We’ve had a busy couple of months, and have also been beset by illness, so the blog has been somewhat neglected again! Here at last is October’s – look out soon for November!
The garden has started to slow down, and pack up for the winter. We have been busy cutting and raking the wild flower meadow, hoping that it has already shed most of its seed. Early next year we shall dig it over again, to give the annuals like poppy and cornflower a better chance to germinate. Wild flower meadows sound like easy gardening to the uninitiated, who may think it’s gardening by neglect: but it’s actually quite labour – and thought – intensive. If you are hoping to grow mostly perennial wildflowers, the soil has to be quite poor, otherwise the grasses will take over. An annual meadow, with cornfield flowers, needs a richer soil. Getting the balance is quite an art!
Thoughts now turn to the spring, so we have been planting some more bulbs of Native Narcissus – the wild daffodil – on the bank near the garden shelter. This gives us something to look forward to in the dark days of winter, but also fits within our collection of medicinal plants. Daffodils and snowdrops both contain the chemical Galantamine, which has recently been getting more attention for its usefulness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. [See below for more on wild daffodils]
Meanwhile, the building team have been busy preparing some pipework, ready for connection to mains water. This will be an exciting development – the whole project has been going for over a decade without any water on site! The team have also put in some paving at the bottom of the garden, ready for a new bench that is currently on order.
Wild Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus
This is the native British wild daffodil, sometimes called the Lent or Easter Lily, and is the daffodil referred to in the famous poem by Wordsworth. It was once common throughout British woodlands and damp pastures, but with modern agricultural developments its numbers have fallen dramatically. It is also easily cross-pollinated with the many larger, hardier garden varieties, so that the true wild daffodil is increasingly difficult to find. Blooming in February and March, it has six pale yellow petals (technically these are called ‘perianths’) around the deeper yellow trumpet, and a light perfume.
Myth and Magic
The word Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor, from which we get our word narcotic. Some people therefore suggest this refers to its ‘intoxicating’ fragrance, while others associate it with the plant’s poisonous nature.
The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a beautiful youth who, catching sight of his own reflection for the first time in a pond, immediately fell in love and remained, enraptured, by the pool in a terminal decline whereupon the gods turned him into the eponymous flower. We have adopted the myth into psychology, so that we describe a person who is unnaturally obsessed with his or her own appearance and personal needs as a ‘narcissist’.
The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, probably introduced in the 19th century as a more obviously attractive symbol than the Leek. David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister, was a public advocate of the daffodil; and of course it blooms in early spring, thus happily coinciding with St David’s Day on 1st March.
Culpeper recommended daffodil as an emetic. It is certainly true that, for many plants, ingesting the bulbs, leaves, seeds etc would result in vomiting; but more serious, even fatal, side effects occur if vomiting doesn’t remove their poisons.
Various folk remedies – some still in use – suggest using a syrup or infusion of daffodils in the treatment of ailments as whooping cough, colds and asthma, and the bulbs have been used to make poultices for wounds and burns. However, none of these is recommended by modern medical practitioners.
More recently, the extraction of galantamine, as already mentioned, is making Narcissus pseudonarcissus an important plant in medical terms. Although galantamine medications are not a cure, they can defer the progression of certain symptoms in mild to moderate disease, such as confusion, memory loss, and problems performing every day tasks.
It takes 10 tons of daffodil bulbs to produce 1 kilogram of galantamine. It has been shown that higher levels of galantamine are found in wild daffodils grown at high altitude in the Black Mountains in Wales. One farmer in the Black Mountains is currently extracting galantamine from the leaves of his daffodil crop in a potentially commercial project, although it needs to attract more funding to make this certain.
Research is also being carried out in Denmark using daffodil compounds in depression; and a study from China suggests potential in the treatment of some cancers.
Warning – Daffodils are POISONOUS
Ingesting any part of the daffodil is likely to result in nausea, respiratory collapse, paralysis, and even death.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks to the following for much of this information: