Rooting for Serpents
In the Grimm’s The Three Snake Leaves, a soldier is entombed alive with his dead princess bride. After cutting a snake into thirds and watching another revive it with magical leaves, our hero uses the plant to resurrect his beloved. Later, when she and her ship-captain lover murder him (some gratitude), his faithful servant resuscitates the soldier with those selfsame leaves. Things aren’t so splendid for the princess, who’s summarily executed. Storyteller Ghislaine Walker speculates that the leaves in question the leaves in question are yarrow, achillea millefolium. No relation to Peter Yarrow of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” fame.
Sphagnum & Swords
Lyra Silvertongue, the plucky, pre-teen heroine of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, uses an arctic lichen called blood moss to staunch her bear-friend (the Norwegian panserbjørn) Iorek Byrinson’s bleeding wounds. Later, explorer John Parry applies blood moss to the places where his son, Will, lost fingers in a duel. Historical evidence shows that sphagnum was used as a surgical dressing in Newfoundland, Lapland and Kashmir. Eleventh-century Gaelic chronicles tell of soldiers tending their battlefield injuries with peat.
The Appalachians are lush with medicinal herbs. Strangest among them is the ethereal, almost translucent ghost pipe (monotropa uniflora). This parasitic flower derives its energy from fungi and photosynthetic trees, and is used by herbalists to reduce both physical and emotional pain. The root balls are even rumored to serve as a remedy for phantom limb syndrome. Poet Carrie Bennett writes about ghost pipe, which she refers to as ghost plant, in the Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review:
“The grandmother thought it was time to take the child to see the ghost plants…their milky stems and little greying heads drooping down, a sadder bloom than any other flower on the map.”
Ghost pipe may be toxic in certain doses. Do not try this in the forest or at home…
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Fairy Tale Review intern Wren Goblirsch and poetry editor Jon Riccio.