Foraging in a meadow of cow parsley.
One of the spectacles of summer is the profusion of tiny lacy white flowers on tall delicate stems that can make you stop and lose track of time. From spring to mid-summer, the cow parsley, a type of wild chervil, sways in the breeze amidst bees, butterflies and other insects. It flourishes in the meadows, along roadside verges, motorway laybys, edges of coastal paths, mesmerizing with its fragile beauty and beckoning the onlooker to stop and be in the moment. It is a mass of unruly frothy decadence promising hot summer days and balmy nights.
Frothy clusters of cow parsley.
The anthriscus sylvestris, the Latin name for the cow parsley is a dyer’s delight. The flowers, their tripinnate leaves and even the hollow stems produce the most wonderful and distinctive yellow. Foraging is easy among the abundance of small white flowers, whose umbels emit a delicate hint of aniseed and liquorice when you pick, and more strongly still when the dye sits on the fire. The challenge when picking cow parsley is knowing when to stop!
As with foraging, the dyeing process is relatively straight forward, hugely pleasurable and results in an uncompromising yellow. It is impressive that a tiny flower should pack such a massive punch.
Making natural dye with cow parsley.
Every summer we dye hanks of Norwegian wool for knitting our Kind Blankets and top up our stock of scarves.
Shades of yellow scarves and hanks of wool drying in the garden.
The common cow parsley may not have the majesty of the cherry blossoms in spring, but if “hanami” is a celebration of “flower viewing” then this wild, free growing and short-lived plant is undoubtedly deserving of a “viewing” in its own right. With high drama and absolute decadence, the cow parsley ushers in the Summer Solstice, when the earth is at its closet point to the sun and every living thing on the face of the earth is soaked in light. It reminds us to rejoice and celebrate light. For natural dyers, the long days are for work, planning and preparing for the year ahead because once the heady show is over, so is our source of colour.
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All photographs by Sarah Cuttle.