Thursday, 14 June 2018

Bollockworts

Ah, spelling! Or more accurately mis-spelling. And in particular, my near mis-spelling of the title above.

As AA Milne said with the voice of Pooh, or Piglet, or maybe wOl,

'My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.' He went on to say that 'spelling isn't everything.'

But ...

Mark Twain said that 'anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word lacks imagination.'

But ... hmm ...

Unfortunately, I can think of two ways to spell the title of this blog - the homonym for wort would create a major Wobble and would turn an innocent blog about plants - yes; plants ... you have the homonym in your head, don't you? ... to something entirely different; unpleasant skin eruptions in unspeakable places. All entirely ... still stuck in your mind? ...  yes, entirely unintended. Yes, un-in-ten-ded. Absolutely. Not a w-a-rt in sight.

Bollocks on the other hand. You didn't see that coming, did you?

Bollocks, there I've typed it again. Bollocks; specifically bollock-worts are plants. Yes they are.

And I collect them.

I am a collector of bollockworts. A bollockwort fancier, if you like. If you're reading this and 'no, actually, you don't like', just flashed through your head like a neon, red light in a dark, dark box, then you're still treading through the land of smut and I apologise, though I'd argue that the fault cannot be laid solely at my feet.
Incidentally, I have twenty four bollockworts. Pink ones ... you still have the wrong ones in your head, don't you? Purplish ones ... hmm, tut-tut? Spotty ones; a striped one; yellow ones and several that are dormant and currently residing in the utility room.

Dormant. There's a clue. When dormant, they are pretty uninteresting. Their tangled protuberances press against the side of their containers and some rise up into the air, like slightly tortuous, erect fingers. If a bollockwort's container looks like it can barely contain the exuberance of the bollockwort's growth, then before it bursts it must replaced; in other words, it is time to repot the orchid.

The orchid. What did you think I was writing about? Bollockwort is the old name for orchid. Because the tubers of old orchids looked like ... well, they looked like bollocks. Which interestingly is why the surgical procedure to remove ... one of those ... is called an orchidectomy.

Now that we both know what I am writing about, I can admit, without inuendo, that I am passionate about bollockworts. Though mine are the modern skinny-rooted variety. The roots - tangled and tortuous - are a little like swollen veins, but are not remotely bulbous; not in fact bollock-like at all.

The worts are a family of plants, the roots of which, historically, were thought to have medicinal properties. A Roman called Dioscorides is thought to have suggested that a plant or part of a plant that resembled a part of the human body could be used to treat any ailments affecting that look-alike organ. For example, a toothwort bears its flowers on a pillar-like stem with rows of slightly yellowing white-tipped florets that do perhaps - with one eye shut and the other squinting at the plant - resemble the sort of decaying, long-in-the-tooth teeth that would have a twenty-first century dentist reaching for the abrasive toothpaste and embarking on a frenzied afternoon of scraping and scaling. Toothwort roots, as you may have guessed, were chewed as a cure for toothache.
Dioscorides may have started this dubious classification system but it continued for centuries, with the discovery of new and peculiar worts by herbalists who had vivid imaginations and invented often poisonous wort-derived concoctions - liverwort, bladderwort, bloodwort, lungwort, fleawort and, of course, bollockwort.

Many worts have independent of human-anatomical-reference names - dragonwort, St John's wort, brotherwort, felonwort, mugwort, sneezewort and hog(s)wort. I wonder if apothecaries offered a line in potions to rid customers of unruly dragons, brothers, felons, pigs, saints, muggles and schools of witchcraft and wizardry - a dastardly form of Middle Ages protectionism, perhaps.

Bishopswort appears to have had two significant uses - boiled and crushed it was applied to gouty joints; tied into posies and hung at the corners of the pig sty, it warded off the evil spirits that carried little piggies off to pig heaven in the night. Whether it was named after a bishop with gout, or a bishop who looked like a pig, or a portly and gouty bishop who kept pigs and so immersed himself in the rearing of pigs that he grew to resemble them (in the same way that dog owners often look like their dogs) is a question that could be turned into a story but one that appears not to have an answer.

Though they keep their family name, the myths and superstitions associated with worts are simply de-bunked myths and largely forgotten superstitions. A load of old bollock(-wort)s, like these -