The sweetest flowers hold the darkest secrets…
By Rebecca Bell
The winter days of gloom and grey are opening up, into the new life of spring. The world is waking up and the call to put on your walking boots and step outside is nigh. This time try something different and take out your copy of Folk Magic and Healing, or Botanical Curses and Poisons, to help you decipher the secrets of these spring plants.
Snowdrop: Galanthus nivalis
‘…any one thing experienced for the first time in the year had the property of bestowing a wish…the first snowdrop seen…’ – Fez Inkwright, Folk Magic and Healing
Snowdrops are the first to emerge, sometimes even when snow still covers the ground. These brave flowers offer a stark green against purest white, reminding us that winter is beginning to close.
This brave flower of hope of seasons to come, was in fact known as an unlucky flower in folk superstition.
‘…it was known as ‘corpse’s shrouds’, and was bad luck to bring into a house as a death would be sure to follow.’ – Fez Inkwright, Folk Magic and Healing
Best to leave that one outside as well then, in fact after this insight into the world of spring blooms, it is probably best they all stay put in the place they have grown to be admired there amongst nature.
Daffodil: Narcissus pseudonarcissus
‘These cheerful harbingers of spring are often one of the first flowers to bloom…’ – Fez Inkwright, Botanical Curses and Poisons
With their colours ranging from orange to sherbet yellow, they are a sure symbol that the sun will be returning soon and are often found on sale as the official flower of easter alongside tulips. But did you know there is more to a daffodil than its cheerful appearance? This regal fellow is hiding a dark secret at its core.
Narcissus the scientific name for daffodil, has been suggested to derive from the Greek narcao or English narcotic, meaning ‘to become numb’ or ‘relieve pain and induce drowsiness’. The plant if ingested can cause paralysis of the nervous system due to the chemical lycorine, which causes collapse and eventual death!
You might want to think twice before inviting daffodils into your home.
Bluebell: Hyacinthoides non-scripta
‘Bluebells are seen as an ancient herald of spring, and are closely associated with the fairy world thanks in no small part to their delicate, bell-like flowers…’ – Fez Inkwright, Botanical Curses and Poisons
Somewhere between deep purple and dreamy indigo, these small bells carpet woodland floors in a sea of colour. In the UK it is common that an entire woodland will take its name from these flowers and become known as a bluebell wood, a place that those in the UK will seek out at the peak of bluebell season, to be enjoyed with a walk with family and friends. This spring pastime holds resemblance to the Japanese sakura season, but in the UK bluebells hold the centre stage as they create a window to the fairy world.
Best to not touch and instead just observe the world of the fairy folk, for the brief window they bloom, until these flowers disappear as if by magic.
Crocus and Autumn Crocus: Crocus spp. and Colchicum autumnale
The crocus is known for its vivid purple or white petals, which house a strong centre of rich, orange pollen. Some varieties of crocus are the source of the luxurious and expensive saffron; these can be found in northern Morocco and should not be confused with the Autumn Crocus which is in fact poisonous.
These flowers are the symbol of youthfulness and positivity and are oft found beneath trees or on graves. Just do not go picking the stamens unless an expert has let you know its safe saffron, as the poisonous affects are not dissimilar from arsenic, which would make for a very unfortunate last supper.
To find out more about the unusual history, and hidden lives of plants, check out Fez Inkwright’s work – Folk Magic and Healing, as well as Botanical Curses and Poisons.