Ophioglossum also known as adder’s-tongue is a genus of about 25-30 species of Ophioglossales in the family Ophioglossaceae. The name Ophioglossum comes from the Greek, and means “snake-tongue”. The spadix exudes what only can be described as one of the foulest scents and smells like rotten flesh. In July the red berries appear as the spathe dies off and shrivels away.
These berries are poisonous and can be fatal if eaten by children - which is where the name Adder’s Tongue came from. It is thought that to keep children away from the plant, parents invented the story that adders got the poison for their ‘sting’ from eating the plant. So it was always best to avoid the Adder’s Tongue just incase there was a snake lurking in the nearby undergrowth.
The other name; Lords and Ladies and Starch Wort derived from Elizabethan times, the fashionable ruffs and collars worn by the upper classes were stiffened by a starch made from the roots of the plant. The root extract is highly irritant and often caused blisters on the hands of those who had to starch the ruffs and collars. The roots were used to treat rheumatic pains, as the mixture was a stimulant that encouraged profuse sweating, It was also used to heal wounds and ulcers.
It has been said that any young man who placed a piece of Adder’s Tongue leaf in his shoe and recited: “I place you in my shoe, Let all young girls be drawn to you”. Would be guaranteed numerous partners at any dance he should attend.