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Common Teasel – A Manna From Heaven

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin and yet I say unto you,
that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
St. Luke – Chapter 12, Verses 28 & 29.

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The Common Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) plant is just one of many wild flowers recently introduced into St. Mary’s Graveyard here in Thurles Co. Tipperary, as part of restoration work being carried out to convert the latter into a garden and urban wild flower reserve.

Observed by many as just a species of weed, the Common Teasel (Teazel) plant is well worth growing in well managed gardens, if only for use in dried flower arrangements. Teasel is a biennial plant which germinates in its first year; while flowering in its second. In the first year it appears as a rosette of spine-coated leaves, which die in the second year, as it diverts its energy into growing its tall, often up to 2 meter high stems.

Common Teasel is a real nature lover’s plants, protected by thorns the full length of its stem. Its cone shaped flower heads, the seeds of which begin turning brown in winter; gives to the observer the impression of being a giant cotton bud. Prior to seeding, it displays tiny lavender / purple coloured flowers to be found clustered together in the form of separated rings appearing up and down its flower head. These flowers quickly attract bumblebees, butterflies and other flying creatures and the later seeds produced, entice many wild birds, particularly Goldfinches, who arrive in vast numbers to feast.

The many uses attributed to the Common Teasel plant.

The first references to the huge important uses of the Teasel plant began before the 12th century. The Romans called the plant ‘Lavacrum Veneris’, meaning the ‘Basin (or Bath-house) of Venus’. This name refers to the fact that the plant collects little pools of water at the base of its lower stem leaves (See picture no.2 above) providing drinking water for insects. However this water collected also insures that it keeps its own roots watered, when, aided by the wind, it sways to spill this collected water supply unto the soil at its base. Irish Water (Uisce Eireann) activists who today correctly (to my mind) argue that water is more than just a human need; that it is in fact a God given human right, would do well to observe this plant.  Such observation will surely prove that access to safe drinking water should never depend on affordability; but rather that the provision of future clean water to the less well-off, be no longer perceived as charity, but rather as a legal entitlement to be shared by all God’s creatures equally.

During the eighteenth century, the water collected by the leaves of Teasel plants was believed to remove freckles and was also used to soothe sore eyes. The roots have also been used to treat warts, sores and other skin problems, as a stomach aid, as an analgesic for pain relief, as an anti-inflammatory and as a stimulant for the nervous system.  Teasel Root is widely used in conjunction with antibiotics to treat Lyme Disease. It has the ability to pull bacteria from muscle tissue into the blood stream, thus enabling the human immune system to do its work naturally.

Whereas most modern textile processes have been mechanised, the barbs of Teasel plants continue to be used today in the woollen trade, since the spiny heads of this plant are gentler on wool and cloth materials; where stubborn tangles are encountered. In this process some 2,000 to 4,000 dried teasel heads are hand-picked and mounted on rotating drums known as a ‘Gigs’. The Gig then spins rapidly over the stretched surface of woollen cloth, thus separating the surface fibres, “raising the nap”.

Today modern snooker-table cloth surfaces, guardsmen’s tunics and the roof linings of Rolls-Royce cars are all still finished with Teasel heads and no machine has ever been devised that can do the job on cloth better than the Teasel. Indeed the Coat of Arms of the Cloth Workers’ Company, granted first in 1530, still proudly displays a golden Teasel head.

Teasel with its thorny spiked stems, when used in dried flower arranging, soon teaches the florist to wear gloves when cutting or handling the plant. In drying, remember to leave the stems to fully shed their seeds naturally, before cutting and hanging upside down. Properly handled and correctly dried these flowers will last for many years, making a bold statement in any future designed floral display.

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