Monday, May 11, 2009

Archangel or devil

Yellow archangel
Lamium galeobdolon

We have a lovely plant growing at the top of our trackway and next to our car park. Its common name is Yellow archangel or Yellow deadnettle. English Nature agrees and says it is a “beautiful, yellow-flowered plant with nettle-like leaves which is a member of the dead-nettle and mint family.”

The one we have growing is actually a cultivated form with silver markings on its leaves which makes it even more attractive. But over in the USA the story is very different. In a number of states the archangel has become the devil in plant form and it has noxious weed status. Orders can be made to have it cleared and destroyed like some dangerous alien invader.

OK, it does spread quite readily, but sometimes that’s just what you want – a plant that does what a ground-cover plant is supposed to do …. cover the ground. I suppose it's all a matter of degree.

Why is it called archangel? The view is that it closely related to the red and white dead-nettles which, because they flower close to April 27, the day dedicated to the Archangel Michael, are sometimes called red and white archangel. Yellow archangel flowers a little later, but shares the name because of its similarity to them.

It also shares with them the reputation as a guardian against evil spirits and, in particular, for protecting cattle against a disease known as elf-shot. This disease is commonly referred to in the literature and folklore of Celtic areas. It was considered to be inflicted on cattle by elves acting for witches using flint arrowheads – the artefacts we now know to be of Neolithic origin. The arrowheads were supposed to cause a paralysis known as elf-stroke – from which we get the now familiar medical term of a stroke.

So, you take your pick …. archangel, the devil, or protector against witches. I just like to think of it as a lovely plant with bright golden flowers and attractive foliage. If it keeps my farming neighbour’s cattle healthy, then so much the better.


BT said...

Well, I'm still learning aren't I? I had no idea where the word 'stroke' came from. That's so interesting. It's such a pretty plant too. Lovely photo.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I used to have this plant years ago but had forgotten it. I must get some more.

suzi said...

I took some photos of this plant recently and looked it up as I thought it was so beautiful. There was a whole bank of it at The Hurst in Shropshire when I was on a poetry course. What a glorious name - I was horrified to find out it was on a 'wanted' list when I researched it. I have yet to write a poem about it but the ideas are in there festering. Very much enjoy your blog, thanks.

Bea said...

Well, I checked my Wisconsin Wildflower guide and I guess it isn't a problem here. I can't even find it growing here! We do have a Hedge Nettle that is in the mint family. That like wet meadows and stream banks.
Archangel is a pretty plant.
We have to rip out Purple Loosestrife when we find it. It has a habit of taking over and pushing out the native plants. Of course the plants it pushes out are cattails and bulrush which frankly, grow like weeds anywhere it's wet. :)Bea

DK Leather said...

gosh how interesting! Like mum I was educated by 'stroke' :-)

Twisted willow said...

It is a lovely plant isn't it Suzi. It's on my wanted list for all the right reasons!

I'll bring some roots back with us, Rachel, together with the white cornflower you want.

Seems like it's more Washington State and that part of the country where they're waging war on it, Bea. Sounds like your plant is what we would call hedge wooundwort which grows in much the ame places as purple loosestrife which we also have. I love its showy purple flowers.

As my children used to say, K, you just can't stop trying to educate us. Sorry .... but I love the idea that one of our most commonly used medical terms comes from a condition in cattle supposedly caused by elves.