We are all in preparation for St. Patrick's Day in our house this week. As my husband and I run aikido classes for children in our local village we are all excited to be included in the local parade and flag making is at fever pitch at the moment! The children are coming home each day telling us what they have learned about St. Patrick at school and all things related to the big day. During our discussions the topic of shamrocks came up.... and the questions started to roll....I could feel a blog post forming...
"WHY DO WE USE SHAMROCKS ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY... AND WHY ARE THEY GREEN?!
|Image source: Wikipedia|
So firstly, WHAT IS A SHAMROCK?
What we refer to as the shamrock is actually a type of clover. In fact, there is no "shamrock plant", the word shamrock comes from the Irish word "seamair og", meaning young clover! There are approximately 300 plants in the clover (Trifolium/trefoil) genus and these are legumous/pea plants. Clover plants have (typically) three lobed leaves.
WHICH CLOVER PLANT IS THE ONE WE CALL A SHAMROCK?
There seems to be three likely candidates for the title of the "real" shamrock, namely, the suckling/yellow clover (Trifolium dubium), the white clover (Trifolium repens) and the red clover (Trifolium pratense). Which one holds the ultimate "shamrock" title? It would appear they all do! Apparently, all three types can be seen adorning the Irish around the country on March 17th. The most popular though, and the one officially termed shamrock by the Department of Agriculture is the yellow clover (T. dubium).
Don't feel bad, however, if you think you might have accidently sported an unofficial shamrock, as classification is difficult in March as the plants have not yet flowered and given the game away.
|Image Credit: Steve Baskauf|
|Image source: Survivalworld.com|
Image source: http://www.ropana.cl/plantas_toxicas/trebol.htm
SO WHY DO WE USE THE SHAMROCK ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY?
Although the shamrock is associated with St. Patrick, it was likely already in use in Ireland as a popular symbol of the Tua Cross among celtic Druids. The number three was also considered a mystical number in the Druidic religion, making the shamrock a sacred plant. It is told that St. Patrick used the Shamrock to symbolize the concept of the blessed trinity as he preached of Christianity, perhaps wisely drawing on it's sacred and popular status.
|Tua Cross on Tory Island; Image Credit: Alan Sproull|
WHY IS THE SHAMROCK GREEN?
Chloropyl is the pigment responsible for the predominant green colour of our "Emerald Isle", shamrock included. I have talked about this, and many other pigments in a previous blog
. It is interesting to note though that St. Patrick was originally associated with the colour BLUE
, and this only changed in the 19th century when green became the colour associated with Ireland.
SOMETHING EXTRA SPECIAL ABOUT THE SHAMROCK
As I mentioned the shamrock is a clover plant and we are lucky that they are so abundant within our pastures and lawns! They are a highly nutritious food source for livestock, being rich in minerals such as phosphorus and calcium. The flowers also provide a rich supply of nectar for many insects. Perhaps even more importantly, clover plants enjoy a symbiotic
relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria present in nodes on the plant. These bacteria (rhizobium) are capable of extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere and converting it into ammonia which is added to the soil as a natural fertilizer. Clover can add up to 150 kg per hectare of nitrogen to the soil and increases availability of other nutrients for following crops. A truly sacred plant in my opinion!
AN EXPERIMENT TO TRY:
Why not make some shamrock shaped bath bombs*, not only will you learn a little about acids and bases/alkali but they would make a lovely St. Patrick's Day gift.
You will need:
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 tablespoon citric acid powder (you can buy this in the chemist)
3 tablespoons bread soda
8 - 10 drops lavender essential oil
1 teaspoon sunflower/vegetable oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon edible green glitter (optional)
1 shamrock shaped biscuit cutter
What to do:
Mix all your dry ingredients together in a bowl using a metal spoon (it is important to remember to keep everything dry at this stage), then add the lavender oil and the sunflower oil. Place your shamrock shaped biscuit cutter onto a piece of paper and spoon the mixture into it, pressing down with the back of the spoon to compress it all together. Place in a warm place for a few hours or overnight, to allow the oil to evaporate and the bath bomb to set dry. Carefully slip the bath bomb out of the biscuit cutter and wrap in clingfilm or baking parchment. Next time you have a bath pop in your bath bomb and watch it fizz away!
What is happening:
The citric acid powder is an acid, while the bread soda is a base/alkai. When you mix both together in the dry state they will not react. However when you add a liquid such as water (i.e. when we add them to the bath) the acid and base react together forming a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2) forming bubbles under the water.
*Adapted from a recipe in "Grow your own drugs" by James Wong (Harper Collins)
ENJOY THE CELEBRATIONS!
I had to add this.... Rohan just home from playschool with his "Shamrock bun" that he baked!
Labels: ammonia, chlorophyl, clover, nitrogen fixation, rhizobium, shamrock, st. patrick, symbiosis, trifolium dubium, trifolium pratense, trifolium repens, tua cross