Notes from Diane's Garden
Or The Curious Lore and Magical Property of Plants
By Diane Fenster
The Winter Solstice has come and gone. The child of light has just been born so we only have a glimmer of the brightness to come. So it is down here at the Mount Bubba Institute. Even on those sunny days, we lose the light early in the day because the sun's angle in the sky causes it to disappear behind Mount Bubba until Candlemas.
I'd like to dedicate this month's ramblings to Valerie and Ron and the occasion of their re-handfasting on the 20th of December. Mazel Tov! Since I'm writing this before the festivities have actually happened, I'll use my astute psychic abilities to say that a good time was had by all and sundry, humans, spirits and aliens alike. Oh, need I report that the Great Rite was once again NOT performed. I wonder if I'll ever get to see one?
Remember that all your Solstice evergreen decorations should be out of the house by Candlemas. Here is a little ditty by Herrick to give you that added impetus to clean up the house:
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies and Mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivie, all
Wherewith ye dressed the Christmas Hall.
That so the superstitious find
Not one least branch left there behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids trust to me
So many goblins you shall see.
As far as this month's topic goes, all good cooks know that leftovers, if well prepared, can be as appetizing as a freshly cooked meal. These flowers also have been recycled from my lecture at the bookstore. But since most of you readers weren't there, you won't be able to tell the leftover from the original. So go ahead and eat already.
Formerly known in France as Pucellage, or Virgin-flower but also known as the Violette des sorciers or Sorcerers Violet. It was thought that this flower assisted the sorcerer in magical operations.
In Italy, the plant is known as Death's Flower from the ancient custom of using the plant to make garlands for dead infants. In Medieval England, condemned men were garlanded with Periwinkle on their way to the gallows. It is written that the leaves of the periwinkle eaten by husband and wife do cause them to love each other. In the language of flowers, the periwinkle means sincere and unalterable friendship. Nosegays of this flower are sent as presents to lovers
The Cowslip, Primula veris, is another plant regarded as a fairy flower, also being known as Fairy Cups. The little folk love to nestle inside drooping bell shaped flowers.
The flower is known as the Key-Flower in Germany. Two explanations are given for this name: one is that the drooping bunch of flowers look like keys, the other is that it is in reference to the ability of the plant to aid in finding magical treasure.
Cowslips were also called Saint Peter's Wort in some of the old Herbals, the plant's resemblance to a bunch of keys being likened to the badge of the apostle.
In speaking of Titania, Queen of the Fairies, Shakespeare writes:
The Cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see
In those freckles live their savours;
Those be rubies, fairy favors
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every Cowslip's ear.
The Cowslip is one of the flowers dedicated to the May Queen, Flora. Marsh Marigolds, Stitchwort and Lady's Smock are some of the others. Many flowers formerly dedicated to the Great Goddess were re-dedicated to the Virgin Mary in early Christian times.
Ointments made of Cowslips are said to take away wrinkles and add beauty to the user. This virtue is based on the Doctrine of Signatures that says that the freckles which lie in the flower will take away freckles and imperfections.
The story says that some favored child is enticed by Bertha, a Spring deity, to a doorway overgrown with the beautiful primroses. The door is the opening to an enchanted castle and when the child touches the door, it flies open. Inside is a treasure room filled with vessels that are covered in primroses, the vessels containing gold and jewels. The gold and jewels may be taken but the primroses must remain otherwise the finder will forever be followed by a black dog. This tale is probably a later re-working of a myth concerning the beginning of Spring, since both Cowslips and Primroses are among the first flowers to appear.
Tradition says that this flower, Viola odorata, was created for Io, a love of Jupiter, after Jupiter had transformed her into a heifer and as such she had fed on the plant. Ione is the Greek name for treasures. Other sources say the name comes from the nymph Ionia, who first presented the flower to Zeus.
In ancient Greece, these beautiful flowers were cultivated for their perfume and sweetening qualities. They were held in such regard that they became an emblem of the city of Athens. They were used by the Athenians to moderate anger, procure sleep and comfort and strengthen the heart.
Ancient Britons used the flower as a cosmetic. In a Celtic poem they are recommended to be steeped in goat's milk and taken to increase female beauty. The blooms were used as a strewing herb in the Middle Ages. Their fragrance helped dispel the musty smell of damp houses and unwashed people.
Violets have a symbolic language. The blue variety is said to mean faithfulness as do most flowers that are "true blue". Rural happiness is symbolized by the yellow violet or wild pansy and innocence or modesty by the white.
Like primroses, Violets have a joyful connotation because they herald the coming of Spring. They are among the first plants to bloom.They have also been associated with death, especially of the young, perhaps because the flowers bloom so early and never get a chance to see the full bloom of Summer. If violets are plentiful in Autumn, an epidemic is expected. Any plant blooming out of season is a disastrous omen.
The Prime Mover of the Universe