Presenter of RTÉ One's Faoi Bhláth and self professed wildflower fanatic, Aedín Ní Thiarnaigh writes about what flora to look out for this month in Ireland.
Bealtaine might just be my favourite month for bláthanna fiáine. After a heady mix of April sunshine and showers, it seems that every day in May has something new bursting into bloom.
Bealtaine also brings about some of Ireland's best-known blossoms when it comes to seanchas, all the more reason to get excited when these bláthanna start popping up again in our hedgerows, woodlands and wild gardens.
Sceach Gheal (Hawthorn)
Since early Spring, Irish hedgerows across the country have been bedecked with the snowy white bláth na n-airní on the blackthorn. Once May arrives however, the blackthorn fades and it’s the hawthorn’s time to shine! An sceach gheal is at its finest faoi láthair with beautiful pink-tipped, creamy blossoms breaking out among the duilleoga glasa.
Often referred to as a Crann Bealtaine, the Hawthorn blossom is a symbol of the ancient festival and was often decorated with ribbons and painted eggshells in the run up to the féile (1ú Bealtaine). The flowers are feared in many places however, as they were thought to bring death into a house if someone unknowingly brought them indoors. Interestingly, it’s now thought that a grain of truth exists behind this piseog; when scientists analysed the chemical make-up of the hawthorn flower, they discovered trimethylamine, an enzyme found in animal corpses!
These edible bláthanna pack a punch, as we learned on episode one of Faoi Bhláth from herbalist Karin Müller whose Hawthorn lemonade can boost athletic performance and even help with a briseadh croí.
Coinnle Corra (Bluebells)
It wouldn't be May without seeing our native woodlands teeming with the stunning coinnle corra. Also known as cloigíní gorma, a direct translation of the 'bluebell’ as Béarla, these bláthanna spread like blue wildfire sna coillte and it’s well worth a trip to your local wood this May to pay them a visit.
The coinnle corra had some interesting uses long ago. The roots and stem exude a gluey substance widely used in bookbinding fadó and was used to attach feathers to arrows too. The medicinal properties attributed to the plant are a little more dubious however, once believed to cure baldness and snake-bites.
The bluebell is often found taobh-le-taobh with another native woodland wildflower, an chreamh. Easy to recognise by its star-like white flowers, thick dark-green leaves and tell-tale smell, native wild garlic is another treat from nature to be enjoyed this Bealtaine. Munch it raw, add it to soups or mash it up with some lemon, parmesan pine nuts and hey presto, you've got native Irish pesto!
Bainne Bó Bleachtáin (Cowslips)
The bainne bó bleachtáin is another beauty to have your súile peeled for. I've never seen so many of these treasures on our roadsides as I have this year so if you’re taking to the road this Bealtaine, keep an eye out for these primrose-like blossoms atop long stems ar thaobh an bhóthair or in any grassland.
As well as being generally gleoite and a happy sight to behold, the bainne bó bleachtáin has a couple of useful tricks up its sleeve. Cowslips were best known back in the day as a treatment for insomnia; the blossoms would be picked and made into a tea which was thought to assure the drinker a codladh sámh.
As Béarla, this dainty flower’s name has its own interesting backstory. Nothing to do with a cow’s 'lip’, the cowslip name is thought to come from the words ‘cow’ and ‘slop’ because of the plants tendency to grow among cowpats!
If you want to learn more about these May flowers and Irish wildflowers in general, tune in the full series is on the RTÉ Player here.