Spring Has " Sprung " in Lancashire
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman
On a recent foray into the countryside of LancashireI realized that spring has indeed "sprung" It was delightful to venture out on such a fine sunny morning. The bluebell leaves have awakened from their slumber and had pushed up through the dank leaf litter attaining the height of 6 inches or more. They will transform many a woodland banking in seas' of blue during next month. Above their heads in the greening trees raucous caws came from lofty boughs. The hazel still shakes her catkins as the swelling leaf buds promise to join the fray.
There is an orchestration of new life, a new viridity in the countryside.Emerald green mosses are now being over shadowed by the competing new growth of more vigorous spring foliage.. Bird song reverberated around the woodland, responding to the longer day light hours and warmer air temperatures. The morning afforded a bright clarity the air sweet to breathe.
My destination was a wetland region which is situated among trees and is surrounded by fertile arable land. Cool lemon sun rays twinkle on the water which glittered and sparkled.
This is the haunt of coot and heron, mallard and Canada goose. Water soothes and stimulates, it is a thing of simplicity, secret, idyllic. The wily fin folk beneath the surface are pitting their wily ways against an ever increasing number of anglers who are content to sit all day in this appealing setting. Watching these piscatorial gentlemen always brings to mind a quote that has remained with me throughout my life, from when I first heard it as a lad. " they are hunting something they can not see and quite often isn't even there" However, fishermen have the required patience to abide whatever the outcome.
As I ventured further into the wetland region I saw little feathered acrobats swinging precariously on willow wands and from somewhere deep in the undergrowth the merry jet of notes sang by the perky wren enhanced my feeling of well being.
Birds are uplifting creatures.
Slipping between overhanging branches swam the coot. This belligerent bird is much given to squabbling especially at this time of the year as the nesting season approaches. The black plumage and white facial shield make the species unmistakeable. The smaller more timid water hen has a red facial shield. The croaky "frannkkk" call of the grey heron carried across the morning air from somewhere close by. Mallards, our commonest wild duck, are at their most furtive during April and in common with the coot squabbles between males are common place as they compete for the attention of the hen ducks.
I noted, with fond regard for the plant, that the leaves of Bistort Pesicaria bistortia were showing well in this damp region. The plant has acquired many country titles among which snakeroot, adderwort, and patience dock are more commonly associated with it, especially so here in the north of England. Snake root and adderwort allude to the twisted root system, which is more or less S -shaped. Indeed the name of bistort derives from the Latin bis, meaning twice and torta meaning twisted..
It has a creeping rootstock which, when established, forms carpet covering which is hard to eradicate. From this root system spring up stalked foliage which are more or less arrow shaped with smooth edges. The stalks are about 6 inches long as are the leaf blades. the flower stalks may well attain the height of 12-18inches terminating in a cylindrical flower head of pinkish coloured flowers, sometimes white varieties are encountered.. Each individual flower consists of five petal-like sepals and eight protruding stamens. These stems have foliage but they are sparce , smaller, and much more linear than their basal counter parts. The plant may be found in bloom from May until June and again during September in many areas.
The bistort was once in demand as a medicinal herb. Because of its astringent properties and styptic qualities, it was employed to stop bleedings, against diarrhoea and bowel ailments. The root dried and powdered was applied to cuts and wounds. The root was also utilised as a poultice against boils and festering sores.
1oz of the bruised root was placed into a pint of boiling water. The resulting liquid was used as a gargle for sore mouths and mouth ulcers. In archaic times the plant was utilised as a herbal medicine against many other ailments .
Bistort was one of the main ingredients of a herb pudding very popular in the north of England. The finest I have tasted was purchased in our neighbouring county of Cumbria, where they are famed for their herb puddings and Easter ledge cake, which also has bistort has an important constituent.