lady’s smock

Take only inspiration.
Leave only footprints.

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lady’s smock, by Alexandra Becker

Lady’s smock (cardamine pratensis) has an abundance of folk names: cuckoo flower, milkmaid, thunder-flower, dancing lady – and in Welsh blodyn llaeth, or milk flower, which was the only name I knew for these flowers before I started my research. The name ‘cuckoo flower’ dates back to at least Tudor times. According to Elizabethan herbalist John Gerard, the flowers arrive at the same time as the first cuckoos, in late spring. The leaves also attract ‘cuckoo spit’ – the white foam which conceals froghopper nymphs.

Lady’s smock is sacred to the fairies, according to the lore recorded by Howard’s Traditional Folk Remedies. For this reason, it was considered unlucky to pick the flowers and bring them indoors, and it was never included in May garlands. The Darlington and Stockton Times lists a number of superstitions associated with lady’s smock: if anyone picked it, a thunderstorm would break out; and, because it was thought to attract adders, anyone who picked it would be bitten within the year.

This beautiful member of the brassica family grows wild in meadows (pratensis is latin for ‘of a meadow’) and favours damp, boggy soil. Fortunately, this makes it easy to find in the boggy moors which surround my Pennine hometown.

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in the market garden above Hebden Bridge
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at Whirlaw Stones above Todmorden

Seeking to connect with the spirit of these flowers, I turned to Alexis J. Cunningfolk for inspiration. Alexis keeps a magickal, intersectional blog on healing herbs, full of wisdom on engaging with plant allies to empower our everyday lives. She recommends writing from the perspective of the plant, offering some prompts to help us find their voice.

After my wild Monday wanderings around Whirlaw, I found a sheltered spot alongside a stretch of moorland full of lady’s smock, and sat among the flowers to meditate, and to listen.

I want you to know that the wild electricity of the storm is within you, and the dark vastness of the starry sky, and the brightness of the sun shining out from the clouds.

Consider walking out into a green open space, turning your face to the sky, and simply being.

My gifts are the gifts of faerie: shallow sleep and deep dreams, dark earth and milk-white quartz. I bring the vision of my flowers blooming wild where they will. You may eat the petals, but never pick the stems: for I am of the wild, and in the wild I belong.

Take only inspiration. Leave only footprints.

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Author: angharadlois

"I'm only interested in everything."

3 thoughts on “lady’s smock”

  1. “And lady-smocks all silver white
    ….
    Do paint the meadows with delight”

    So Shakespeare at the end of .. His ‘silver-white’ is linked to the milkmaids bleaching their summers smocks with the coming of Spring, though the petals of the flower vary from white through pinkish to pale lilac (as your pics indicate). It’s interesting that he ascribes the words heralding the Spring to Apollo while the corresponding Winter words are spoken by Mercury, or at least that’s an interest I’m currently pursuing!

    1. Indeed!
      I edited the Shakespeare quotation out of the post – still trying to settle on the right length – but perhaps I should have left it in, because it is lovely.

      “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.” I wonder why. I always associated Apollo with a kind of harshness – that bright light can be merciless, while the trickster is usually less direct.

  2. Yes enigmatic words. I prefer to think in terms of Maponos (who I definitely associate with Spring and Midsummer) and Lugus and changing mythologies changes emphasis and resonance. How these two gods interact or relate to each other is something I’ve never fully worked out though something seems gradually to be emerging.

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