While trying to identify a berry-bush on the Would-Be Farm this past summer, I turned to Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I flip through this reference probably half a dozen times each year, trying to get a handle on the plants.
Names are important. Even if the name is only Latin for "hairy-stemmed yellow flower thingamabob," knowing it gives a person power. (Magical thinking about true names aside...)
For instance, pickle weed. It's a leafy little plant with sour, tender leaves that most outdoorsy folks have nibbled from time to time. It grows in the shade, has a little yellow flower. It tastes like dill pickle.
Pickle weed's actual name is Oxalis stricta. From the Greek, it translates to "sour sorrel," again showing that the scientific name is sometimes just a regular name dressed for special occasions.
Anyhow, look up Oxalis stricta and you can discover that (no surprise!) it's full of vitamin C, but it turns out to bind calcium when taken raw in large doses. Also, it might have been the plant St. Patrick used in his gentle conversions, rather than what we call "clover" these days.
Or not –– pagan Celts held Oxalis sacred; there's probably a shipload of interpretive wiggle-room when it comes to what happened in 5th Century Ireland.
But when I opened the wildflower book this time, looking that something looked a lot like elderberry, but not exactly like elderberry and wondering what the heck it was, a tattered four-leaf clover slid from between the pages.
A regular Trefolium repens ("three-leafed creeper"), the sort that mutates and grows a fourth leaf from time to time*.
It must have been in there for a decade or more. A flat, papery bit of luck put aside by Mumsie, who didn't necessarily know the Latin names of things, but who gave the lucky gift of curiosity.
*While proofreading, I discovered I'd typed that phrase as "from time to tome." I crack myself up.
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