Welsh, Suran y gog, Clychau twlwyth teg, Segyrffug. - Irish, Seamsog. - French, Surelle, Petite oseille, Pain de Cocu. - Italian, Alleluia. - Spanish, Aleluyo. - German, Sauerklee. - Dutch, Klaverziuriag, Coeekcoer broot. - Swedish, Giok-mat.
"The woodsorrel with its light green leaves Heart-shaped, and triply folded; and its root Creeping like beaded coral;" of whose delicate and fairy-like beauty any draw-ing can give but a faint idea, is distributed with an unsparing hand over our island. There are few woods or shady walks where, in early spring, its bright, half-folded leaves are not to be found, spring-ing up above the darker green of the moss, and the rich brown of decaying leaves. Then the tiny white bells appear, with their delicate purple veining, justly claiming the name - Clychau twlwyth teg, or fairy-bells - given to them by the peasantry in some parts of Wales who believe that they are espe-cially favoured by the "good people," and chosen to ring out the merry peals which call them to their moonlight revelries.
WOOD SORREL. Oxalis acetosella.
Nor is it only beautiful; the acid which abounds in the whole plant renders it of great use as a cool-ing drink in fevers; and it is much administered in Russia, where milk is added to the infusion of its leaves. Gerarde says, "The apothecaries and herb-alists call it alleluya, and panis cucule, or cuckowe's meat, either because the cuckowe feedeth thereon, or by reason when it springeth forthe and floureth the cuckowe singeth most, at which time also alle-luya was wont to be sung in churches. It is thought to be what Pliny (lib. xxvii, cap. 12) calleth Oxys; writing thus: 'Oxys is three-leaved; it is good for a feeble stomach, etc.' But Galen, in his fourth book of simples saith, the oxys is the same as oxalis, or sorrel..... Sorrell du bois, or wood sorrell, stamped and used for grene sauce, is good for them that have sick and feeble stomacks, for it strengthened the stomack and procureth appetite, and of all sauces sorrell is the best, not only in vir-tue, but also in the pleasantness of his taste ... it cooleth mightily any hot, pestilential fevers, espe-cially being made with syrup of sugar." It was the principal ingredient in the famous green sauce for fish, once so celebrated, and is still used for the same purpose on the Continent; though the Rumex acetosa generally takes its place.
The salt pre-pared from the plant is used under the name of salts of lemon, to remove stains of ink and iron-mould from linen, etc. This salt consists of a com-pound of oxalic acid with potash; but it is seldom, or never, now made from the plant, as it can be artificially prepared, at a much lower price, from oxalic acid made from sugar. Ten pounds of the leaves of woodsorrel afford rather more than one ounce of the salt, which crystallizes in small white needle-like masses.
Gerarde is, however, wrong with regard to the origin of the name alleluja. This arose from the veneration formerly paid to the plant; for even among the Druids it was an emblem of the mys-terious Three in One, which they claimed as their own peculiar secret, and endeavoured to illustrate in every possible particular of their worship. And their reverence for the plant was doubtless increased by the fact that each leaflet of the trifid leaf, is marked by a pale crescent, the emblem of the moon, and another of their sacred symbols. So too St. Patrick, in accordance with the usual policy of the early preachers of the gospel, chose a trefoil leaf to illustrate his doctrine, and to prove that he preached to them "no new thing," but that "the God whom they ignorantly worshipped" he "declared unto them;" and when he won over to Christianity the multitudes on Tara's hill, by illustrating to them by the plant they already held sacred, the truth of the great doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, it is not wonderful that the word of praise, ever on the lips of those early and enthusiastic converts, should gradually become the name of the plant, which thus, at once, illustrated, and justified their belief. It had also from long antiquity been the emblem of hope.
The general expression, that St. Patrick converted these multitudes by exhibiting to them the uniting of the three in one in a shamrock leaf, is doubtless correct; for while there is little ground for asserting that the ancient shamrock of Ireland was any other plant than the woodsorrel, with its emerald green leaves, there is, reason to believe that at an early period the name of shamrock - originally shamroot * - came to be applied as a kind of generic name to various plants of a like character. The emblem of Ireland being, in fact, simply a trefoiled plant, when we find, in the older writers, references to the trefoil, we are not to con-sider it as an allusion merely to the clover, which we designate by that name; for that the earliest shamrock was the sorrel - the most conspicuous of our trefoiled plants - is shewn, in addition to other evidence, by its being an article of food. Thus Piers says, in speaking of the spring time in Ireland, "for then milk becomes plenty, and butter, and new cheese, and curds, and shamrocks, are the food of the meaner sort all this season;" † and Wither, in his "Abuses Stript and Whipt," written in 1613, says, -
"And for my cloathing in a mantle goe, And feed on shamroots as the Irish doe".
Spenser too declares that, "if they found a plot of water-cresses, or of shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast".
The trefoiled leaf has been in all ages regarded with great reverence, and more especially when it departs from its usual form, and is found (a very rare occurrence) with four leaflets. The happy finder of the mis-shapen leaf is sure of good for-tune for life; for then the leaf becomes the segyrffug of the old Welsh bards, - that is, the dispeller of illusion - which formed so essential an ingredient in the cauldron of herbs used at the celebration of feast of Ceridwen.*
* It is singular that Shamrookh in Arabic signifies a club, or shillelah. † In Vallency. "Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis".
This power of the four-leaved trefoil in dispelling illusions, will, of course, account for the story of the girl, who, on returning from milking, saw little fairies dancing gaily on every rising ground, though her companions could discern nothing, and would scarcely believe her, until, on arriving at home, it was discovered that one of its leaves had acci-dentally, and unknown to her, got into her shoe, overcoming, of course, that supposed "illusion, or defect of sight" which prevents our always seeing the fairies who surround us!
Davis, in his "British Druids," says, that wher-ever the goddess Olwen - the great mother of the earth - trod, four white-flowered trefoils sprang up in her footsteps; that the emblem very frequently appears on British coins (in connection with the worship of Ceres); and that it is not unusually associated with the horse's head.
In course of time the finding of the four-leaved trefoil was looked upon as an earnest of speedy marriage to the fortunate youth or maiden who was so happy as to secure it. It then became customary to search for the treasure at the concluson of every harvest-home feast; and though this practice is forgotten, except, perhaps, now and then by some timid pair, who endeavour to find in their "luck" an assurance of the fulfilment of their wishes, it is still celebrated in the not-forgotten emblematic dance of the Celtic races. This is the reel of the Highlanders, the Meillionen of the Welsh, and the "shamrock-reel" of the Irish; in all of which, with greater or less variation, they imitate the motions of the harvest-field; and repeat the tri-umphant shout with which the Segyrffug is sup-posed to be found. First, each dancer, moving singly, gently sways his, or her, arms, as if engaged in sowing corn. This is the hau-hau, or sowing, of the Welsh dance. The partners, then, setting to each other, represent the labours of the harvest-field, where each reaper is necessarily attended by his chosen female "binder;" a general turning and setting to the other dancers then ensues; - a somewhat tumultuous movement, which is sup-posed to represent the searching for the lucky emblem; and this being at length found, the whole party, setting up that triumphant shout, so well known in the Highland reel, dance the figure called the figure of eight, which in reality describes that of a regular quatrefoil.
This cry, or shout, is sup-posed to announce every kind of future matrimonial happiness.*
* Ceridwen, in British mythology is the mother of intel-lect and all genius; hence the old term "Ceridwen's chickens," as applied to men of genius. - There is much mean-ing in this dispeller of illusion as an ingredient of the feast.
* A full explanation of all these movements may be found in William's "Essays on the Manners and Customs of the Celtic Tribes".
The woodsorrel approaches nearest of all our native productions to a sensitive plant; not only shutting up, or unfolding, its pale, though bright, green leaves with every change of atmosphere, but even closing if the stem be repeatedly or rudely struck.
There are but two British species of the oxalis, namely, the 0. corniculata, or yellow woodsorrel, which occurs in several places in the south of Devonshire, and perhaps in Cornwall, as well as in Sussex: and our own dear woodsorrel (0. acetosella) which makes bright and beautiful our hedgerows; and copses; and dense woods; and broken banks in spring; recalling the words of the old Welsh "Triad of Wisdom," -
"Three things, let no one trust such as shall dislike them - The scent of trefoils, the taste of milk, the song of birds".