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,
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
Medicinal uses of yellow
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.
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.).
Plants For A Future,
The Really WILD Food Guide,
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
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