YELLOW RATTLE – Rhinanthus minor – Scrophulariaceae family
The plant: This plant comes in all shapes and sizes - from a few centimetres to sixty or seventy. It is semi-parasitic, living especially on grass roots. As a result it is usually seen on grassland, but also in grassy woods. This flower was pictured in a field near the village of Snod’s Edge – the field was full of the plants.
The flowers: usually about fifteen mm long – but can be smaller or larger. The corolla is yellow and the tooth like structures are usually coloured blue on the upper lip and are very short. It flowers all summer long from May onwards. The seed pods rattle as thye seed matures and the plant is disturbed in wind or when walking.
The leaves: Their shape is basically ovoid with toothed edges as seen in the photograph.
Names, mythology, uses and folklore: Yellow rattle has many colloquial names – these include Gowk’s shilling in Scotland to Gowk’s sixpence and hen pennies in Northumberland (“Gowk” is a cuckoo). Other names relates to the seed pods – rattle-traps, pepper box, rattle grass, cock’s comb, and shackle caps. There seem to be very few herbal uses ascribed to it: Culpeppr suggests that it can be used in those “troubled with cough or dimness of sight”.
However, it does have one important function in modern times: its semi-parasitic characteristic causes the grasses that yellow rattle thrives on to be limited where it is present. In doing so there is the opportunity for an increasing variety of wild flowers to appear to create an old-fashioned flowering meadow. There is such a meadow in the care of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust in Riding Mill, Northumberland. However, grass yields are correspondingly poorer – so farmers are not keen to have it on their land.