256: Redbud Tree

The redbuds, Cercis canadensis, are just starting to bloom here in the Ozarks. The flower of the tree is edible and tastes a little like snow peas. Pick the flowers just where the bloom meets the stem. The lower part should be left attached to the tree otherwise it won’t bloom there the next year, or so I’ve heard. In addition to the edible flower the bark has traditionally been used in medical preparations for whooping cough. A cold infusion of inner bark and roots is used to treat fevers and congestion. Hot infusion to treat vomiting and fever. There’s also some Ozark lore about the tree, here are some good examples from Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

“In rural Arkansas the backwoods girls tie little pieces of cloth to the branches of certain trees usually pawpaw or hawthorn, sometimes redbud or ironwood. I have seen five of these little bundles in a single pawpaw tree. I have untied several and examined them carefully; there was nothing in them that I could see, just little pieces of cloth, doubtless torn from old dresses or petticoats. The natives say they are love charms, but just how they work I do not know. No woodsman that I have ever known would think of touching one of these objects, and I have often been warned that it is very bad luck to ‘monkey with such as that.’”

“There is a rather general idea that departed spirits, when they return to earth, prefer to appear in the dark of the moon. It is also believed that the dead, if they can’t rest in their graves, are somehow inclined to loiter about redbuds, pawpaw trees, and haw bushes though why they should be attracted to these particular plants nobody seems to know.”

“The Oklahoma legislature, in 1937, passed a bill making the redbud Oklahoma’s official state tree. This roused a great storm of criticism, because many people believe that the redbud is the unluckiest tree in the world, since Judas hanged himself on a tree of this kind. Some hillfolk who have no interest in religious matters still feel that the redbud or Judas tree is bewitched, at least in the spring, and it is well to keep away from blooming redbuds after dark. Mrs. Roberta Lawson, of Tulsa, vice-president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, led a large number of Oklahoma clubwomen who held public meetings, telegraphed protests to Governor Marland, and so on. Some important citizens of northeastern Oklahoma were still grumbling about the matter, I am told, as recently as 1942.”

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