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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Leek and the Daffodil

Which is the national emblem of Wales?

Before March 1 runs out, may we wish all a happy St. David’s Day.

This is the national holiday of Wales and a tricky botanical occasion, since there’s disagreement as to whether the national emblem is floral or vegetable: “the pretty daffodil or the handsome leek?”

imageLeeks (“monster green onions” to you non-foodies) originated in the Southern Mediterranean but came to Wales with Roman soldiers. A late winter vegetable, the leek was much appreciated in stews about this time of year. It was also used medicinally, to heal fractures and bruises, and, according to another source, cure the common cold, ease childbirth, forecast the future, and ward off evil spirits. More versatile than Vick’s Vap-o-rub.

The leek’s claim as national emblem, however, came not from curative powers but military ones. “The ancient King of Gwynedd, Cadwallon ap Cadfan, is said in AD 633, to have given leeks to his men to wear on their hats to distinguish them from their Saxon foes.” Ten centuries later, Princess Mary Tudor writes of the leek as a Welsh emblem—and Shakespeare’s Henry V wears a leek “for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”

“Past and present members of the Welsh military regiments have been forced and are still forced to take part in tear-jerking ceremonies,” eating leeks raw.

It was in more recent years that the daffodil began its Welsh ascendancy. This plant, or at least the variety Narcissus pseudonarcissus, is in fact native to Wales. I gather that it was David Lloyd George, Welshman and Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War I, who “pushed for the daffodil to replace the leek as a symbol of Welsh identity.” He wore the daffodil on March 1, St. David’s Day, a custom now observed among the Welsh around the world.

So which is the national emblem? Is the daffodil a wimpy latecomer, “preferred over the leek by the English government as it lacks the overtones of patriotic defiance”? It doesn’t help sort out matters that the Welsh name for daffodil—Cenhinen Bedr—means “Peter’s leek.”

We welcome all viewpoints on this (or any other) floral controversy. and offer this recipe for cawl, a Welsh leek soup. If you have a daffodil soup recipe, please send it along.

Posted by Julie on 03/01 at 05:13 PM
CookingCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink
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