|Corncockle (from Wikimedia Commons)|
But there was a time when corncockle was a troublesome plant because of its poisonous qualities. During the medieval period in Ireland (c. AD 1150 to 1500) in particular, corncockle was an abundant arable weed, growing alongside crops and sometimes inadvertently harvested. Corncockle seeds are quite similar in size to cereal grains, so great effort would have been required to remove corncockle seeds from cereal grains when preparing foods. If corncockle seeds were not removed, the seeds would have affected both the colour and the taste of flour, and if eaten in large enough quantities, could have affected the health of the consumer. Indeed Gerard’s 16th century Herball (history of plants) noted “what hurt it doth among corne, the spoile of bread, as well in colour, taste, and unwholesomnesse, is better knowne than desired” (Woodward 1994, 252).
|Corncockle seeds (from Wikimedia Commons)|
So there was a time when care was needed in dealing with corncockle. But due to the increased use of herbicides and other grain cleaning techniques, corncockle is now largely extinct as an arable weed in Ireland, and hence there is little chance of it being incorporated into foods. The rarity of corncockle, as well as its beauty, now encourages gardeners to continue propagation of this interesting plant.
Geraghty, S (1996) Viking Dublin: botanical evidence from Fishamble Street. Royal Irish Academy: Dublin
McClatchie, M (2014) 9.1.1 Non-wood plant macro-remains, 429-447. In MF Hurley and C Brett (eds), Archaeological excavations at South Main Street 2003-2005. Cork City Council: Cork
Woodward, M (ed.) (1994) Gerard's Herbal. Senate: London