Lad's Love

Enid Porter, Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore

André Karwath

A form of marriage proposal by an inarticulate young Fenman was provided by the plant Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanus), known in the Fens as Old Man or Lad’s Love.

The youth, so W.H. Barrett remembers, would cut some sprigs of the plant and put them in his buttonhole before setting out with the village lads on a spring or early summer evening stroll. Presently, leaving his companions, he would wander along the lanes, where he would find little groups of giggling girls, and would pass them by ostentatiously sniffing at his buttonhole to show that his thoughts were turned towards matrimony.

If the girls went by unheeding, he knew that he was unlucky, but if they turned and came slowly back towards him he knew that his herbal decoration had not gone unnoticed. After a show of hesitation he then removed the buttonhole and handed it to the girl of his choice. If she spurned him, she probably threw his offering to the ground and might even smack the bold suitor on his face. If he was acceptable, however, she would inhale the pungent scent of the Lad’s Love and, after some teasing from her companions, would put her arm through his and the pair would set off on their first courting stroll.

See also