Tutsan seemed like an odd name for a plant to me. There are plant names that seem quite ‘planty’ although you might not immediately know the origin. Names like Speedwell or Butterburr. Then there are names like Cow Parsley and Foxglove that are fairly obvious. However Tutsan seemed like a bit of a weird name to me.. sounding almost middle eastern. Another weird plant name… to me, is, Ploughman’s Spikenard…where did that come from?
So I looked it up and it is not so weird.. evidently it is a compound of Tout saine… French, this literally meaning all-healthy. It is probably a reference to its healing properties. Nicholas Culpeper in his 1653 publication Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, says “Tutsan purgeth choleric humours … both to cure sciatica and gout, and to heal burnings by fire.” The berries which turn from white/green, to red, to black are however poisonous, so do not go eating them in the hope that you will become ‘all healthy’ tout saine.
I suppose you should be a bit clued into its healing properties if you knew its scientific name…. Hypericum, which is the genus that contains all the St Johns worts.. one of the mainstays of herbalists and alternative medicine wallers. Then from that it is a short step to Tout saine…. Oh well … now I know and so do you.
OK lets have a look at the plant… as I said it is a small bush growing to a height of about 1 to 1.5 meters. It grows in shady places but not too dark, I have found it on The edge of paths and in woodland glades. It flowers in June and July, the flowers are bright and showy, with five golden yellow petals and with a big star burst bunch of stamens in the centre, splaying outwards. Right in the centre is the shiny bold and blatantly feminine ovary. This will develop into the fruit. Initially it is green and not so swollen but it soon swells up and ripens, turning yellow, then orange and eventually black.
Immediately below the flowers/fruits are two pairs of leaves that are almost bract like, somewhat reminiscent of the Poinsettia. Also these somewhat modified leaves are often quite redish in colour, again like the Poinsettia. The red colour seems to develop when the plant is ‘stressed’ ie growing in an area where it is too bright. Many woodland plants react in a similar way the red colour is a secondary pigment which helps to protect the chlorophyll from phot oxidation.
Here is something interesting I found recently….Bible Leaves: Dail y Beiblau by
JOHN TUDOR HUGHES
‘In sorting through some old family papers recently, I came across a family
Bible with some pressed leaves interspersed in it, which looked as though they
might have been used as bookmarks.
I was not sure what the leaves were and when I told Arthur Chater about them
he said “Oh they’re most likely to be Tutsan”. And did I know that the Welsh
name for Tutsan was Dail y Beiblau (Bible Leaves) after the practice, known to
him from Cardiganshire, of using them as bookmarks for Bibles. We were able
to confirm his hunch when I showed him the leaves.’
The berries eventually turn dark purple almost black and seem to remain on the plant for some time. Here is a photo I took at Symonds Yatt of some Tutsan in January 2018.
Click to see other flowers from the Wye valley woodlands