The nature of things
Two ‘lady’ flowers
BUTTERFLIES are at large now in the uncut hay meadow, with plenty of flowers to feed on. As well as the colourful knapweeds and vetches, there are swathes of bright-yellow Galium verum, popularly known as Our Lady’s bedstraw, or just lady’s bedstraw ( pictured, centre and right). A medieval legend was broadcast that St Mary the Virgin had lain on a mat of the fragrant dried flowers when the baby Jesus was born in the stable, giving rise to the belief that childbirth would be eased for women giving birth on a similarly herby mattress.
The tiny yellow flowers, held aloft in sociable bunches, yield a sweet, hay scent; herbalists of yore found various uses for it, from urinary troubles to gout. Gerard noted its use in rennet by cheesemakers, ‘the people of Cheshire, especially about Namptwich… esteeming greatly of that cheese above other made without it’. Miller suggested it for a foot bath, ‘very refreshing to wash the feet of persons tired with overwalking’.
Another lovely ‘lady’ flower of the meadow is the field scabious, or lady’s pincushion, Knautia arvensis (pictured, left). Its nectar-rich, lilac blooms are foraged all summer by numerous butterflies, including coppers, meadow browns, peacocks and marbled white. Some 50 individual flowers make up the pincushion head that rewards closer examination. KBH