February 23, 2022
An Early Spring Porridge
Did you know that an early word for ‘plant’ or ‘herb’ in the English language was wort? Hence St John’s Wort, Mugwort, etc, for all you herbalists out there. I’ve been drawn to plants as long as I’ve been fixated on words, so that means I’m a wort-person and a word-person.
On that note, an early word for ‘female, lady,’ was ‘wife’ (wif), actually predating ‘woman’, which is derived etymologically from ‘man.’ So a fishwife described a woman who sold fish, and a midwife was ‘with’ (mid) someone during birth. Although today we are less likely to refer to a person as a woman or a man without questioning the matter (and many folks have mixed feelings about the word wife!), it is fascinating to know the roots of these words.
I used some wort-wife skills recently to heal a painful and swollen finger. I’d jammed it days prior, and the last digit throbbed relentlessly. Was something trapped in there? I couldn’t tell. In one of those pain-receptor-delirium-states, I grabbed my favorite herbal tome, written decades ago by the nomadic Juliette de Bairacli Levy, and went out into the alley with my flashlight. I came back with green friends chickweed and mallow.
Do you know these weedy worts? They’re everywhere right now – & known for their ability to “draw” impurities out. I chopped them up, poured hot water over, and made a poultice (from Latin puls, “porridge”) which my husband wrapped like a present around my finger.
Sat and waited, throbbing. An hour later I couldn’t resist, took the bandage off to inspect. One tiny tap on my fingernail emitted a geysered orb of perfect fluid from underneath, propelled as if by magic. Which, of course, it is.
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