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Herb stories: Red campion

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You might have spotted this pink wayside flower in the hedgerows while out on country walks, a lovely wildflower beloved of woodlands and waysides.

For such a pretty, innocuous flower it has some grim associations in folklore – death, nasty goblins and snakes. Its seeds were crushed in old cures for snakebites, and snakes were said to be jealous of people bringing the flowers in the home.

More cheeringly, it is an indicator of ancient woodland and it’s a useful soap substitute, thanks to the saponins contained in its roots. Gently simmer the root in some hot water to use.

Campion can grow to 60cm tall, and if it likes a spot you can expect it to grow, fast – it’s a keen self-seeder. It’s named after a lecherous Greek forest god called Silenus (the name comes from the Greek for saliva, eeeww) possibly because the flowers produce a foam to capture pollen from visiting insects for reproduction.

Hoverflies cannot get enough of campion, and bees and butterflies like it too. It’s easy to grow from seed, which should be sown either in spring or early autumn and pricked out as soon as they are big enough to handle.

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