Hedgerows and Fairy Tales
By: Barbara Odegard
As humans transitioned from primordial forest life to one of agriculture and edge-biotrope developed dividing the two. This evolved into the hedgerow. Hedgerows marked boundaries to declare ownership and kept livestock in and out of fields.
These natural hedges acquired a practical purpose with a multitude of uses. Made up of thorny undergrowth such as blackberry, wild rose, hawthorn, buckthorn, barberry and the like. Fast growing trees such as alder, hazel, elder, wild cherry, holly, crab apple and more grew abundantly and thickly in their midst.
These hedgerows supported cultivated life with essential goods. An endless source of wood for burning and basket making. Nuts, berries and most of the important medicinal plants the people relied on grew at the edges of these hedges. Nettle, valerian, comfrey, wood betony, chamomile, calendula, wild thyme, vervain and burdock to name some of them.
These thick, thorny places offered protection from the wilderness on the outside to the settlers on the cultivated inside. This physical barrier was the stuff of imagination and fairy tales. It became a metaphysical boundary where tales of wild men, ghosts, goblins, monsters, elves and forest deities flourished. The forest became a sinister place where children were forewarned NOT to enter for fear of being stolen. The story of Hansel and Gretel comes to mind.
Today there is renewed interest in hedgerows. They are considered a semi-natural habitat and often are the closest thing to a natural habitat urban dwellers can experience. These habitats provide shelter and resources for countless species of birds, insects; especially butterflies, and small mammals, snakes and frogs.
Hedgerows help purify and regulate water quality, reduce the rate of climate change and naturally assist with flood control and erosion. They offer protection and habitat for predators of crop pests and are a very important habitat for pollinators, especially bumble bees.
In the Old World wise women were called “hedge sitters”. Here the spirits whispered to her and she learned of medicines and magic. Here at the edge of two worlds the stories were woven. She is the earthly incarnation that binds the past with the future generations. We need more hedge sitters.
I like to think that I am a practicing hedge sitter.