Ever smiled at seeing snowdrops because they were a sign that spring was on the way? Or have you ever tried telling
the time with a dandelion
Little things like these are among the simplest forms of folklore: passing down tales and traditions through the
generations with widespread word-of-mouth. Flowers can often be found in the forefront of folklore, and for good
reason: tales such as these are a good way to remember the helpful and harmful properties flowers- either that, or
they just look cool!
Perhaps the prime example of both is the humble bluebell
named after their shape, it’s easy to imagine why these were thought to be used by fairies to call a gathering.
However, many tales of the bluebell are surprisingly macabre- any human hearing a bluebell ‘ring’ would soon die,
and children who picked bluebells in the woods would disappear.
Is there any truth to these spooky stories? Well, yes and no- bluebells are ordinary flowers for the most part, but
their bulbs are quite poisonous; perhaps a story meant to ward careless children away from poisonous plants blended
with their name and appearance to create stories of a more magical threat.
In a similar vein, medicinal flowers have a history with being labelled ‘holy’ or ‘magical’. St.
is probably the most famous example: named after John the Apostle, its earliest uses are dated as
far back as the 6th century, and it’s still seeing widespread use today as a mild anti-depressant. Other examples
which is good for coughs, and herb
, which boosts the immune system.
is another plant with biblical ties- not for healing properties, but for a much more mundane
utility. As its name suggests, this fluffy-looking flower was once used as mattress stuffing to provide a pleasant
scent. It’s even been suggested that this plant was what lined the manger in a certain stable in Bethlehem!
Meanwhile, some myths are more about where certain flowers came from and why they are the way they are. For example,
is named for its surprisingly short roots, which stop abruptly as if cut; supposedly the devil was
jealous of the flower’s beauty and bit its roots short in rage.
What a haul of historical and mythological insight from just a few flowers! And that’s far from everything: research
will show there’s a fable for almost every flower you could want, including enough fairy folklore to keep the
critters a common topic of fiction for decades. I’d encourage anyone interested to look up the folklore behind the
flowers in your own garden; even skeptics should find some fascinating stories- and as it’s been shown, not
necessarily all of it’s fiction…