How the Devil’s Bit Scabious lost its medecinal powers (031)

In Midsummer in areas with damp poor ground the flowers of the devil’s bit scabious turn the fields purple. This used to be an important medicinal herb, but that is no longer the case. How did this happen? From too much success!  Draw closer and listen to my tale:

Several hundred years ago there lived a skinny but beautiful miller’s daughter. The grinding poverty was almost too hard for her to bare. Already she had had to bury both her mother and brother who had died from suffering and disease. When one day her father seemed to have fallen victim to a contagious deadly illness she was at her wits’ end. “I have done everything I can think of to cure my father!” she cried. At the very same moment that she exclaimed her innermost thoughts the devil appeared. “You can heal your father using a secret key of knowledge. I will reveal to you the mysterious world of medicinal plants. In return for this secret key you will give me your soul,” whispered the devil in her ear. Without a moment’s hesitation the girl accepted the bargain and shortly afterwards her father recovered with the help of medicinal plants. Because the girl now knew everything about all the medicinal plants, others appealed to her for help. Very soon all the sick people in the village recovered through her devoted use of the plant knowledge she had bought from the devil in exchange for her soul. Before long her fame spread to far beyond the boundaries of the village itself and people began to look upon her as a saint. The devil was seriously shocked at this development. This was not what he had had in mind! Without any warning he broke his part of the bargain with the girl by making her blind so that she could no longer find and prepare medicinal plants. In those days blindness was cured with the roots of a small plant that grew in the damp hayfields, a large purple-flowered plant known today as the devil’s bit scabious. Satan then proceeded to bite off a bit of the plant’s root to prevent the girl from curing herself through the healing properties of the roots. Ever since then the devil’s bit scabious can no longer cure eye problems. Moreover, its once large flower is now a small one. Fortunately, the girl retained her beauty, but from then on it has become almost impossible to admire these beautiful flowers: quite simply, they are hardly visible to the naked eye without the aid of a magnifying glass.

In the past the devil’s bit scabious was a common plant in hayfields. Along with their natural habitat, the wet meadows, their numbers have seriously decreased in numbers. This is due to the dramatic lowering of the ground water level to make the earth ripe for cultivations. The plant’s ideal habitat is barren and damp: moorlands and wet dune valleys, for instance. The rootstock is unusually short and looks just as if there is scar at its base, hence why the plant is referred to in this legend as the “devil’s bite”. This is also reflected in the Latin name ‘Succísa praténsis’: ‘succísa’ means ‘bitten off’ and ‘praténsis’ ‘in the field’.   


© Els Baars,

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Els Baars