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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

23 October, 2016

Squinancywort: fighting tonsillitis

Squinancywort (Asperula cynanchica) is surely an odd name for a flower? It is certainly a unique label and one that helps ensure the name is not forgotten when the flower is found in the wild.
Squinancywort is one a group of flowers that you can almost predict you will find on chalk soils where the grass is thin. It does not grow under any other circumstances or in any other situations but is likely to be frequent in the conditions it favours. It is a small plant and cannot compete with vigorous grass growth so it takes its chances in its own niche. A member of the bedstraw family it has the bedstraw's distinctive small cluster of four petalled flowers, the petals forming a cross. Often cream in colour but sometimes tinged with pink the flowers can be found from May through until September.  
So, what of the strange name? In medieval times it was used as a cure for quinsy and was once known as squinsywort but somewhere along the line it became a little corrupted. Quinsy was a rather nasty and extreme version of tonsillitis and was potentially fatal. How effective squinsywort was I have no idea.
Squinancywort: fighting tonsillitis