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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
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Yellow flag: Iris pseudacorus L. synonyms: I aquatica, I lutia, I. pseudoacorus. Achorus, Bog-uisge (rainbow), Cheeper (from making a noise with the leaves), Daggers, Dug's lug (dog's ear), Dragon flower, Flag, Flaggon, Fleur de Luce, Fleur-de-Lys, Fliggers, Gladyn, Gladyne, Levers, Livers, Jacob's Sword, Meklin, Myrtle Flower, Saggon, Sari Susen, Segg, Seggen (sedges), Seileasdair, Sealasdair, Seileasdear (plant of light), Seilisdear (plant of light), Siolastar (plant of light), Shalder. Sheggs, Water-skegg, Yellow Iris.


Yellow flag: Campanula rotundifolia L.The large size and intense colour of this plant is unusual among native British species. Even on an overcast day it seems to shine. Most of its Gaelic names mean the plant of light.

Its exuberant sensual beauty and connection with the Fleur de Lys symbol evokes that Scotland whose other drink is claret. That Francophile, hedonistic and outward looking element which runs through our culture's history from, the 'auld alliance' to 'écosse' stickers on cars, and which gave us some interesting words and some interesting refinements to our cuisine, Gigots on ashets and Petticoat Tails at Hogmanay. At the same time the plant of damp places also illustrates the other side of bi-polar Scottishness, as a very harsh medicinal it might appeal to a Calvinist masochism and it was an important source of dye for scratchy tweeds.

One story of how it became an insignia of French royalty is this; Clovis, a fifth century king of the Franks, replaced the three toads on his banner with irises at about the same time he converted to Christianity. According to the legend, the yellow flag saved his life because its presence revealed which parts of the River Rhine were shallow enough for his troops to cross. Another version claims it as a symbol of the Virgin Mary and that Clovis was persuaded to adopt it by his Christian wife, Clothilde. Fleur-de-lis would literally translate from French as 'flower of the lily' however it does not really resemble that plant. It has been suggested the name is a corruption of Fleur de Louis, from the time of Louis VII's crusade, Lys is also the name of a river in Flanders, along the banks of which the Yellow Iris is particularly abundant. The symbol itself is actually much older than Clovis and occurs on many ancient artefacts from Mesopotamian cylinders to Gaulish coins. It occurs in wide variety of heraldic and symbolic contexts and is often used as the North Point on the compass rose which is why it is a symbol of the Boy Scouts movement. Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, explained that the Scouts adopted the fleur-de-lis symbol from its use in the compass rose because it "points in the right direction (and upwards) turning neither to the right nor left, since these lead backward again".

Its specific name, Pseudacorus, refers to its similarity to another plant, pseudo being the Greek for false, while acorus is the generic name of the Sweet Sedge (Acorus calamus), with which it is supposed to have been confused, that plant when not in flower resembling it and growing in the same situations. The Sweet Sedge, however, has an aromatic scent, while Iris Pseudacorus is odourless. The Romans called the plant consecratix, from its being used in purifications.

Non-medical uses of yellow flag
The green dye obtained from the leaves of species was used in the Harris tweed industry. Modern dyers report that iris leaves produce a pale yellow dye if alum is used as a mordant, bright green if copper is used and dark, grey-green if iron is the mordant. A yellow dye is obtained from the flowers. According to older references a good black dye is obtained from the root if it is mixed with iron sulphate. It is brown otherwise. Modern dyers report that iris roots produce a 'greeny brown' dye (with alum and iron as mordants), 'orangey-brown', if alum is the sole mordant. The root is a source of tannin and has been used in making ink boiled with copperas (green sulphate of iron FeSO2.7H2O). A delicately scented essential oil is obtained from the roots, it has been used to adulterate the oil of Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus.
Yellow flag, when used in thatching is reported to be particularly suited as a layer underneath marram, as it provides an even, flat surface for laying the marram on. There was an early 19th century French suggestion of the use of the seeds as a coffee substitute, I wouldn't recommend it as it may be toxic.

Yellow iris is one of several wetland species that is used together with common reed (Phragmites australis) in reedbeds and constructed wetlands for waste water treatment. Several plant species can be used to maximise the biomass and increase the diversity of the reedbed so it can adapt to different conditions. Adding extra plant species provides different niches for bacterial growth and can only improve the water purifying activity of the reedbed or wetland.(Information obtained from: David Bassett, Watershed Systems Ltd.).

Medicinal uses of yellow flag
The leaves, and especially the rhizomes, of this species contain an irritating resinous substance called irisin, if ingested this can cause severe gastric disturbances. Plants can cause skin irritations and allergies in some people.
Astringent, Cathartic, Emetic, Emmenagogue, Odontalgic.

Definitons of medical actions

Like many other botanicals, according to preparation and dosage, this plant has been used to produce contradictory actions in this case both as a treatment for diarrhoea and as a cathartic. The fresh root is astringent, cathartic, emetic, emmenagogue and odontalgic. A slice of the root held against an aching tooth is said to bring immediate relief. (On Mull, a piece of iris root used to be pulverised, along with a handful of daisies. The juice was then strained and a teaspoonful poured into patient's nose to treat toothache and nasal problems, induces violent salivation and nose running. One danger associated with the treatment was the possibility of catching a cold after the event). It was at one time widely used as a powerful cathartic but is seldom used nowadays because of its extremely acrid nature. It can also cause violent vomiting and diarrhoea. When dried the root loses its acridity and then only acts as an astringent.
Now little used the plant was formerly held in the highest esteem, the juice of the root being considered a cure for obstinate coughs, 'evil spleens,' convulsions, dropsies and serpents' bites, and as Gerard also says, 'doth mightilie and vehementlie draw forth choler.' (choler= One of the four humors of ancient and medieval physiology, thought to cause anger and bad temper when present in excess; yellow bile.).

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html
The Really WILD Food Guide, www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/index.htm
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis
Mrs. M. Grieve, "A Modern Herbal" 1931 (was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's), online at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html

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