The Shepherd’s Sundial is probably better known as the tiny flower called the Scarlet Pimpernel. This plant is classed as a weed and is often found in the hedgerows and fields of the lower moorland fringes. It was often called the Shepherd’s Sundial by the moorfolk because it was a way of telling the time and the weather. The plant has a natural ability to open its small delicate red flowers at around 8.00am in the morning and the close them up around mid-afternoon, in other parts of the country this is said to occur at 7.00am and 2.00pm, must be something to do with the time zones. This was a handy way of telling the time when working out in the fields and had no watch or could see the church clock. The other useful talent the plant had was that if the flowers opened out in the morning it always was a sign of a fine day, if however they remained closed it meant that rain was on the way.
Tavistock folk always held the belief that the Shepherd’s Sundial had the ability to charm warts away. This involved putting nine of its flowers in a silk bag along with nine leaves of Heart Fever, the bag was then worn around the neck. Every morning and night the bag must then be held over the wart/s and the following rhyme recited:
“Herb Pimpernel, I have thee found
Growing on Christ Jesus ground
The same gift, Lord Jesu have thee
When His blood He shed to spare thee.
Herb grass this evil pass,
And God bless all who wear thee.
Another couplet that was sometimes heard extolled the virtues of the tiny weed was the following:
“Pimpernel, pimpernel, tell me true,
Whether the weather be fine or no.
No ear hath heard, no tongue can tell
The virtues of the pimpernel”.
It was also said that the leaves of the pimpernel would cure the bites from rabid dogs and adders when applied over the wound.