All About Thyme
  A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings

  Celebrating the Mysteries, Magic, and Myths of Herbs
Susan Wittig Albert  
Special Feature, March 4, 2019  

The Shamrock

May your blessings outnumber
The Shamrocks that grow.
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
—Irish Blessing

Irish legends tell us that when St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, he used the shamrock—the three-leaf clover—to teach the natives about the Holy Trinity, the divine Three-In-One.

Long before St. Patrick, however, the herb was used by the ancient Celts as part of their fertility ritual. After the English took over Ireland, it took on still another meaning as a defiant symbol of rebellion: anyone caught "wearing the green" could be condemned to death as a traitor. Today, the shamrock is recognized around the world as a symbol of Ireland, especially on St. Patrick's Day, when everybody is Irish!

In The Herbal or General History of Plants (1597), John Gerard describes several important medicinal uses of the three-leaf clover, which he called trefoil. "The leaves boiled with a little barrowes grease [the fat of a neutered male pig], and used as a poultice, take away hot swellings and inflammations." To treat the eyes: "Trefoile (especially that with the black halfe Moon upon the leafe) stamped [pounded] with a little honie, takes away the pin and web in the eies [film], ceaseth the paine and inflammation thereof..."

In The English Physician (1652), the astrological herbalist Nicholas Culpeper says that the plant is ruled by Mercury, and adds: "Country people do also in many places drink the juice thereof against the biting of an adder; and having boiled the herb in water, they first wash the place with the decoction, and then lay some of the herb also to the hurt place."

The word "shamrock" is derived from the Gaelic word seamrog, "summer plant."

May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks,
May your heart be as light as a song,
May each day bring you bright, happy hours
That stay with you all the year long.
—Irish Blessing

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Susan Wittig Albert is the author of two recent memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes A Wilder Rose (a novel about Rose Wilder Lane's collaboration with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the writing of the Little House books); the China Bayles mysteries; the Darling Dahlias mysteries; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and Honorary President (2012-2014) of the Herb Society of America. More

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