Buttercups

A field-full, turning the green
Yellow. Swallows swoop low
Over the flowers, preying
On the buglife of this meadow.

Shimmering on the sunlit
Slope, the petals glow;
Fanned by a faint breeze
They ripple in the air-flow

The field behind my back garden, without the usual sheep grazing, now looks like this


Rananculus acris
Rananculus acris

The name ‘buttercup’ is comparatively recent. It was thought that the butter was more yellow from cows that grazed on them, although the burning taste of the leaves  means that they are usually avoided. According to Geoffrey Grigson the flowers were rubbed on cows’ udders in Ireland on Mayday. The older name – ‘crowfoot’ – was based on the shape of the leaves rather than the colour of the flowers, but Culpeper observes in his Herbal that the plant has “more names than a Welshman’s pedigree”, an interesting comment on 17th century attitudes both to the ancestry of the herb and of the Cymry. Certainly the Welsh name, ‘crafanc y frân’, reflects this earlier English name, though the medieval Welsh texts associated with the Physicians of Myddfai call it ‘crafanc y llew’ (‘lion’s paw’), as in the following remedy:

Rac y pas, kymer grauanc y llew a berw hwnnw ymywn glastwfwr a doro y’r dyn ar y gythllwn y boreu a’r nos yn hwa.*

(For whooping cough, take lion’s claw and boil it in watered-down milk and give it to the person fasting in the mornings and last thing at night.)

The leaves of the herb were used more generally for ointments than for internal use because of their fiery ‘biting’ flavour. Culpeper says that “I knew the herb once applied to a pestilential rising that was fallen down, and it saved life even beyond hope; it were good to keep an ointment and plaister of it, if it were but for that.”

It is good to see them strewn across a wild flower meadow which gives life to all manner of wild creatures; also because it lifts the spirit to see it, if it were but for that.


*Medieval Welsh Medical Texts ed. DIANA LUFT (UWP, 2020) Book5 / Recipe 4

3 thoughts on “Buttercups

  1. What a fine poem to add to the collection! This one conjured Wordsworth’s famous daffodils in my mind. I just want to sit it a gently breezy field and sip lemonade and watch the yellow cups quiver. Very relaxing. By the way do you have a new email now?

  2. ‘Lion’s paw’ is an evocative name perhaps suggesting a fierceness to this mellow yellow plant.

    By the way I signed up by email but am not receiving the emails.

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