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Cliffs View with Flowers
Cliffs View with Flowers

The heritage of our native flowers

Nature is a wonderful thing. Many flowers grown in the Burren region and at the Cliffs of Moher have herbal cures. The cures are presented purely in terms of folklore. The history of herbalism in Ireland goes back many centuries, and herb gardens were grown all throughout Ireland. St. Patrick even called upon St. Brigid and her companions to nurse and administrate this medicine to the sick.

Flowers found at the Cliffs of Moher & their association with herbal folklore

Sheep’s-bit

Sheep’s-bit

The rounded, blue flower heads of Sheep’s-bit (also called ‘Sheep’s-bit Scabious’) can be found in dry, grassy places, such as heathland, grassland, and clifftops. Most common near the sea, it can often be seen growing in large numbers, carpeting the ground from May to September. It is also a popular garden plant, especially for areas like rockeries, wild gardens, and even old sinks – anywhere there is sandy, free-draining soil and plenty of sun. It grows up to 50cm high.

Sea Campion

Sea Campion

Other names by which it is known are ‘dead man’s bells’, ‘witches’ thimbles’ and ‘Devil’s hatties’. A white flower with distinctive, fleshy leaves. Sea Campion is related to the carnation. Sea Campion grows on top of the cliffs and amongst shingle. According to folklore, Sea Campion should never be picked for fear of tempting death. Given its habit of growing on the edge of the clifftop this is the right choice. Flowers from June to August.

 

Sea Pink

Sea Pink

This slow grower produces beautiful sea pink flowers that are bright pink, red, violet, or white. These round flowers appear in clusters on top of wiry and erect stems, flowering from April until July, and is native to central and southern Europe. Over 80 species of sea pink exist, and the plant has been known to be used medicinally to treat epilepsy and obesity, as well as its uses, as a sedative. This plant is also very salt tolerant and commonly grows by the ocean shore.

Birds-foot-trefoil among Wild Thyme

Birds-foot-trefoil

The birds-foot-trefoil is a common flowering plant throughout the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. It has a collective of different common names; “ls on the coast anady’s shoes and stockings”, “crow-toes”, “lady’s slipper”, “bacon and eggs”, “God-Almighty’s thumb and finger”. This plant grows in pastures and hedgerows and on roadside verges. It can also tolerate a wide variety of conditions across a range of habitats. Bird’s-foot-trefoil grows to between 5 and 35 cm high, it flourishes from June to September produces bright yolk-yellow pea-like blooms that are often patterned with streaks of red hence the “bacon and eggs” reference in one of its many common names.

 

A member of the pea family, the birds-foot trefoil can be found in the Burren creeping close to the ground. Here at the cliffs, it competes with the meadow grasses and has adopted to grow taller. If the meadow is subsequently cut or grazed, however, the plant will revert to low growing clumps.

The yellow flowers are an important source of nectar for many species of insects, including bees and butterflies. The birds-foot-trefoil is also an important food plant for the caterpillars of several butterfly species. It fixes nitrogen from the air – an attribute that makes it ideal for improving the soil on infertile rock. It is sometimes cultivated along with varieties of clover to improve the quality of pasture, and as a fodder plant for livestock.  In folklore the birds-foot-trefoil was often associated with evil – a legacy stemming from its black, claw-like seed pods, which were compared to the Devil’s claws, or to crow’s feet. It was also one of the plants woven to make wreaths on a mid-summer’s night.

Wild Thyme

Wild Thyme

‘Wild thyme’ or ‘tím chreige’ – a great favourite for people and insects.

In folk medicine an infusion of thyme was used as a sedative for respiratory ailments. The scent of Thyme has made it into folklore as a symbol of love as it was worn in the past to attract suitors. It is a close relative to the Thymus Vulgaris, which is used in cooking.

Oxeye Daisy

Oxeye Daisy

Oxeye Daisy is also known as Dog daisythis familiar flower enhances our grass verges, meadows, and many embankments around the Cliffs of Moher. Its flowers from May to September. It grows to a height of 25-60mm.  It is like the daisy but with larger flowerheads, which can be 6 cm across. Their large white flower head are a fantastic wildflower and an important source of nectar for many different insects.

The petal-plucking game, ‘He loves me; he loves me not’, is thought to have started with the oxeye daisy. It was traditionally used as a cure for sore eyes, you pluck some daisy flowers, boil them in water and wash your eyes using the water. If cattle eat it, it can change the flavour of their milk.

Heal All

Heal All

This can also be known as “Heal All” and ‘Ceannbhan beag’, this is a low growing plant. It grows on bare and grassy places and is common at the Cliffs of Moher and around Ireland. It produces a blue -violet flower. Bees and Moths like to pollinate from this plant.

This ‘weed’ is edible and can be used in salads, soups, stews, and boiled as a pot herb. This use is not surprising as the plant contains vitamin A, C, and K. Modern research also shows that it can be useful in lowering blood sugar levels for people with diabetes and some of its compounds are being investigated as a treatment for cancer.

Common Yarrow

Common Yarrow

Common yarrow is a wildflower that has feathery leaves and flowers in white, yellow, or pink. It can be seen on the Cliff edges and on the grasslands at the Cliffs of Moher. It has been used for brewing into beer, tea, and liquors, but it has low toxicity. Common yarrow’s bitter leaves are toxic to pets and horses. Other livestock can eat it, though it gives cow milk an unpleasant flavour.

According to Folklore when going on a journey for safety reasons yarrow was used. Ten leaves were pulled and then you would throw one away. The remaining nine leaves were tied around your neck with a string. Farmers going to the fair with their animals would do this ritual, they were certain to get a good price. If you were buying an animal good luck would always follow it.

Kidney Vetch

Kidney Vetch

Kidney Vetch-Méara Muire – Cloisters of yellow flowers, they can also be orange and red. Each flower has their own hairy calyx, containing the sepals. It gives it a woody appearance.

This plant is a ‘vulnerary’, that is, a plant used to heal wounds, roots were also used to treat backache. It is a food plant for the small blue butterfly, the rarest of our blue butterflies and our smallest butterfly. It was also used to treat kidney infections.

Common spotted Orchid

Common spotted Orchid

The common spotted Orchid is the most common of all the Orchids and the one you are most likely to see. It grows in many different habitats including woodlands, hedgerows, roadside verges, old quarries, sand dunes and marshes. It can also be found here at the Cliffs of Moher. The Common Orchid gets its name from its leaves which are green with many oval purple spots. The flowers range from white, pale pink through to Purple. They have distinctive darker pink spots and strips on their three lobed lips. The flowers are densely packed in short cone shaped clusters.

 

Irish Marsh-Orchid

Irish Marsh-Orchid

At the Cliffs of Moher one can also find a rarer Orchid – The Dactylorhiza occidentalis. This Irish endemic is very tricky to identify, especially where it grows near Narrow-leaved Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza traunsteinerioides, Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, and Early Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata. Dactylorhiza occidentalis is locally common in parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland, where it flowers early (from mid-May to mid-June); this helps avoid confusion with one of the similar species, Northern Marsh-orchid. The Irish Marsh-orchid does, however, flower at the same time as Early Marsh-orchid, but the latter has smaller flowers and narrower leaves. Dactylorhiza occidentalis favours alkaline habitats including lough margins, roadside verges, marshy meadows, and dune slacks.

Conservation

When picking a flower, you should be aware of the fact that you will be picking the seed of that plant, which means that there is less potential for growth the following year. Therefore, you need to take into consideration how common the flower is before you picking it.

Plants such as a daisy, dandelion, yarrow, and meadowsweet for example grow in abundance, picking these should not pose a problem. It is never a good idea to pick a lot of flowers from the same spot. Instead, gather a few from here and a few from there. There should never be any visible signs left after foraging.

‘Love this Place’ ’Leave no Trace’.