Film ID:
YFA 3388



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This is a well-made and highly informative documentary, made by Roy Vickers, on the folklore and medicinal uses of many common plants. Filmed in Chevin Forest Park near Otley, it shows the plants in their habitant, with an expert presentation from Martin Parsons.

Title - RTV Presents - Plant Magic

The film begins showing in close up some summer fruits, as the commentary lists some of the uses of plants in the history of mankind. A woman in medieval clothing gathers wood for a fire on which she hangs a cooking pot, into which she places some herbs. The commentary gives a short account of the persecution of witches, suggesting that they may have just had a good knowledge of herb law. As a horse is led pulling along a felled tree trunk, the commentator, Martin Parsons, appears in front of the camera, and states that our folklore is rooted in the plants. He is in Chevin Forest Park near Otley in Wharfedale, near the gate for Branhope Lane. A girl rides past on horseback, and there is a deer in the wood.

A man cuts down an Alder tree, while the commentator explains some of its features and the myths associated with it. He explains some of the uses it has been put to, including making water pipes, and he shows an old one that had been dug up from nearby. He next looks at the properties of other common plants, including Coltsfoot, also known as "poor man's baccy", which he tries in his pipe; and also how the bark of the Willow was used for medicinal purposes, and that the active ingredient is now incorporated in aspirin. He then explains the doctrine of signatures, whereby the shape of the plant was taken as a clue from God as to what its use might be. An example of this is pilewort, which Martin Parsons uproots and cleans to reveal the tubers that resemble piles; hence its use to relieve that condition.

He goes on to explain that the association of the cuckoo with spring led to many spring flowers being given this name. One such is woods sorrel, called 'cuckoo bread', 'cuckoo meat' and similar names. This is filmed close-up, with Martin Parsons stating that it can be eaten, though in moderation. Another is Lady's Smock or 'cuckoos spice', as it was known in Yorkshire. Martin Parsons recounts some of the folklore and medicinal uses for this, as he does also for the Greater Stitchwort, which was believed to cause thunderstorms if picked. Tormentil was as a cure for diarrhoea and to make a red dye. Then on to the pignut, which has a small edible tuber.

Martin Parsons explains that if a plant wasn't useful for food then it was often attributed magical properties, such as 'Bird's Foot', or Trefoil, believed to be the incarnation of Tom Thumb, as the leaves look like the Devil's fingers of folk tradition. Common Ragwort also gave rise to flights of fancy. The film then shows Foxglove, a sign of high summer in the woodland, again explaining its mythology and medicinal uses. Then on to the uses of valerian and heather, used as bedding; and he gives this a try by lying on some heather.

The film moves to a factory where natural medicines are made, where some of the processing and packaging is shown.

Title - Narration Martin Parsons
Acknowledgements to Potters Herbal Supplies and Ron Broadbent, Margaret Poole as the Sorceress
A Roy Vickers Production