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Sunday, August 7, 2011


The bog asphodel or bastard asphodel lives in swampy ground and loves the terrain of Ireland, where it is the flower of County Ross, Yorkshire and Lancashire in northern England. It also grows in other parts of the British Isles and is native to Western Europe. It is not a true asphodel, as its name, bastard asphodel implies, although it is a member of the lily family and distantly related to the other asphodels. It is a member of the Dioscoreales order of plants along with black bryony among others.
  In Welsh it is called Llafn y bladur or Scythe’s blade and also Gwayw’r brenin or King’s braxy (braxy is an acute usually fatal sheep’s disease caused by bacteria); in Irish Gaelic it is Sciollam na monĂ¡.
  The Latin name Narthecium comes from narthex which means (here) a tall umbelliferous plant such as fennel. Ossifragum is from the Latin meaning bone-breaker, and this name reflects the fact that people thought that eating the Bog Asphodel made cattle and sheep’s bones brittle and easily broken. We know now that this phenomenon was due to lack of calcium rather than because of the plant.
  The plant has yellow star-shaped flowers, with between 6 and 20 on one stem, which are followed by egg-shaped orange-red fruit which contain tiny seeds. It has two sword-shaped leaves. The plant can grow up to 40 centimetres or 16 inches tall. The fruit used to be used instead of saffron to dye hair and cloth, producing a pale yellow dye. In the Shetland Islands off the Scottish coast the fruits have been used as a substitute for saffron in cooking. The tradition of using it to dye hair gave rise to the name ‘maiden’s hair’ in parts of Yorkshire, where it was also called ‘moor gold’. John Wise from the New Forest in southern England, writing in the 19th century called it ‘Lancashire Bog Asphodel’.
  It contains steroidal saponins as does Tribulus terrestris (puncture vine) which probably account for the fact that it has caused photosensitivity in Norwegian lambs. Eating the plant has also caused the deaths of cattle and sheep by causing liver and/ or kidney damage, so is best treated with care.
  However, it has potential human health benefits as it contains an antibiotic active aglycone which is being investigated.
  It is said that the Bog Asphodel has been used in traditional medicine to treat hernias, coughs, inflamed genitals, ulcers, and spasms when taken in a decoction with wine. The mashed root was also applied externally to affected areas. This treatment is not recommended of course and is for information only.

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