Monday, 2 April 2012

Scurvy Grass

I noticed some clumps of Scurvy Grass in flower today at the Peedie Sea and on the roadside at Graemeshall in Holm. It's very much the early part of its season at the moment; it has a fairly drawn out flowering period but most flowers are over by mid July. Scurvygrass is complex and appears to be made up of a number of species yet to be resolved. In northern Scotland (and probably Orkney) there may be three species. The common form officinalis has large circular leaves about 3cm in diameter; a smaller form is scotica with leaves approx 1cm in diameter and the smallest with very small spade-shaped leaves is atlantica.

Peedie sea



And here is the draft text for the book

Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis)   Cabbage family
Height to 25cm; flowers April to July. Widespread and abundant in Orkney (28/28); easy to find.

An early bloomer, this perennial herb can be found in Orkney on salt marsh, seacliffs, rocky shores and cliff top turf – in fact almost anywhere influenced by salt spray. It’s fun looking for this plant away from the sea and it is surprising where it turns up. I’ve seen it in full flower growing at the base of a wall near the Coop on Pickaquoy Road, Kirkwall but it can be found in the heart of the county, as far from the sea as is possible in Orkney. It can also be found growing on mountains in Scotland and northern England – on Ben Lawers in Perthshire it grows at 1155m. Recently it has become a roadside colonist along salted roads especially in the southwest of England. With its shiny and glossy, deep green, kidney to heart-shaped leaves it is a very conspicuous plant and becomes even more obvious in seabird colonies where nutrient enrichment results in much larger leaves and plants. Less conspicuous than the leaves are the honey-scented flowers which range from the standard white to a delicate shade of violet. It is obvious that in Orkney there is a great variation in size, petal colour and leaf shape giving rise to many unconfirmed records of the two subspecies known as scotica and atlantica

The plant has high vitamin C content and its antiscorbutic properties are widely known. In Faroe the leaves were employed in the treatment of nutritional disorders and in coastal England it was used as a folk remedy to counter scurvy long before the voyages of the 16th century. In the mid 17th century there was a fashion for a morning drink of scurvy grass and it was commonly grown in the physic corner of the garden. Writing of his Shetland experiences in the 18th century Brand states “They (the Shetlanders) have much scurvy grass: God so ordering it in his wise Providence…that seeing the scurvy is the common disease of the country, they should have the remedy at hand”.


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