Tracking down a source for Bluebells used as glue

There have been a few bluebell filled days recently, and yesterday was perhaps the most Bluebells I have ever seen in my life. Oceans of them flowed over the curious landscape of an until yesterday undiscovered-by-me part of Charleville forest, luxuriating in the May sunshine in their hundred of thousands, mellowing under slow wandering clouds of their hyacinth-y scent.

Anyone with an interest in medieval illumination already know lovely examples of bluebell or Harebell flowers in manuscripts, probably indicating they lifted spirits as much back then as they did mine yesterday. They’re one of my favourite things to paint. It reminded me that I had read at some stage that the bulbs of bluebells were used to make an adhesive for book binding. More, it was said, the glue was poisonous, which deterred silverfish and protected the book. A quick google search also suggested that this adhesive could be used in fletching, attaching the feathers to an arrow. I wasn’t sure if these were true things or just the sort of story that gets piled on, sourceless, around the Internet. So I am trying to find out. (As a thought experiment, I am not about to start digging them up, I know they’re a protected species.)

(Illumination is from the Huth Hours (Add. MS 38126), it is Flemish, from sometime between 1485 and 1490) 

My first discovery of a medieval source was The Herball, or generall historie of plantes (1597), written by John Gerard, an English herbalist, and this decorated title page is worth a look just for itself. I’m including the woodcut because they’re rather pretty

“The blew Harebels or English Jacinth is very common throughout all England. It hath long narrow leaves leaning towards the ground, among which spring up naked or bare stalks laden with many hollow blew floures of a strong sweet smell somewhat stuffing the head: after which come the cods or round knobs, containing a great quantity of small black shining seed. The root is bulbous, full of a slimy glewish juice, which will serve to set feathers upon arrows instead of glew, or to paste books with; whereof is made the best starch next onto that of Wake robin roots. “

And because noone ever has an original idea I have just found an excellent article entitled Bluebell Glue (by Eternal Magpie) that covers all of this and so much more so I kind of feel like I’d just be stealing if I say anymore 🙂


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