Love-weed (Cuscuta ..?)

As we’re not long past St Valentine’s Day, I’m looking at Love-weed, a plant connected in African-Jamaican plant lore to matters of the heart. Love-weed has many alternate names including Love-bush, Dodder, Hell Weed and Devil’s Guts – my favourite is Wizard’s Net. It belongs to the Cuscuta family of parasitic plants which in turn is part of the wider genus of Convolvulaceae. Cuscuta survive by wrapping themselves around other plants which they then impale with haustoria, root-like structures which absorb nutrients from the host plant.

Flore_médicale_des_Antilles,_ou,_Traité_des_plantes_usuelles_(Pl._150)_(8203084006)

The lore I’m focussing on comes principally from Martha Warren Beckwith’s collection of African-Jamaican ethnobotany in the 1920s. Beckwith didn’t mention which variety of Love-weed she was referring to beyond calling it Cuscuta. She was told by her African-Jamaican interviewees, Wilfred Bonito and James White, that if you are in love with someone who can’t stand you, you should rub Love-weed on your body, particular focussing on the back of your neck. The next time you see that person you should clap your hands and, holding your palms upwards, recite “By Saint Peter, James & Paul”. The object of your affection’s mind will be changed (Beckwith, (a), p. 21).

Golden_Dodder_(Cuscuta_campestris)_(46618486901)

Beckwith also cited an example of Love-weed lore from a collection of African-Jamaican folklore from trainee teachers at Mico College, Jamaica:

“If a branch of a certain yellow weed [which Beckwith believed to be love-weed] grows when thrown upon a bush, it shows that the person whose mind you are seeking is getting to love you more and more” (Beckwith, (b), p. 65).

Frederic Cassidy and Robert Le Page give another example of Love-weed’s use which again exploits the parasitic nature of the plant:

“Folklore has it that one will succeed in love it a piece one puts on another plant grows…” (Cassidy & Le Page, p. 282).

A botanical multi- tasker

If Love-weed is mashed up with Death-weed (Solanum nigrum), Dead-weed (Erigeron canadensis), laundry blue “asafoetida, vinegar, a little fine salt”, and put in a bottle you should then “Rub it… over your body if you think there is a duppy (spirit) about” (Beckwith, (a), p. 16).

Next time… I look at how eggs have been used in Obeah practice

Sources

Martha Warren Beckwith, “Notes on Jamaican Ethnobotany” in Martha Warren Beckwith, with music recorded in the field by Helen H. Roberts, Jamaica Folklore (New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, 1928). (a)

Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929). (b)

F.G. Cassidy and R.B. Le Page (eds), Dictionary of Jamaican English (2nd ed., Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2002).

Frank Cundall, “Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica”, Folklore, Vol. 15, p. 456, cited in Beckwith, Black Roadways, (1929).

“Haustorium” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haustorium#In_plants> (accessed 20.2.22).

Image credits: J. Descourtilz & M.E. Descourtilz via Wikimedia Commons

Golden dodder by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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