Henry Williamson’s “The Pathway” remembers just one of the scents that fill the Burrows at this time of year.
The low mat forming aromatic foliage of Thyme (thymus polytrichus), with its tight clusters of purple flowers, used to carpet vast areas of the dune turf, formerly created and maintained by rabbits eating down the grass and scrub seedlings. Since the decline in rabbits thyme has been far less extensive.
Lady’s Bedstraw (galium verum) is also widespread in the dune turf. It has a strong scent of coumarin and was used in bedding when people slept in straw, hence its name. It contains an enzyme that curdles milk and so is sometimes used as a rennet for cheese making. A red dye has been produced from its roots.
In the hollows and valleys between the high dune ridges are dune slacks, where the water table is much nearer to the surface. The slacks have a very characteristic vegetation which reflects this, such as the Water Mint (mentha aquatica), whose pleasant peppermint smell can be noticed walking through the slacks. Its blue flowers appear in August and are very attractive to butterflies and other insects. It contains essential oils that aid digestion.
Some older wet slacks have developed a taller vegetation with plants more characteristic of a freshwater habitat. The creamy fragrant flowers of Meadowsweet (filipendula ulmaria) are abundant now. Highly regarded it was used to sweeten mead. It also had many uses medicinally as it contains salicylic acid.
Melilot (melilotus officinalis), also known as Yellow Sweet Clover, has a very sweet hay-like scent, due to the presence of coumarin, like Lady’s Bedstraw. It is abundant in the tall dune grassland. However, it is a leguminous plant and thus a nitrogen fixer, enriching the soil which encourages vigorous grasses which will crowd out the rarer flowering plants.