YELLOW IRIS - RARE NOW IN UK BUT INVASIVE IN USA: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE YELLOW IRIS
YELLOW IRIS, YELLOW FLAG, IRIS PESUDOACORUS
The Yellow water iris or flag as it is known is no longer a resident of the reens ( a water channel flowing in this case to the sea; rhewyn or rhewin in Welsh) I used to visit when I was a child, but they can still be found growing wild in some parts of Britain. They are native to western Europe, north-west
Africa and western Asia and live on river banks, close to ponds, lakes, in ditches and other wet places.
The flowers don’t actually have a scent, although the roots when dried do, causing John Parkinson (1567-1650) to write that they were good powdered and used to wash “hand-gloves” and other items of clothing as well as the powder being good in clothes and cloth that was stored, to make them smell sweet.
The roots are fairly acrid to taste but on drying lose this property and become astringent, so they were used dried for diarrhoea among other things.
The flowers are symbols of the old French kings and appeared on their shields as fleur de Luce (light) or
Lys and as such they are also symbols of the Prince of Wales.
The name Pseudacorus was given to this plant because the sword-like leaves are similar to those of the sweet flag, Acorus calamus, although they are not related and when the flowers bloom, they actually don’t look at all alike. As members of the Iridaceae family of plants they are actually related to the crocus from which we get saffron, Crocus sativa.
In Chaucer’s time they were known as “Gladyne” probably because they made the eyes happy when they saw them, with their bright yellow colour which is similar to that of daffodils. In some British dialects they are called “segg(s)” which was the Anglo-Saxon name for a small sword, because of the shape of their leaves. For the same reason in other parts of the
British Isles they are called Jacob’s sword.
John Gerard, the 16th century English herbalist recommended their use as a cosmetic thus:-
“The root, boiled soft, with a few drops of rosewater upon it, laid plaisterwise upon the face of man or woman, doth in two daies at the most take away the blacknesse and blewnesse of any stroke or bruise…”
However he goes on to add a note of caution to anyone who uses them, writing that if the skin is sensitive:-
“…it shall be needful that ye lay a piece of silke, sindall or a piece of fine lawne betweene the plaister and the skinne for otherwise in such tender bodies it often causeth heat and inflammation.”
He also recommends it for the following medicinal purpose:-
“an oil made of the roots and flowers of the Iris, made in the same way as oil of roses and lilies. It is used to rub in the sinews and joints to strengthen them, and is good for cramp.”
Nicholas Culpeper writing his “Complete Herball” a century later has this to say of the medicinal uses of this beautiful flower:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of the Moon. The root of this Water-flag is very astringent, cooling, and drying; and thereby helps all lasks and fluxes, whether of blood or humours, as bleeding at the mouth, nose, or other parts, bloody flux, and the immoderate flux of women's courses. The distilled water of the whole herb, flowers and roots, is a sovereign good remedy for watering eyes, both to be dropped into them, and to have cloths or sponges wetted therein, and applied to the forehead. It also helps the spots and blemishes that happen in and about the eyes, or in any other parts. The said water fomented on swellings and hot inflammations of women's breasts, upon cancers also, and those spreading ulcers called Noli me tangere, do much good. It helps also foul ulcers in the privities of man or woman; but an ointment made of the flowers is better for those external applications.” (N.B “noli me tangere” in Latin means “don’t touch me”)
Unfortunately, while the yellow iris is becoming rare in the
, its native habitat, it is classed as an invasive species in many states in the UK where it was introduced. It is another example of a plant that damages an eco-system in which it is not native. USA