Monday, April 15, 2013

heft a gill for luck

It seems that everywhere you happen to look there is something historic in bloom. Ahhh, but that’s spring.

Glechoma is a low-growing, creeping ground cover in the mint family. I took the photo at Ijams Nature Center of it growing along the Universal Trail.

Native to Europe and southwestern Asia but introduced to North America, glechoma has now become common in most regions other than the Rockies. Its regional folk names include creeping Charlie, catsfoot, field balm, run-away-robin, ground ivy, and, perhaps the most widely used and my personal favorite, "gill-over-the-ground." But again a natural historian's query: What’s a gill?

Here’s one for my friends in the UK. The term can be traced back to the Saxons. They used the plant in brewing beer as flavoring, clarification and preservative, before the introduction of hops for the same purposes; thus the brewing-related name “gill-o'-the-ground.”

A gill was an unit of measurement as indicated by the chorus from the very old drinking song, “The Barley Mow,”

“Oh the quart pot, pint pot, half a pint, gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin and the brown bowl. Here's good luck, good luck, to the barley mow.“

That’s just great. But what’s a nipperkin?


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen, I have some sprigs of ground ivy on my desk as I read your post, picked by my son on Bembridge Down yesterday - quite fragrant when the leaves are crushed. And here is another coincidence: my Grandad on my mother's side was a milkman in Portsmouth in the 1930s, with a milk cart pulled around the streets by horse, filling jugs brought out to him in those days from an urn on the cart, and I also have one of his original milk measures here which is a gill. It looks like a small bean can on a hooked handle, used like a ladle. Following the pattern of decreasing quantities in the song The Barley Mow I'd guess a nipperkin is one eighth of a gill?

Stephen Lyn Bales said...

Hello Rambling Rob.

I posted this with you in mind, hoping to hear from you again. Wonderful family story and as you suspected, I felt that a nipperkin must be a very small quantity. Many thanks.

Enjoy your gill. Now, I must find some for my desk as well.