I’ve always been interested in knowing the names of plants whenever I see them flowering along a roadside or path. While walking along a marshy area at our state park recently I was looking over at the dark pink Joe pye-weed (wondering what it’s Polish name could be)
and the lovely pale lavender color of wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa also known as wild bergamot) when I saw this other tall plant rising above them with an unusual pinkish-purple flower head.
I hadn’t noticed this particular plant before. If I don’t recognize a plant, I take a picture and then browse through books of wild plants specific to my region to try and discover their names. I know there are apps for this now that will tell you almost instantly the name of the plant but I haven’t moved on from my old-fashioned ways. I have lots of nice full color books that I like to pull out and browse through on a summer evening.
Its name is Verbena hastata or blue vervain, also known as swamp weed and its color can vary from blue to purple. True to the name it grows in soggy, sunny areas and is indigenous to North America but I don’t think it deserves the name swamp weed, as if it were some trashy old thing rising up out of the muck. I thought it rather lovely with its erect posture and its eye-catching cluster of flowers at the top.
There are lots of species of verbena world-wide and it is somewhat similar in appearance to Verbena officinalis which I’d read about it old Polish herbals. In Polish, Verbena officinalis is Werbena pospolita. Its folk name is koszyczki Najswiętszej Marii Panny meaning, baskets of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. A single petal appears as if it could be a tiny goblet or bowl or, to someone at some time in centuries past in Poland, a basket. This species of verbena is native to Europe and can be found in Germany (Hildegard of Bingen was familiar with it) England, France and most commonly along the Carpathian mountain range of southern Poland. Its flowers are pale pink instead of blue or purple and it tends to grow in dry places. Medicinally, however, they carry the same beneficial properties of boosting lactation in nursing mothers, in treating headaches, and combating fevers and coughs. In Poland, the leaves were steeped in boiling water and ingested as a tea or by teaspoonful when soaked in vodka or whiskey.
So satisfying to learn of two plants of the same species, continents apart, with a long history as a medicinal herb across many different cultures.
P.S. Joe pye-weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is known in Poland as Sadiec purpurowy
Photo of Verbena officinalis: Wikipedia.
Photos of Verbena hastata, Monarda fistulosa and Joe pye-weed by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
If you'd like to read more about the plants once essential to the people of Poland utilized in their customs and traditions as well as medicinally I suggest my book: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine.
.Sometimes it takes many years to find our way to our life’s true work and purpose. Oftentimes it begins in a completely different place. You find yourself meandering off in various directions. Nothing sticks until one day there’s a particular moment, a sudden epiphany, and the path straightens and the way becomes clear.
Such was the case with Adam Chmielowski, in later life better known as Brother Albert. He began his career as a student, became a soldier who lost a leg while fighting for Poland’s independence, found fame as an artist, joined a religious congregation, got sick and become a patient in a mental institution. He overcame his depression, began using his artistry to renew the interior of churches and the small roadside shrines that dot the landscape of Poland. Then one day a priest friend lent him a book on the Rule of St. Francis. For Adam it became his “Aha!” moment. All the pieces fell into place and he finally found his way to his life’s purpose. Utilizing St. Francis as his role model, Adam began working with the poor and homeless of Poland.
He went on to established his own branch of the Franciscans, the Servants of the Poor, who are sometimes called the Albertine Brothers. A few years later he helped found a women's congregation with the same intent of helping Poland's poor.
Much can be written about how he created homeless shelters and lived with those he served. He created decent life conditions and jobs in order to give dignity to the hopeless and needy. He established houses for homeless children and teenagers, facilities for people with disabilities, for the elderly and the incurable. He showed the world how, in his words, ”to be as good as bread” to others.
Brother Albert used bread as a metaphor to indicate how it sustains and nurtures life and that we can be like bread. We can sustain and nourish others though our behaviors and interactions with others. I know I am not capable of such great acts such as Brother Albert’s but his guiding principle in life raises this question for me: If I can’t be a whole loaf of bread for others like he was, doing great, monumental things, can I be at least a bite of bread for others each day? Can I do small things to help sustain and nourish others, both physically or emotionally?
For all the twists and turns along life’s path, Brother Albert eventually came to be called “Blessed” and later “Saint” Albert Chmielowski. He is depicted here in a stained glass window at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Pile, Poland as a Franciscan, holding a loaf of bread. Others depicted (from the left) are Jacek Odrowąż (St. Hyacinth), King Kazimierz(Casimir) Jagiellończyk, and Edmund Bojanowski.
He asked of us “to be as good as bread” (in Polish, “ powinno być dobry jak chleb") to others. His feast day is today, June 17th.
Photo of Albert Chmielowski: Wikipedia
Today is the feast day for 108 Catholics from Poland who were killed by Nazis during World War II. The group includes three bishops, 52 priests, 26 men and eight women from religious communities, three seminarians, and nine lay people.
Pictured here is Sister Julia Rodzińska(1899-1945) of the Dominican order, one of the eight religious Polish women beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
At the time of her arrest by the Gestapo in July 1943, Sister Julia was head of an orphanage in Wilno and against all the rules of the German occupation of Poland, secretly taught Polish language, history and religion to the children of the orphanage
She was charged with political conspiracy and contact with underground partisans, jailed and tortured, and then sent by cattle car to Stutthof concentration camp where she was given the number 40992. From that time on she was brutally treated and suffered starvation along with the other women of Barrack 30.
She shared her food, her clothing and rendered what care she could to those suffering from the typhus epidemics that were raging through the camp. Sr. Julia would not abandon the sickest among them even though the piles of dead bodies surrounded the barrack kept growing. At a time of tremendous physical and psychological trauma, of beatings and unbearable workloads, Sr. Julia constantly called on her faith to keep her strong and inspired her fellow prisoners.
Her life ended on February 20, 1945 at Stutthof, infected with typhus while serving the dying Jewish prisoners. Surviving witnesses stated: "In the conditions of degradation, she was able to direct us to other values, spiritual values ... For us she was a saint, she gave her life for others.” Her naked body was thrown on a pile of dead corpses that surrounded the barracks. At a time when a blanket or a piece of cloth meant the difference between warmth and life and the very possibility of freezing to death, someone covered her lifeless, naked body with a piece of cloth, out of honor and respect.
Requiescat in pace.
On May 3, the Catholic Church in Poland celebrates the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. She has held the title since the time of King Jan (John) Casimir II Waza (reigned 1648 – 1668) during one of Poland’s darkest hours.
It was the time of the “Deluge” in Polish history (in Polish: potop szwedzki), when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the country was almost totally conquered by the foreign invaders. The king was in exile. It was thought that all was lost but one of the places that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, known as Our Lady of Częstochowa.
The news that all was not lost galvanized the country into greater resistance against the Swedes. A new army was formed in support of the exiled king. John II Casimir managed to reach Lwów - one of only two major cities of the Commonwealth not seized by any of Poland's enemies (Gdansk was the other) and marshalled his forces.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine), John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. In a painting depicted by Jan Matejko in 1893, the royal vow is depicted by a scarlet banner with a white eagle. Dressed in a black, the king kneels before an altar accompanied by his queen Maria Ludwika. Witnessing the event was Stefan Czarniecki, the master of warfare, holding a saber, kneeling at the foot of the stairs.
An excerpt from his oath - known as The Lwów Oath (Polish: Śluby Lwowskie):
I choose you today as my Patroness and Queen.
Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries. I place both myself and my Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Czernichów and the army of both nations and all my peoples, to your special protection and defense, I humbly offer my sorrowful Kingdom against the enemies of the Roman Church.
Because of your extraordinary favors I am compelled, together with my people, to a new and passionate desire to dedicate ourselves to Your service, I vow, therefore, that I, as well as senators and my people… will worship you in all the lands of my Kingdom and I will spread my devotion to You….
The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661.
In later years, when King Jan Sobieski (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. Through national triumphs and tragedies, amidst the demands of enemies and hostile governments, the Blessed Virgin Mary has held the people of Poland steadfast in their common goal as a country and they have emerged whole. "To your protection we flee o Holy mother of God" (Pod twoja obrona uciekamy, święta Boża Rodziecielko) has been the prayer of Poles for centuries and continues unwavering to this very day.
Photos: Wikipedia and Wikiwand.
Painting by Jan Matejko can be seen at the National Museum in Wrocław.
April 14, 1945 marks the liberation of my mother and father from forced labor during World War II by British troops. This fact is true, discovered in German documents. Both my parents had been taken from Poland and forced to work against their will in an armaments factory called Rheinmetall-Borsig in Unterluss (Unterlüß), Germany. One of the facts that has eluded my research is determining which specific British troops actually liberated my parents. Most documented sources I’ve come across simply say “liberated by British troops.” But I think it’s important to know such a detail. I want to know who to give credit, thanks and respect to, if only in my own heart and mind, for such a giving act, for their service. So, I keep plugging various search terms into the internet hoping to find something…and recently I did.
In the book titled Monty’s Northern Legions: 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939-1945 author Patrick Delaforce writes that after capturing the undefended city of Celle, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, British 2nd Army, “continued on the 13th (of April) north-east to Eschede and Uelzen with Highland Light Infantry leading.” I recognized the names of these cities and towns as they are all in the same region where my parents were forced laborers. (See attached map.) In order to get to Uelzen from Eschede (assuming they stayed on the main roads) they had to have passed through Unterluss (Unterlüß). And this one and only sentence gives me hope that I am on the right track: “Lt. Green became Mayor and Military commander of Unterluss for one day.” Eureka!! They did enter the city, which is really more of a small town, as I’ve been there as part of my research. It must have been these troops that liberated my mother and father. The date of the 14th of April would fit. Do I know this for sure? No. Who is Lieutanant Green? And what did he do in that role? That I also don’t know but if the Highland Light Infantry was leading the advance, I’ll begin my research there. One line in someone’s book can give an important lead and at the same time open up more questions but for today, I celebrate what I have discovered and try to build on that.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany1939-1945(Hippocrene Books) explores the history of forced labor during the occupation of Poland during World War II and focuses on the experiences of Polish women as forced laborers.
A Polish country cottage garden was a mix of decorative and useful herbs, vegetables, flowers and shrubs such as roses, raspberry, gooseberry, or currant bushes. It served as a flower garden and as an herb and kitchen garden, useful in a way that brought edible food, as one Polish garden writer stated, " directly into the pot." There was no specific garden plan. Flowers and herbs were usually grown in clumps near the fence or in beds beneath the windows of the house according to the preferences of the housewife. Vegetables were occasionally mixed in. The walkways were made of tamped soil and wide enough for a person to walk through. If a bit of decoration was wanted, large rocks were gathered, painted white and fashioned in a circle. Inside, a special flower or herb was planted.
The housewife grew flowers to brighten the outside of the house, to adorn the altars at church on Sundays and holy days, and to decorate the roadside shrines that were located within the village boundaries. The unmarried girls of the house tended lilies, rosemary and rue for bridal wreathes as well as lavender to place between the linens in her marriage chest. For cooking and to spice the daily fare, some culinary herbs were planted. There was marjoram for sausage, dill for pickling cucumbers, and parsley, sage and fennel for enhancing soups and stews. Many Polish housewives made their own herb vinegars from water and sliced apples that were allowed to ferment for a few months. The mixture was strained, crushed herbs added, sealed in bottles and stored in a cool pantry or larder. Herb butters were also made and packed down into crocks to use in the middle of winter or to give as a Christmas gift. (Photo :Foxglove)
Interspersed among the flowers were vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes, water cress, horseradish and lettuce. Sometimes there were beets, carrots, garlic or onions depending on the needs and tastes of the owner. It was Queen Bona Sforza who introduced various green vegetables to Poland including beans, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, celery, parsnip, cumin, coriander, caraway, hemp, asparagus, artichoke, tomato and nasturtium. Spinach also traveled to Poland from Italy, brought by monks who followed Bona in her marriage to Zygmunt. From nearby Germany came horseradish and pumpkin, which also made its appearance in Polish cottage gardens.
Excerpted from: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine. Revised edition. Hippocrene Books.2020
During Holy Week, on Tuesday April 14, 1394, the Keeper of the Accounts for Queen Jadwiga of Poland (reigned 1384-1399) and her husband, King Władysław Jagiełło (reigned 1386–1434) documented the purchases made for the king and queen’s table for the upcoming Easter holiday:
“Two niecki (long,deep wooden bowls) for holding cheese; 160 cheeses; two graters and payment for bringing it from the market square; 160 cheeses for baked goods (he added in Latin ad tortas – that is, for making tortes); one sack of white flour for the torte’s; 30 miarek (meaning measures, a system based on volume but not specified in the accounts) of fine wheat flour taken on credit from Wacław, called Stokłosa, to be paid on the Green Holidays (Pentecost). The butcher slaughtered 12 pigs and also prepared słonina (rendered fat) called loszijna (from the word łosia, meaning elk) for the king.” The king was an avid hunter. (Photo left: Image of Queen Jadwiga as imagined by artist Jan Matejko)
It seems even kings and queens ran out of money and had to buy on credit! And what’s this about the queen’s kitchen needing the delivery of two graters? Some poor flunky had to trudge up Wawel Hill to the castle kitchen from one of the wooden market stalls in the square…the same square we know today as Rynek Glowny, the Main Square, the largest in Europe…only then it was filled with wooden stalls and merchants from all over Europe and Asia selling their wares – silk, gold, silver, spices and herbs, shoes, pottery and…graters. I can just imagine some cook’s helper waiting for the delivery… maybe needing to grate the horseradish to accompany the pork?
Engraving of Wawel from the north from 1581
And if 160 cheeses seem excessive, it must be remembered that between the queen’s and king’s retinues, family members, clergy, guests, knights, there were often hundreds of individuals who usually sat down to table. It’s clear though that the kitchen was preparing to break the long Lenten fast which was taken very seriously by the King and Queen. Two hundred days were given over to fasting – the period of Advent, the eve before all major holy days, various penitential days, every Friday and of, course, the long period of Lent. Fasting meant one meal a day, consisting of some kind of vegetable, without dairy products or animal fats. Everyone was ready to end Lent.
Later that week, on Good Friday, the keeper of the accounts notes the costs for the queen and her retinue for placki called płaskury (a baked good made from płaskurka, i.e., emmer wheat, sometimes called farro wheat, an ancient grain), bułki (rolls) and obwarzanki(rings of baked yeast dough that can still be bought in the main square in Kraków today).
“On Holy Saturday,” he writes, “on the eve of the Great Night, there was white bread and obwarzanki for the queen and her court” and “payment had to be made for delivery of it from the market square; half an ounce of saffron for the placki and 1200 eggs.” It is a known fact that Queen Jadwiga really liked her obwarzanki. Its purchase from the square for the queen is mentioned frequently throughout the years of the accounts. (Photo: saffron)
“On Easter Sunday, the 19th of April,” the accountant writes,” for white bread, 3 grosze (unit of small money), which was bought yesterday: and today 1 achtel (the equivalent of half a barrel which corresponded to approximately 130-141 liters) of previously brewed mead.” King Jagiełło abstained from alcohol, as did his father before him, which may explain the low amount for such a big crowd. Perhaps drinking wasn’t encouraged.
Historians have not found any source that describes how Easter Sunday was spent at the court of Jadwiga and Jagiełło or what specific dishes were served but we get a general idea from the purchases. "Tort" cakes, mainly cheesecake, were baked with the numerous cheeses using the fine wheat flour and surely with a portion of the 1200 eggs, as were the placek’s(shape unknown), enhanced with what was at the time, very expensive saffron. There was pork served in some manner(maybe whole with an apple in its mouth?) and all washed down with mead.
How fortunate the accountant did not throw away his records when they ceased to be needed and left it to future generations to pour over. I realized that the Easter table of today among Polish Americans is not so different, in essence, from that of the Middle Ages. We still bake something special, with or without saffron. If we can’t find our grater, or maybe it’s broken, we have to get a new one. We eat eggs and some version of pork. We enjoy a honeyed Polish vodka or some other libation of choice.
Tradition continues over the centuries. Wesołego Alleluja! Happy Easter!
During World War II, in clear violation of international law, the Nazi’s deported millions of Polish men, women and children from occupied Poland against their will and put them to work in Germany to keep their war economy at full strength. On March 8, 1940, General Field Marshall Herman Göring released a series of laws, now known as the infamous March decrees, the polenerlasse, that led the Polish people working in Germany to be treated as an inferior race deprived of all rights and civil liberties and become subjects of physical and mental abuse and outright murder.
The Polish workers were not allowed to eat with their employers at the same table, forbidden to attend mass at the same time as the Germans and limited to just one segregated mass a month. Among many other rules, the decrees made it impossible for Poles to marry, visit barber shops, and own bicycles or even ride a bike without express written permission of their employer. They had to adhere to strict daytime curfews and were forbidden to leave their living quarters in the evening. Failure to comply with any of the regulations met with beatings, fines and sitting in jail as well as being threatened to be sentenced to a concentration camp.
The most degrading provision of the March Decrees forced every Polish worker in Germany to wear a badge consisting of a large purple P on a yellow background that had to be firmly attached to each item of clothing. Failure to comply met with beatings, fines and the threat of being sent to a concentration camp. The letter P set the Poles apart, causing them to be isolated, ostracized and terrorized. Anyone who did not wear the letter P - five of which every Polish worker had to purchase - was subject to punishment by beatings, a fine of 150 Reichsmarks or imprisonment for up to 6 weeks.
This was the first public identification of people in the Third Reich. The Jewish star was introduced in September 1941.
The P badges were produced by Geitel and Co. of Berlin, Germany’s largest maker of flags, pennants, and insignias. Besides the P badge, the company later also produced the yellow Jewish star and the OST badge for the slave laborers of the Soviet Union.
Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume 8 Document R-143
Łuczak, Praca Przymusowa Polaków w Trzeciej Rzeszy
For further reading about the fate of Polish women as forced laborers:
Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938) was a renowned Polish-Armenian painter born in Braşov, Hungary (now Romania). His father’s family had Armenian roots and owned a small property in Ceniów (now Tseniv, Ukraine).(Author note: The Armenians had found sanctuary in Poland in the 14th century).
Axentowicz grew up in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) and after finishing high school he spent four years (1878-1882) studying art at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and then went on to Paris to the studio of Carlos Duran.
In 1893 Axentowicz went to Kołomyja and Jamno in eastern Ukraine, paying his first visit to the lands of the Hucul (spelling in Polish language, Hutsul in Ukrainian), an ethnographic group of Carpathian highlanders of mixed Ruthenian and Wallachian origin. The region is located in the western part of the Ukraine, in the area of the Eastern Carpathians, at the forks of Prut, Cheremosh and Tisza rivers.
Map of ethnic Carpathian highlanders. Source: Pinterest.
Today the region is located almost entirely in the Ukraine, and to a small extent overlaps with the territory of Romania. These areas were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for centuries. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, they became part of the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) monarchy. In the years 1918–1939 they were once again part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Axentowicz, recognized as an illustrator, graphic artist and a superb portraitist by this time in his career, developed a very keen interest in the life, rituals, and traditions of the distinctive Hucul people. He began garnering attention for his paintings of the Hucul’s while still in Paris. In 1895, he settled in Kraków. Based on his sketches from the region, Axentowicz, continued to return to the subject of the Hucul’s throughout his career. The folk costumes and religious rituals became a recurring theme in Axentowicz’s work, among them, appropriate today, the feast of Candlemas, also known as the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on February 2.
Teodor Axentowicz. Gromnicza. (Blessed Thunder candle). Oil on canvas. c.1900 Museum of Archdiocese of Katowice
In the Polish folk tradition, the feast of Candlemas was also called Matka Boska Gromniczną, or Gromniczną, both referrring to Mother of God Thunder Candle. The name derives from the candle that was brought to church on this day, solemnly lit and kept for a lifetime as a means of protection. It was believed that this candle protected against storms and thunder, hence the name "gromnica," from the word “grom” meaning thunder. A storm with lightning and thunder was a great threat to thatched huts without lightning rods. One strike of lightning could destroy the achievements of a lifetime so it was with a feeling of helplessness that a family watched the luminous zigzags of lightning against a dark sky. In that helplessness, a candle, blessed on a feast devoted to the Blessed Mother, was reached for and put it lit at the window in the hope of safety and protection. It is a custom that can be dated back to the 9th century.
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromnicą . Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie.
Teodor Axentowicz Dziewczyna z Gromnicą. (Girl with Thunder Candle). Date unknown. Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromniczną. On Candlemas. Date unkown.
In the paintings, we see children and adults carrying candles to be blessed through a wintery landscape. Axentowicz seems to have more young girls carrying the candles than other individuals. According to custom anyone can carry the candle to the church for blessing, regardless of gender and age, but in practice it was mostly done by girls and women.
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromniczną. Powrót z cerkwi na Huculszczyźnie.( On Candlemas. Return from the Orthodox church in Hucul region). C.1910
The Hucul region lay within Poland’s borders from the time of Kazimierz the Great( reigned 1333 to 1370) to World War II except for the time of the Partitions. The people were typically of the Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faith, both of which would celebrate Candlemas but at different times on the calendar.
These paintings are only a few among many of the painting completed by Axentowicz of the custom of bringing a candle to be blessed on the feasts of Candlemas. It is said that it was he who “discovered” and subsequently, uncovered, the Hucul’s to the world through his paintings.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.