Monday, May 11, 2009
Archangel or devil
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.