What do you do when a plant savant gives you two dozen botanical cuttings? You speed home from the village, dart out to the clothesline, and grab all the clothespins you can get, run back into the kitchen and scour the armoire for glasses (champagne flutes, wine goblets, old jam jars...)... then you carefully label each and every species (thanks to the handwritten notes that one venerable Frenchman carefully penned).
lexique (lexeek) noun, masculine
Monsieur Farjon talks about plants as some talk about humans. They have their relations, c'est-à-dire,* they have families, "ancestors". They reproduce. They are "born": some as bâtards, others with silver spoons in their botanical bouches.* Speaking of mouths, they even have body parts, such as "armpits" (aisselles), from which thirsty French birds drink à la "cabaret des oiseaux".*
They have their faults and their moods, good and bad. Ornery they are, as witnessed by their spiky "skin" or prickly "peau". Their many "fingers" cling to you like children... when they aren't altogether sticking their tongues out, teasingly. And they are liable to spit as you mosey on by, minding your own onions, in some abandoned French village.... (Just ask my own mom, who stood beside me, stunned, as one alien-like concombre d'âne* squirted at us in the ancient hilltop village of Le Cannet des Maures.)
Plants teach us, scold us, and reward us. Some are smelly, some sweet, but they all merit more than a passing glance and to most, Farjon would argue, we owe a sincere reconnaissance* ... or one final salute -- as more and more of these medieval plants are disappearing, concrete pushing up in their place. Gone are the flocks and animals that, in their own humble way, nourished these "old folks": these sometime irascible, often irresistible botanicals of prehistoric and modern Provence.
It is another kind of green that interests people these days, Farjon laments. Money and modernity would seem to have taken the limelight off of botanical antiquity. But that won't stop one "plant whisperer" from combing the countryside, to render a daily homage to his heroic heirlooms.
* * *
Here is the most recent batch of botanical cuttings that Monsieur Farjon brought by in a mid-summer medley. There are stories, funny and sad, behind each and every one. I hope to share some of them with you, as Monsieur Farjon has with me so as to keep their French histories alive, for posterity.
* * *
Note: The plants are listed in French, sometimes in Latin, in English and, here and there in Provençal (as indicated by parenthesis). In this glossary, I have included some undefined terms which I will try to clean up petit à petit.
c'est-à-dire = that is to say; la bouche (f) = mouth; le cabaret des oiseaux = bird's inn (a cabaret, apart from a place to watch dancing, is a watering hole); concombre d'âne (see glossary, below); la reconnaissance (f) = gratitude, recognition
Petit Lexique Botanique / Botanical Glossary
Armoise camphrée : Artemisia abrotanum : Southernwood
Asperge Sauvage : Asaparagus acutifolius: ("lou roumanieu counieu" or "rabbit's rosemary")
Bardane : Great burdock : Arctium lappa : "herbe aux teigneux"
Cardère : Dipsacus fullonum : Wild teasel : "cabaret des oiseaux"
Chicorée Sauvage : Cichorium intybus : Root chicory: (Cicoréia)
Clématite : Clematis vitalba : "Old Man's Beard"
Concombre d'Ane : Ecballium elaterium : Squirting cucumber; momordique
Euphorbe petit cyprès : Cypress spurge : "Graveyard weed" : (lanchousclo veneneuse)
Euphorbe des bois : Euphorbia characias : Wood spurge
Gaillet : Galium verum : Yellow bedstraw : "Frigg's grass"
Hiéble: Sambucus ebulus : European Dwarf Elder and Walewort : "Blind man's herb"
Laurier Tin : Viburnum tinus : (Provençal : faveloun / pato molo / lausié flouri)
Onagre : Oenothera biennis : Evening primrose : Onagraire : "herbe aux ânes", "jambon des jardinières"
Prêle : Equisetum : "Queue de cheval" - horse tail
Rue fétide : Ruta gravéoleus : Common rue :"herbe à la belle fille"
Salsepareille : Smilax aspera: Prickly-ivy : salsepareille
Bibliography by Monsieur Farjon
While many of these books (in French) can be found at Amazon, most are rare or a bit pricey. Look for them in your local library.
"Guide familial de la medecine par les plantes" by Dr. Paul Belaiche
"Se soigner par les légumes, les fruits et les céréales" by Docteur Jean Valnet
"Aromathérapie" by Docteur Jean Valnet
"La phytothérapie : Traitement des maladies par les plantes" by Docteur Jean Valnet
"Les Plantes de mon père" by Didier Messegue
"Of People and Plants: The Autobiography of Europe's Most Celebrated Healer" by Maurice Mességué
"C'est la nature qui a raison" by Maurice Mésségué
Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!