History and uses
White Bryony was first recorded by William Turner in 15481. , and black bryony soon after by John Gerrard in 15972.. White bryony has many local names including ache, Canterbury Jack, dead creepers and “woman drake”3. in contrast to black bryony which is known locally as “mandrake”, black bindweed and adder’s meat.4. True mandrake Mandragora officinarum is a Mediterranean species related to deadly nightshade.
Both bryony species are too poisonous for general use, and white bryony’s powers as a laxative are described as “explosive”. Black bryony berries steeped in gin are said to be good for chilblains4.. White bryony roots often grow “arms and legs” to resemble the human form, and in the fenlands, those most resembling a female form were taken to pubs and compared, and the most rudely suggestive stored until a better one was found3..
Both are dispersed by birds. Very few species eat either plant, but white bryony is the basic foodplant of a gall midge Jaapiella bryoniae5.. Black bryony likewise is the sole host of the gall midge Schizomyia tami6. .
1. Pearman, D. 2017. The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland. BSBI, Bristol. p121
2. Pearman, D. 2017 The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland. BSBI, Bristol. p392
3. Vickery, R. 2019. Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A to Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. p699
4. Vickery, R. 2019. Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A to Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. p70
Page written and compiled by Steve Head