Posted in La Fleur

La Fleur: Convallaria majalis

https://i1.wp.com/boisdejasmin.com/images/2012/05/muguet-medieval.jpg

 

The Lily of the valley, breathing in the humble grass
Answer’d the lovely maid and said: “I am a watry weed,
And I am very small, and love to dwell in lowly vales;
So weak, the gilded butterfly scarce perches on my head;
Yet I am visited from heaven, and he that smiles on all
Walks in the valley and each morn over me spreads his hand,
Saying: ‘Rejoice, thou humble grass, thou new-born lily flower,
Thou gentle maid of silent valleys and of modest brooks;
For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna,
Till summer’s heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs
To flourish in eternal vales.’ Then why should Thel complain?
-WB

 

 Listen if you will:

 

One legend tells that the first Lily of the Valley loved the Nightingale, but because she was so shy, she hid in the long grass to listen to his song. The Nightingale became lonely, and said he would no longer sing unless the lily of the valley bloomed every May for all too see.

The Latin name Convallaria means “valley” and Majalis means “blooming in May” (from Greek). This woodland plant is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere in Asia and Europe. In different countries it’s associated with love, tenderness, innocence, faith… This flower inspires people for poetry, legends, festivals and traditions…

In France there is a Lily of the Valley Festival. In Balkans it’s a pagan and Orthodox holiday. In Old Germany there used to be a huge fair with dancing, bonfires, singing and praising the Goddess of Spring. (By the way, in Germany the flower is called the “Little Bell of May” or Maiglöckchen.) In Russia there is a legend about princess of the Sea Volkhova  who fell in love with Sadko. But he gave his heart to Ljubava, the Princess of Forests and Valleys. Volkhova came from the sea to the land and started crying. Her dropped tears appeared with Lilies of the Valley—a symbol of sorrow, love, purity and innocence.

 

After Lily of the Valley finishes blooming, the red berries appear on the stem. Old legends say that those are not berries but the tears from separation with Young Spring. She is very independent, travels from south to north and gives love to everyone. She might have loved him, but not forever. Spring left him with the Summer. Lily of the Valley got so upset that his leaves turned yellow, and on the stems little scarlet berry-tears appeared.

 

 Lily of the Valley is given meaning as a symbol of purity, simplicity, charm, humility, and also believed to bring good luck in the world of romance and therefore not be surprised if this flower is often found in the arrangement for weddings.


Lily of the valley has been used for medicinal purposes. It was believed to strengthen memory, to restore speech and as a liquor smeared on the forehead and the back of the neck, to make one have good common sense. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous, despite it’s alleged powers.The leaves yield a green dye, with lime water.

Toxicity is the plant’s defense against animals eating its seeds. All parts of the plant—the stems, the leaves, the flowers and the berries—are extremely poisonous and close to 40 different cardiac glycosides have been found in the plant so far.

Glycosides are chemical compounds where a sugar is bound to a non-carbohydrate molecule. By increasing calcium stores in and around cells, cardiac glycosides increase the force with which the heart contracts and the volume of blood it can pump. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and these compounds have been used in medicine since the ancient Roman Empire to treat arrhythmia and congestive heart failure (today, the drugs Lanoxin, Digitek, and Lanoxicaps are made from a purified cardiac glycoside extracted from the foxglove plant). In quantities over the recommended safe dosage, though, cardiac glycosides can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal, circulatory and nervous systems

 

Interesting to note:

This flower was the favorite of great Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

 

 

 

The Sea King’s Daughter (a Russian legend)

Long ago in the river port city called Novgorod the Great, there lived a young musician named Sadko.

Every day, a rich merchant or noble would send a messenger to Sadko’s door, calling him to play at a feast. Sadko would grab his twelve-string gusli and rush to the banquet hall. There he would pluck the strings of his instrument till all the guests were dancing.

“Eat your fill!” the host would tell him later, pointing him to the table, and passing him a few small coins besides. And on such as he was given did Sadko live.

Often his friends would ask him, “How can you survive on so little?”

“It’s not so bad,” Sadko would reply. “And anyway, how many men can go to a different feast each day, play the music they love, and watch it set a whole room dancing?”

Sadko was proud of his city, the richest and most free in all Russia. He would walk through busy Market Square, lined with merchants in their stalls and teeming with traders from many lands. He never crossed the square without hearing tongues of far-off places, from Italy to Norway to Persia.

Down at the piers, he would see the sailing ships with their cargos of lumber, grain, hides, pottery, spices, and precious metals. And crossing the Great Bridge over the River Volkhov, Sadko would catch the glint from the gilded roofs of a dozen white stone churches.

“Is there another such city as Novgorod in all the world?” he would say. “Is there any better place to be?”

Yet sometimes Sadko was lonely. The maidens who danced gaily to his music at the feasts would often smile at him, and more than one had set his heart on fire. But they were rich and he was poor, and not one of them would think of being his.

One lonely evening, Sadko walked sadly beyond the city walls and down along the broad River Volkhov. He came to his favorite spot on the bank and set his gusli on his lap. Gentle waves brushed the shore, and moonlight shimmered on the water.

“My lovely River Volkhov,” he said with a sigh. “Rich man, poor man—it’s all the same to you. If only you were a woman! I’d marry you and live with you here in the city I love.”

Sadko plucked a sad tune, then a peaceful one, then a merry one. The tinkling notes of his gusli floated over the Volkhov.

All at once the river grew rough, and strong waves began to slap the bank. “Heaven help me!” cried Sadko as a large shape rose from the water. Before him stood a huge man, with a pearl-encrusted crown atop a flowing mane of seaweed.

“Musician,” said the man, “behold the King of the Sea. To this river I have come to visit one of my daughters, the Princess Volkhova. Your sweet music reached us on the river bottom, where it pleased us greatly.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” stammered Sadko.

“Soon I will return to my own palace,” said the King. “I wish you to play there at a feast.”

“Gladly,” said Sadko. “But where is it? And how do I get there?”

“Why, under the sea, of course! I’m sure you’ll find your way. But meanwhile, you need not wait for your reward.”

Something large jumped from the river and flopped at Sadko’s feet. A fish with golden scales! As Sadko watched in amazement, it stiffened and turned to solid gold.

“Your Majesty, you are too generous!”

“Say no more about it!” said the King. “Music is worth far more than gold. If the world were fair, you’d have your fill of riches!” And with a splash, he sank in the river and was gone.

The next morning, Sadko arrived at the market square just as the stalls were opening. He quickly sold the golden fish to an astonished merchant. Then hurrying to the piers, he booked his passage on a ship leaving Novgorod that very day.

Down the Volkhov the ship sailed, across Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland, and into the Baltic Sea. As it sped above the deep water, Sadko peered over the rail.

“In all the wide sea,” he murmured, “how can I ever find the palace?”

Just then, the ship shuddered to a halt. The wind filled the sails, yet the ship stood still, as if a giant hand had grasped it.

Some of the sailors cursed in fear, while others prayed for their lives. “It must be the King of the Sea!” the captain cried. “Perhaps he seeks tribute—or someone among us.”

“Do not be troubled,” called Sadko. “I know the one he seeks.” And clutching his gusli, he climbed the railing.

“Stop him!” shouted the captain.

But before any could lay hold of him, Sadko jumped from the ship and plunged below the waves.

Down sank Sadko, down all the way to the sea floor. The red sun shone dimly through the water above, while before him stood a white stone palace.

Sadko passed through a coral gate. As he reached the huge palace doors, they swung open to reveal a giant hall. The elegant room was filled with guests and royal attendants—herring and sprats, cod and flounder, gobies and sticklebacks, sand eels and sea scorpions, crabs and lobsters, starfish and squid, sea turtles and giant sturgeon.

Standing among the guests were dozens of maidens—river nymphs, the Sea King’s daughters. On a shell throne at the end of the hall sat the Sea King and his Queen.

“You’re just in time!” called the King. “Musician, come sit by me—and let the dance begin!”

Sadko set his gusli on his lap and plucked a merry tune. Soon all the fish swam in graceful figures. The seafloor crawlers cavorted. The river maidens leaped and spun.

“I like that tune!” declared the King. He jumped to the center of the hall and joined the dance. His arms waved, his robe swirled, his hair streamed, his feet stamped.

“Faster!” cried the King. “Play faster!”

Sadko played faster and the King’s dance grew wilder. All the others stopped and watched in awe. Ever more madly did he move, whirling faster, leaping higher, stamping harder.

The Sea Queen whispered urgently, “Musician, end your tune! It seems to you the King merely dances in his hall. But above us, the sea is tossing ships like toys, and giant waves are breaking on the shore!”

Alarmed, Sadko pulled a string until it snapped. “Your Majesty, my gusli is broken.”

“A shame,” said the Sea King, winding to a stop. “I could have danced for days. But a fine fellow you are, Sadko. I think I’ll marry you to one of my daughters and keep you here forever.”

“Your Majesty,” said Sadko carefully, “beneath the sea, your word is law. But this is not my home. I love my city of Novgorod.”

“Say no more about it!” roared the King. “Prepare to choose your bride. Daughters, come forth!”

The river maidens passed in parade before Sadko. Each was more lovely than the one before. But Sadko’s heart was heavy, and he barely looked at them.

“What’s wrong, musician?” the King said merrily. “Too hard to choose? Then I’ll wed you to the one who fancies you. Behold the Princess Volkhova!”

The princess stepped forward. Her green eyes were sparkling, and a soft smile graced her lips. “Dearest Sadko, at last we can be together. For years I have thrilled to the music you’ve played on the shore.”

“Volkhova!” said Sadko in wonder. “You’re as lovely as your river!”

But the Sea Queen leaned over and said softly, “You are a good man, Sadko, so I will tell you the truth. If you but once kiss or embrace her, you can never return to your city again.”

That night, Sadko lay beside his bride on a bed of seaweed. She’s so lovely, thought Sadko, so charming—all I ever hoped for. How can I not hold her?

But time after time, the Queen’s words came back to him—never return to your city again— and his arms lay frozen at his sides.

“Dearest,” said the princess, “why do you not embrace me?”

“It is the custom of my city,” Sadko stammered. “We never kiss or embrace on the first night.”

“Then I fear you never will,” she said sadly, and turned away.

When Sadko awoke the next morning, he felt sunlight on his face. He opened his eyes and saw beside him not the Princess Volkhova but the River Volkhov. And behind him rose the walls of Novgorod!

“My home,” said Sadko, and he wept—perhaps for joy at his return, perhaps for sadness at his loss, perhaps for both.

* * *

The years were good to Sadko. With the money that remained to him, he bought a ship and goods enough to fill it. And so Sadko became a merchant, and in time, the richest man in Novgorod. What’s more, he married a fine young woman and raised a family. Many a feast he would hold so he could play his gusli and watch his children dance.

Yet sometimes still on a quiet evening he would walk out of the city alone, sit on the bank, and send his tinkling music over the water. And sometimes too a lovely head would rise from the river to listen—or perhaps it was only moonlight on the Volkhov.

And leaves of that shy plant,
(Her flowers were shed) the lily of the vale,
That loves the ground, and from the sun withholds
Her pensive beauty; from the breeze her sweets.
WordsworthThe Excursion. Bk. IX. L. 540.

Sources:

http://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Lily-of-the-Valley-109.html

and

http://www.aaronshep.com/books/SeaKing.html

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Posted in La Fleur

Le Fleur: Hyoscyamus niger , Black Henbane

Slightly unrelated but interesting nonetheless:

The völur were referred to by many names. The Old Norse word vǫlva means “wand carrier” or “carrier of a magic staff”, and it continues Proto-Germanic *walwōn, which is derived from a word for “wand” (Old Norse vǫlr).[2] Vala, on the other hand, is a literary form based on Völva.

A spákona or spækona (with an Old English cognate, spæwīfe is a “seer, one who sees”, from the Old Norse word spá or spæ referring to prophesying and which is cognate with the present English word “spy,” continuing Proto-Germanic *spah- and the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)peḱ (to see, to observe) and consequently related to Latin specio (“(I) see”) and Sanskrit spáçati and páçyati (“(s/he) sees”, etc.).

A practitioner of seiðr is a seiðkona (female) or a seiðmaðr (male).

Please Listen Whilst you Read:

“Among other herbs which are poisonous and harmful, Henbane is not the least, so that the common man, not without fear should spit at that herb when he hears its name spoken, not to mention when he sees it growing in great quantity where his children are running at play.”

The colorful, though often tragic history of the medicinal and magical uses of Henbane can be traced a long way back. The oldest surviving record, dating to 4000 BC, stems from an inscription on a Sumerian clay tablet. It is also mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus (Egypt, 1500 BC), along with other important medicinal herbs. The Egyptians knew it as ‘Sakran’ – ‘The Drunken’, no doubt referring to the plant’s intoxicating properties, but perhaps also as an allusion to the ancient practice of fortifying alcoholic beverages with its seeds. This practice was very common. Dioscorides mentions a similar potion, a honey-mead prepared with Opium and Henbane seeds. Henbane-spiked mead was particularly popular among the Celts and Germans – accounts of their notorious drinking orgies bear witness to this fact. Henbane seed has also long been used as an additive for brewing beer. In fact, the name of the Czechoslovakian town of Pizen (German: ‘Pilsen’) is said to be derived from the word ‘Bilsen’ the German name for Henbane. Apparently the beer brewed there, known as ‘Pilsener’, was famous for its ‘Bilsen’-induced effects. Eventually however, the authorities put an end to this practice by implementing the first ‘anti-drug law’ in 1516, known as the ‘Deutsches Reinheitsgesetz’ (‘beer purity law). Modern day Pilsener beer no longer contains any trace of Henbane.

The ancient Greeks knew Henbane as ‘Apollinaris’ and considered it sacred to Apollo. Many scholars now believe that Henbane played an instrumental part at Apollo’s oracle in Delphi. The descriptions of the ecstatic state in which the oracle-priestess Pythia proclaimed her prophecies and reports of ‘heavy fumes’ during the ritual, leads them to suspect that Henbane seeds were used as incense. Henbane is well known for inducing states of ecstasy, a condition that used to be regarded not so much as a temporary state of derangement, but rather as a state of mind that touched upon the divine. Some writers muse that the scientific name ‘Hyoscyamos’, which translates as ‘Hogbean’ might perhaps be a corruption of ‘Dioscyamos’ which would translate as ‘Divine Bean’, a reasoning that, considering its status as a sacred plant, makes somewhat more sense. Furthermore, the rationalizations given for ‘Hogbean’ are rather contradictory. Some writers claiming that refers to the fact that pigs are supposedly immune to the plant, while others directly dispute this claim, stating that it causes them cramps. Still others believe that it refers to the story of Circe, who might have used Henbane to turn Odysseus men into pigs. However, Ovid does not mention Henbane directly, but only refers to ‘a brew made from magical herbs’. It is interesting to note that the Celts, too considered the plant sacred to their God of prophecy. According to Dioscorides they called it ‘Belenuntia’, herb of Bel, which still echoes in ‘Beleño’, the Spanish name for Henbane.
For medicinal purposes Dioscorides recommends Henbane ‘to allay pain and procure sleep’. Other common applications included an oil made from the leaves for treating obstinate rheumatic pains, gout, neuralgia and sciatica. Ulcerous wounds and swelling were dressed with a poultice made from its leaves. It was rarely taken internally, though, except for cases of severe stomach or urinary cramps, when a very dilute extract could be administered. Smoking the leaves mixed with Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was a popular remedy for asthma and nervous or spasmodic cough. Taken in small quantities this would not produce a significant psychotropic effect, but relax the respiratory muscles while simultaneously reducing the secretion of the mucus membranes.

During the Middle Ages, Henbane became best known as a ‘Witches Herb’. It is said to have been one of the ingredients of the infamous flying ointment. Reports of their alleged activities were generally obtained by torture at the hands of the inquisition and should thus be treated with a measure of suspicion. However, the descriptions of this potion’s powerful effects are indeed very characteristic of Henbane’s psychotropic action. A reoccurring theme describes how the Witches used this ointment to transform into various animals and fly away on their broomsticks to attend orgiastic rites. Apparently the broomstick served as the means by which the ointment was applied to the sensitive mucous membranes and thus became the vehicle for an erotic flight of the imagination. Henbane also induces a sense of body dissolution, ‘as if the soul separates from the body and flies through the skies’ which would account for the witches’ subjective shape shifting experience and flight to their fabled Sabbath.
But witches were not the only ones to take pleasure in the aphrodisiac properties of this plant. Apparently, incense prepared from the seeds was commonly burned in mediaeval bath-houses. The ambience there could not have fallen far short of what one might expect from the imaginary orgiastic rites of the witches. Needless to say, the aphrodisiac properties of Henbane were also extensively used in numerous charms and love-potions.
Ironically, records found in Lucerne, Switzerland, dating to the 16th century indicate that witches condemned to death were given a ‘draught of compassion’ – a witches brew consisting mainly of Henbane that was supposed to induce a state of oblivion and insensitivity to pain.

Botanical: Hyoscyamus niger (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae

—Synonyms—Common Henbane. Hyoscyamus. Hog’s-bean. Jupiter’s-bean. Symphonica. Cassilata. Cassilago. Deus Caballinus.
(Anglo-Saxon) Henbell.
(French) Jusquiame.
—Parts Used—Fresh leaves, flowering tops and branches, seeds.
—Habitat—It is found throughout Central and Southern Europe and in Western Asia, extending to India and Siberia. As a weed of cultivation it now grows also in North America and Brazil. It had become naturalized in North America prior to 1672, as we find it mentioned in a work published in that year among the plants ‘sprung up since the English planted and kept cattle in New England.’

It is not considered truly indigenous to Great Britain, but occurs fairly frequently in parts of Scotland, England and Wales, and also in Ireland, and has been found wild in sixty British counties, chiefly in waste, sandy places, by road-sides, on rubbish heaps and near old buildings, having probably first escaped from the old herb gardens. It is frequently found on chalky ground and particularly near the sea. It appears to have been more common in Gerard’s time (Queen Elizabeth’s reign) than it is now.

From Hamlet possibly referring to the herb:

‘Sleeping within mine orchard,

My custom always of the afternoon

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of mine ear did pour

The leprous distillment.’

Speaking of Henbane, Gerard says:

‘The leaves, the seeds and the juice, when taken internally cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness, which continueth long and is deadly to the patient. To wash the feet in a decoction of Henbane, as also the often smelling of the flowers causeth sleep.’

Culpepper says:

‘I wonder how astrologers could take on them to make this an herb of Jupiter: and yet Mizaldus, a man of penetrating brain, was of that opinion as well as the rest: the herb is indeed under the dominion of Saturn and I prove it by this argument: All the herbs which delight most to grow in saturnine places are saturnine herbs. Both Henbane delights most to grow in saturnine places, and whole cart loads of it may be found near the places where they empty the common Jakes, and scarce a ditch to be found without it growing by it. Ergo, it is a herb of Saturn. The leaves of Henbane do cool all hot inflammations in the eyes…. It also assuages the pain of the gout, the sciatica, and other pains in the joints which arise from a hot cause. And applied with vinegar to the forehead and temples, helps the headache and want of sleep in hot fevers…. The oil of the seed is helpful for deafness, noise and worms in the ears, being dropped therein; the juice of the herb or root doth the same. The decoction of the herb or seed, or both, kills lice in man or beast. The fume of the dried herb stalks and seeds, burned, quickly heals swellings, chilblains or kibes in the hands or feet, by holding them in the fume thereof. The remedy to help those that have taken Henbane is to drink goat’s milk, honeyed water, or pine kernels, with sweet wine; or, in the absence of these, Fennel seed, Nettle seed, the seed of Cresses, Mustard or Radish; as also Onions or Garlic taken in wine, do all help to free them from danger and restore them to their due temper again. Take notice, that this herb must never be taken inwardly; outwardly, an oil, ointment, or plaister of it is most admirable for the gout . . . to stop the toothache, applied to the aching side….’

Interesting points to note:

♣     It is poisonous in all its parts, and neither drying nor boiling destroys the toxic principle. The leaves are the most powerful portion, even the odour of them when fresh will produce giddiness and stupor. Accidental cases of poisoning by Henbane are, however, not very common, as the plant has too unpleasant a taste and smell to be readily mistaken for any esculent vegetable, but its roots, which are thick and somewhat like those of salsafy, have sometimes been gathered and eaten. In one case recorded, a woman pulled up a quantity of Henbane roots which she found in a field, supposing them to be parsnips. She boiled them in soup, which was eaten by the family. The whole of the nine persons who had partaken of them suffered severely, being soon seized with indistinctness of vision, giddiness and sleepiness, followed by delirium and convulsions.

♣    It is also recorded that the whole of the inmates of a monastery were once poisoned by using the roots instead of chicory. The monks partaking of the roots for supper were all more or less affected during the night and following day, being attacked with a sort of delirious frenzy, accompanied in many cases by such hallucinations that the establishment resembled a lunatic asylum.

♣    The herb was used in magic and diabolism, for its power of throwing its victims into convulsions. It was employed by witches in their midnight brews, and from the leaves was prepared a famous sorcerer’s ointment.

♣    Anodyne necklaces were made from the root and were hung about the necks of children as charms to prevent fits and to cause easy teething.

♣    In mythology, we read that the dead in Hades were crowned with it as they wandered hopelessly beside the Styx.

♣    Although swine are said to feed upon the leaves and suffer no ill effects, this plant should not be allowed to grow in places to which cattle have access, though they seldom touch it, and its effects seem less violent on most of the larger domestic animals than on man, sheep will sometimes eat it when young, and it has occasionally been noticed that no bad effects have followed. Cows, however, have been poisoned by having Henbane mixed with their forage, it is said for the purpose of fattening them. A small quantity of the seeds of the Stramonium or Thornapple, as well as those of Henbane, are also sometimes added, the idea appears to be that the tendency to stupor and repose caused by these plants is conducive to fattening. In some districts, horse-dealers mix the seeds of Henbane with their oats, in order to fatten their animals.

FINAL THOUGHT:

“Expect Poison From The Standing Water”

-William Blake

“Even bees, the little almsmen of spring bowers, know there is richest juice in poison-flowers”

 

-John Keats

 

For more information head to : http://maxsethnobotany.blogspot.com/2009/04/henbane.html

and       http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/henban23.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in La Fleur

Medieval Flower (12th Century) – Galanthus nivalis, death flower

To Listen:

 

The winter-blooming snowdrop and spring snowflake appear so closely related that the great sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard named them the Early Blooming Bulbous Violet and the Late Blooming Bulbous Violet. He also asserted that neither ancient writers nor his contemporaries had anything to say about the plants’ medicinal properties, and that both were cherished solely for their beauty and fragrance. Gerard regarded bulbous violets as garden plants introduced from Italy, although the snowdrop, which was to accumulate much lore in England, may be native there.

While the snowdrop became a Mary flower because of the white bloom and the association with the feast of her Purification, the flower’s association with purity was so far extended by the nineteenth century that Snowdrop Bands—chapters of a society for the encouragement of working-class girls to espouse chaste lives and avoid indecency—were organized. The journal of the society was called The Snowdrop, and members carried cards with a picture of a snowdrop and a promise to avoid indecent conversation and immoral literature. The groups held “brown suppers,” during which members potted up snowdrop bulbs, and “white suppers” when the snowdrops where in bloom (Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860–1914).

In English folklore, Snowdrops are thought unlucky if brought into the house, representing death or parting from a loved one. A single Snowdrop blooming in the garden warns of impending disaster. Wearing a Snowdrop is said to bless you with pure thoughts. Bringing a Snowdrop indoors will lead to a death in the house. This led to the plant also being known as Death’s Flower.

Sheltering amongst tree roots

Snowdrops are iconic flowers that traditionally herald the ending of winter and are surely too well known to need a description.

Scientific name: Galanthus nivalis L.

Conservation status: Rated as Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Origin of botanical name: From Greek, gala, milk and anthos, a flower; nivalis, snowy

Other common names: Candlemas bells, Mary’s taper, Snow-piercer, February fairmaids, Dingle-dangle

Flowering : February to March

Habitat:

On the European continent Snowdrops grow in wild habitats, in damp woods and meadows up to 1,600 metres; the leaf tips are specially hardened for breaking through frozen ground. In Britain, Snowdrops are possibly both native and naturalised and were not recorded as growing wild here until the 1770s. It is very likely that many of our colonies of wild Snowdrops originated with ecclesiastical plantings. The pure white blooms of the Snowdrop have long been accepted by the Catholic Church as a symbol of Candlemas, celebrated on February 2nd, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, and their association with monastic sites is apparent right across Britain.

Folklore

Although the flowers are sanctified for Candlemas, the snowdrop is one of the many white blossoms that are still regarded as being unlucky if brought into the house. In parts of Northumberland, Westmorland and Hampshire, single flowers particularly are still viewed as ‘death-tokens’. This may be as one Victorian explanation was that the flower “looked for all the world like a corpse in its shroud”. According to the ‘language of the flowers’, the snowdrop was an emblem for virginity, and a few blooms enclosed in an envelope were often used to warn off over-ardent wooers. In a similar vein, in Yorkshire there was an old custom, again celebrated on Candlemas, for village maidens to gather bunches of snowdrops and wear them as symbols of purity. (extracts from Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey)

Key uses

Ornamental. Medicinal. Insecticide.

The alkaloid Galantamine, which was initially isolated from snowdrops, has been used in treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, neuritis and neuralgia. In parts of eastern Europe, rubbing snowdrops on the forehead was a folk remedy used for pain relief.

Known hazards: Snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans and can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting if eaten in large quantities

 

Sources:

http://blog.metmuseum.org/cloistersgardens/2009/02/27/snowdrop-and-snowflake/

Snowdrops at Chirk Castle