Bluebells go by different names and is a name used to refer to different but similar plants, thus making research into this plant a bit vague. For example, in Scotland, bluebell refers to the harebell, and the invasive Spanish bluebell is incredibly similar to our native species.
Some of the names this flower goes by are: Calverkeys, Culverkeys, Auld Man’s Bell, Ring-o’-Bells, Jacinth, Wood Bells, Wild Hyacinth, Fairy Flower, Granfer Griggles, Cra’tae and Bell Bottle.
For me, the bluebell reminds me strongly of my aunty and so is a flower of remembrance.
These beautiful bulbs carpet ancient woodlands throughout Britain and are protected under UK law with a fine of up to £5,000 for each bulb removed. They are rich in pollen and nectar, providing important food for bumblebees who in turn are the chief pollinators. That said, cheeky bees can take the nectar without pollinating the flower by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell. This seems a bit shortsighted because the bluebell provides an important early source of food and the more plants you pollinate, the more plants you’ll have to eat from next year. A lesson it’s always good to come back to from time to time. Ask first, take what you need and leave behind enough for the future. In foraging this means don’t take all the plant because no one else will have any and also because if you do, the plant could die and next year you’ll regret it.
Flowering between mid April and late May, they transform the vista. Because they spread rapidly, their vibrant blue hues cover the ground in a stunning display. But be careful, it is said that if you hear a bluebell ring, your death will be soon. Also, beware of fairies for a bluebell carpet is woven with fairy magic.
Despite their early flowering, their leaves stay around until late autumn, providing ground cover and verdent green lushness until winter when they retreat back under ground to prepare for the next spring bloom.
Possibly due to being poisonous if used incorrectly, the bluebell does not appear in much medicinal lore. When prepared appropriately, the poisonous bulbs can be used as a remedy for leucorrhoea (thick, white or yellow vaginal discharge), and as a diuretic or styptic (which promotes wound healing).
Outside the healing arena, they have been used for many years. Their sap is sticky and was used to bind pages into spines of books as well as by Bronze Age people to attach feathers to arrows. The bulbs, crushed, provided starch for the fancy ruffs of Elizabethan fashion.
Returning to where we started, the name of this pretty flower, we find that Linnaeus (an important guy in plant classification) first called it Hyacinthus. Hyacinth was said to be a flower of grief and mourning, and whilst it is a delight to look at, if you pay attention to an individual, you can see their heads hanging heavy and sorrowful. In mythology, Hyancinthus was loved by Apollo and Zephyrus but prefer the Sun-God. One day, when playing a game with Apollo, Zephyrus blew a quoit off course and it killed Hyacinthus. Apollo was distraught at the loss of his friend and from his blood created a purple flower. On this flower the letters Ai, Ai were seen as a reminder of his cry of grief and woe. As the flowers today do not bear such letters, we have the latin name Hyacinthus nonscriptus, or ‘not written on’.
For me the bluebell is about remembrance, about grief and about magic. It is about beauty, even when things seem tough. And it is a lesson in growing and replenishing yourself and learning from hard times.
None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.