Oddly enough, the most common uses you hear about involving carnivorous plants involve Pinguicula vulgaris being used in Nordic countries. For examples, I have heard of it being used as a way to curdle milk, as a balm for the udders of milk-producing ungulates, and even (somehow) as a method of enhancing a sheen on the hair of Nordic blondes. This last factoid was provided by a FAQ-reader from Denmark, who told me that there is some connection with Pinguicula vulgaris and Meade, and that some concoction of the two called Vibefed was used to enhance some sort of visions, much like you might get from mixing Tequila and Rum. My Denmark informant says there is an ancient pair of runic inscriptions that reads:
“I had a dream last night, of fair summer. I was a little bird above the sea. Far, yet clear, the Vibefedt let me see”, and “Drinking the Vibefedt make colours vivid and gives dreams of pleasure.”
By the way, Vibefedt means “lapwing grease”, and apparently derives from the fact that greasy little Pinguicula vulgaris lives in cold places that also support lapwings, a small plover with crazy head feathers. Damn, I couldn’t make up stuff this weird, unless maybe I was slamming down the Vibefedt myself!
As far as I am aware, no record of any Norse name for Pinguicula vulgaris seems to exist; the species is not mentioned by Heizmann (1993). The oldest surviving record, Marie sko “Mary’s shoe”), was made at Bergen in 1599, and is found in the diary of Sivert Grubbe (Rordam 1873). Other vernacular names referring to the Virgin Mary are known. They are obviously younger than the Christianization of Norway, and must have been coined after AD 1000. Most Norwegian vernacular names for Pinguicula vulgaris reflect its use for making tettemelk or “thickened milk” Tette may be translated as rennet” (otherwise known as kaese or lope in Norwegian), but the etymological meaning or root is “(make) thick, thight, compact” (Bjorvand & Lindeman 2000; Torp 1919). A straightforward tettegras or tettegress (“rennet grass” or “thickening grass”), with some dialectal variations, predominates over large areas exceptionally, it may also occur in place-names, e.g. Tettgrasmyra in Trysil (Kvernbekk 1979:64). Kaesegras/gress (“rennet grass”) reflects similar use. Several names on melk-, mjelk- and maelk- (“milk”) refer to the use in dairy products. Other vernacular names refer to the fat and/or slimy appearance of the leaves, e.g. feitgras, “fat grass” (Tonning 1773:4), sleipgras, “slippery grass” (Høeg 1974:473), slimgras, “slime-grass” (Tonning 1773:4), sapeblomme, “soap flower” (Halvorsen 1988:188), and the North Sámi vuodjalasta (“butter leaf”).
Locally, Pinguicula vulgaris has found some use in folk veterinary medicine, again mainly as an external ointment. Some used it to treat wounds (Hoeg 1974:492; Kirkevoll 1940:174). According to the latter author, it was mixed with linseed oil in Valdres (Oppland, SE Norway ). P. vulgaris was also used as a cure for sore teat. Sami herdsmen used the leaves of Pinguicula to treat sore teat in reindeer (Gunnerus 1772; Tonning 1773:5), and Norwegian farmers used it for cows in Laerdal and Vik (Sogn og Fjordane, W Norway), and for cows and goats in central Norway (Hoeg 1974:492; Weisaeth 1990:84). In Norwegian folk tradition, Pinguicula has found some, but restricted use for medicinal purposes. It was mostly used externally. A decoction of the leaves in water could be used to remove lice from children, and to promote the growth of fair hair: “When the leaves are boiled in water, and the children’s heads are washed with it, lice are purged, and the hair grows, and also gets a yellow colour” (Tonning 1773:5). Mohr (1786:152) noted similar use the plant, and used to treat what people considered to be tussebitt (“gnome bites”), usually infected wounds (Mehlum 1891:397; Reichborn-Kjennerud 1922:87). Høeg (1974:492) noted that the leaves were used for wounds, e.g. in Modalen (Hordaland, W Norway) and Rana (Nordland, N Norway ). A slightly more frequent medicinal use was to cure ringworms, recorded at Lillehammer (Hedmark, SE Norway), Sortland (Nordland), Sorreisa, Berg, and perhaps Tromso(Troms), the four latter all in N Norway (Hoeg 1974:492; Reichborn-Kjennerud 1922:87, 1941:56; NFS Gade-Grøn 49). The mode of use was simple: “The root [rosette] leaves were used for ringworms. They rubbed the leaves around the sick part.” (NFS O.A. Hoeg). In Faberg, SE Norway and Rana, N Norway , the leaves were used to treat warts. They have also served as a cure for eczema in Troms (Hoeg 1974:492) and in Porsanger, Finnmark (EBATA 2005:84), N Norway.
Melkekrossen [“the milk cross”]. It grows on wet rocks and in damp places. At home, we used to boil it with some kind of fat. It was used to anoint the teat of cows when they were sore or cracked. This was a good, old advice which we used when I was at the summer farm at home in Svaerefjorden. Perhaps it is still used.” (NFS Manum, letter dated 28 September 1958). In Etnedal (Oppland) and Haegeland (Aust-Agder), Hoeg (1974:492) recorded local use of P. vulgaris to calm down cows who had already mated. According to Storaker (1928:63), it was also used to cure some kind of “bone disease” in cattle.
A wide range of plants have served as calendar marks in Norway , e.g. to indicate when the harvest could start. Pinguicula vulgaris is not an important one, but has found at least local use, a tradition first noted by Hans Strom in his 1756 diary:
“When Tette-Græsset or Melcke-Kaarset has sprouted, one uses this as a sign, that the cattle are fed [will find sufficient pasture] and may, without danger, be let out to feed on the grass.” (Strom 1756:fol. 66a, cited from Standal et al.1997:143).
Apotropaic and magical uses
In parts of western Norway, P. vulgaris is known as mjolkekross (“milk cross”) and similar names. The plant was placed in the milk bucket the first time the cows were milked outdoors in spring (Hoeg 1974:491-492); the same tradition applied to Potentilla erecta (L.) Räuschel. In both cases, the practice served mainly as an apotropaic, based on a kind of similarity magic: putting the “fat” leaves of Pinguicula vulgaris or the yellow flowers of Potentilla erecta into the milk bucket should ensure a good yield of fat and yellow butter. A fine account is available from Hoyanger in Sogn og Fjordane, W Norway: “I know this plant well. It was called mjolkekross. In spring, during the first evening the cows were milked outdoors, we had to burn bueld [“farm or cattle fire”]. That is, we collected wood and juniper (sprake) to make a fire. While it was burning, the cows should be milked, and in the milk bucket, there had to be a fine mjolkekross . This should ensure a good yield of milk during the summer. I was told so by an old dairy maid when I accompanied her while she was milking the cows.” (NFS Manum, undated  letter).
The observation had been made some 45 years earlier, i.e. about 1913, when the female informant had visited the neighbouring farm and repeatedly participated in the “bueld” ritual. Her great-grandmother had done the same thing, but kept it secret—as is often the case with such magic rites (additional letter from the same female informant in NFS Manum). Exceptionally, P. vulgaris has also served other magical purposes. At Ringerike (Ådal) in SE Norway , people believed that if the plant was laid under the pillow for the night, the girls would dream of their coming husband (NFS Manum). Children in Dalsfjord (Volda, W Norway ) believed that finding much P. vulgaris meant they would recover all their sheep when the pasture season was over in the autumn (Hoeg 1974:492).