, be­lieved to of­fer pro­tec­tion on a jour­ney. With its mean­ing of ‘pros­per well, get well’, the flower brought good luck and good health. In Ire­land, trav­ellers had speed­well sewn into their clothes to pro­tect them from ac­ci­dents. In other places its name was a syn­onym for ‘farewell’, since the flow­ers fall off the stems soon after they are picked.

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