Daffodil

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I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
– William Wordsworth

To me, and many others, the daffodil heralds the arrival of spring.  Here in York, these triumphant flowers line the banks of the city walls, declaring that the sun is growing stronger and the days longer.
Springtime in York
The daffodil is also the flower of Wales, the symbol of St David’s Day, the emblem of annunciation, the flower of Easter, known also as the lent rose or lent lily.  As the frosts clear, their tapering green leaves start to push through the fertile soils.  This is truly a spring time flower.  As such, the daffodil is a symbol of creation, of birth, of life, of energy, of the sun.

However, they are also considered bad luck and bringers of death.  And should you attempt to eat it, death is a very real possibility.  They are toxic to humans and animals, causing stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea followed by trembling, convulsions and paralysis.  Death may follow depending on how much has been consumed.  So toxic is the daffodil that it is said that Romans carried a bulb when they went to war.  If they were critically injured, they would eat it in order to have a merciful death; the narcotic properties of the plant would numb their pain as they died.

And it’s not just humans and animals that can be affected by the daffodil.  If they are planted near certain species, including roses, rice and cabbages, the growth of the species will be inhibited.  If you are arranging cut flowers, the toxin from the daffodil will shorten the life of any other flowers you include.  Their delightful, sunny demeanour hides a dark side…

In terms of folklore and beliefs, you should tread with caution when walking around a bed of daffodils. If you step on a bed of daffodils, bad luck will follow.  Never bring a single daffodil into a home as it will result in misfortune.  If you do give daffodils, make sure it’s a plentiful bouquet as this brings luck.  However, if you have chickens incubating eggs, don’t bring any as the eggs will not hatch.

Spring was an important time of year for our ancestors, the success of your farming could literally mean life or death later in the year.  If your eggs didn’t hatch, you lost a generation of chickens which meant you didn’t have the eggs or the chickens to eat.  If your crop didn’t start life well, you wouldn’t get a good harvest.  This is a time for setting our intentions, planting our seeds, and we need all the luck we can get.

Many people will be aware that the botanical name for the daffodil is Narcissus.  It seems that the name of the plant is unrelated to, and possibly predates, the myth about Narcissus but I think it’s worth exploring anyway.

Narcissus was a hunter who was renowned for his beauty and very proud of it.  One day he looked into a pool of water and saw his reflection.  So gorgeous was the image that he fell in love, like many had fallen for him before, and became obsessed.  He could not bear to leave the reflection, even for a moment, and eventually he died (some say he starved, others that he drowned).  It is this tale which gives us the term narcissism; a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception.

For some, this means that the daffodil is a symbol of vanity.  I prefer to think of it as a caution against fixation, of any kind.  Focusing all your energy on any singular thing is not good for the mind, body or soul.  We need many different interests, focuses and types of stimulation.  We are complicated creatures, we are multifaceted and we must meet the needs of the different parts of us.

Do not eat any part of the daffodil. 

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.

 

Daisy

daisy

“Star of the mead! sweet daughter of the day
Whose opening flower invites the morning ray”
– Dr Leyden

The daisy, such a beautiful flower, such innocence and childlike joy is summoned when we think of them.

I have a personal love for the daisy beyond the flower itself, my granma’s name was daisy.  She was a lovely, kind and gentle woman who I miss a lot.  I would love to have known her as an adult (she died when I was a teenager).

Anyway, back to the flower.  Their botanical name, bellis perennis, means pretty pearl and their English name comes from the Saxon “days eye” as it opens early in the morning.  These sweet little flowers are symbols of gentleness and purity, the innocence of the first moments of the day.  However, they are also quite powerful!  A daisy chain was placed on a child’s head to keep faeries away and prevent the baby from being kidnapped.

Children and daisies are seen in other beliefs.  It was said a child who stood on daisies would grow up stunted.  Another idea was that daisies were the spirits of babies who had died at birth.

Belying it’s sweet appearance, the daisy has has astringent properties.  Medicinally, the daisy has been used to treat bruises, to treat cuts and for gastrointestinal and respiratory complaints.  They have also been eaten, although younger leaves are better tasting and you can make daisy whiskey apparently!

The daisy has also been used in medieval times to be worn by ladies and knights when they were at a tournament.  And perhaps most commonly, the picking of their petals as a love divination.

They appear in early spring and it is perhaps in part this which ties them symbolically to the innocence and childishness of the season.  They are the flower of April and are dedicated to Aphrodite and Venus, both goddesses of love.

In mythology, we see a few characters turning themselves into daisies to avoid the pursuit of unwanted lovers.  Their transformation in a sense protected them from being defiled and maintained their innocence and virginity.  They kept their childlike status, their purity.  On a similar note, Christianity has adopted the daisy as a symbol of the virgin mary to highlight her chastity and grace.

 

Comparing the daisy and the dandelion, we see an interesting contradiction.  Both are invasive species but our attitudes towards them tend to be very different.  We enjoy the delicate daisy and vent our frustrations at the sturdier dandelion.  This puts me in mind of the virgin-whore dichotomy.  Our attitudes towards each other can be echoed in these two flowers.  One is pretty and sweet and so we ignore the fact that it is invasive.  The other is bold, brash and confident and so we berate its very existence.

Nettle

nettle

Despite their bad reputation, nettles are very useful but don’t give them to someone.  According to flower giving symbolism, you will be saying that the receiver breaks your heart, that they are cruel, that they are slanderous.  It is bad luck to give nettles to a woman and I can see that they might not be well received…  I was going to say that no one wants to receive a plant that can harm them but we give roses all the time… Something to ponder!

One belief is that a nettle in your pocket will keep you safe from lightening and give you courage.  Channelling the nettle’s fiery energy can help you break free from stagnant emotional states and situations you feel tied to.  It can also help to connect you with the warrior within.

According to Worts and Cunning, nettles are associated with the planet Mars, with the astrological sign Aries and are a strengthening herb.  Mars is commonly said to be about war but it is also about asserting yourself, about action and drive.  Aries echoes this with forceful, outgoing, headstrong traits.  This is a powerful, active plant which encourages movement and get up and go.

In terms of medicinal aids, they are said to have a lot of uses including helping nosebleeds, lung inflammation, rashes, stings, colds, rheumatism, earache and anaemia.  As they are rich in iron, the latter is likely a good cure.  They contain a range of vitamins and minerals and are said to help with cramping and muscle spasms.  It is said that if you have joint and muscle pain and you intentionally sting the affected area, the pain will decrease.

But how to enjoy your medicinal dose of nettles?  You surely don’t want to just pick them and eat them, I can’t think of another plant who’s identity is so wrapped up in it’s sting.  You should blanch them first, or make a tea from them.  But they adsorb pollution from the environment very easily so its best to pick them away from roads and busy areas.

Their strong fibres have been used to make cord and cloth and apparently nettle oil was used before paraffin oil.  I’ve done a bit of dyeing using plants recently and I got a lovely warm grey when I used nettles although other people report getting browns and greens!

Nettles also provide a home for a number of butterflies and moths who can find sanctuary on the plant because the sting keeps predators away.  Understandably we focus a lot on the pain that nettles cause us, blinding us to their benefits.  They are vigorous plants, survivors, healers and protectors and we must see the plant as a whole rather than just seeing one part of it.

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.

Oak trees and acorns

red oak
Red Oak Leaf

There is a lot of myth and belief surround the oak tree and acorns, going back at least as far as Ancient Greece and I suspect much further.  It has long been considered a sacred tree and an oak grove was a temple of Zeus.  He was the god of thunder which is interesting given that there is a lot of folklore about the oak and storms which we will see later in this post.  The rustling of the oak tree in the temple was thought to be a sign of Zeus’s presence.

Moving to ancient Rome, we find crowns of oak leaves worn by victorious roman leaders as a symbol of power and conquest.  Elsewhere, the oak is dedicated to Thor.  Another important belief that I’ve found attributed to a variety of cultures, is that the oak was the first tree created and it in turn created man.  Long ago the acorn was an important food source and thus became a symbol of fecundity and immortality although with the rise in agriculture the acorn was no longer so important.

The oak is strongly associated with protection, especially protection in thunder storms, remember Zeus?  It was said that boats made of oak would be safe from lightening strikes at sea, that the tree would offer protection in a storm.  When an oak in Needwood forest was struck by lightening, people travelled to collect blackened chips to use as lightening charms.  By extension, oak leaves and acorns have protective power and are obviously much easier to carry around with you!  The sky god loved the oak and showed affection by descending as lightening and leaving mistletoe on the tree.

In terms of healing, you might use acorns to help with diarrhoea, you might carry an acorn to ward of rheumatism or to attract luck.  Carrying an acorn could also help you to preserve your youth and was said to be most successful for women.  If you have toothache, try driving a nail into an oak, the idea is then that you will leave the pain behind.

Having said all that, you should not hurt an oak tree.  If you tamper with them, or fell them, you will hear their scream and die within a year.  As they fall, you will hear them wailing and crying and the same is true if you remove branches from this revered tree.

Able to grow in almost any soil, the oak is a hardy tree which produces strong and durable timber.  It is an icon of endurance and survival and quiet determination.  It is grounded and stable and perhaps meditating on the tree or using it as the basis of a visualisation will help you too to feel secure and calm.

The celtic name for the oak is duir, meaning doorway.  In Germany, instead of babies being found in cabbage patches, they come from an ancient hollow oak.  The oak then is a doorway where potential and actual creation meets.  The point where ideas are birthed and the ethereal becomes tangible.  This is probably the first point in my writing about the oak where I feel feminine energy coming into play.  What lies on the other side of the door for you?  Which side of the door are you on?

The oak, and all its symbolism, are heavily masculine.  As well as Zeus and Thor, it is associated with the green man.  It is a symbol of male virility.  And not just any masculine symbol, the mighty oak is a king tree, ruling over the waxing year until midsummer solstice when power is relinquished to the holly tree.  The oak is used to honour warriors.  It is powerful and resilient.  It is strong and courageous.  This is a very no nonsense tree, deal with your stuff, learn from it and move on.  At the same time it is about inner peace and empowerment.  You gain insight as you reflect and that clarity is so important for helping you step into your power.

acorn

A bit of an aside: We have this sense of power as male and not necessarily a good thing.  Or at least I do.  And this idea has always made me veer away from power.  But power can be used to many different ends.  Owning my own power is empowering!  It makes me feel stronger and surer and feeling that makes me do things I wouldn’t do otherwise.  When I was working I managed a fantastic team and never once felt I had “power” (in the masculine, traditional sense).  Obviously I did but I used that position to collaborate with my team, to work together, to empower others.  It never felt like power, but on reflection, many people would have stepped into that position in a different way.  


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.

Dandelion

dandelion

I keep dreaming about dandelions so this post was inevitable.  The humble dandelion is much overlooked, considered a nuisance and is the bane of gardeners lives.  But what other plant embodies the sun, the moon and the stars?  The dandelion is the true plant of cyclical life.  They move from their bright yellow flower to their fluffy white head and finally their little seeds disperse.

Dandelions acquire their strange name from the shape of their leaves which are considered to resemble lions teeth, in french this is dent-de-lion.  But they go by many many names including blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, puff-ball, piss-a-bed and fluffy puffy.  In Gaelic, apparently they are called beanan bride, which means little notched plant of bride.  It was said that St Bride or St Brigit claimed the plant and yet another name for this flower is Saint Brigit’s flame.

The dandelion lights its spark
Lest Brigid find the wayside dark.
And Brother Wind comes rollicking
For joy that she has brought the spring.
Young lambs and little furry folk
Seek shelter underneath her cloak.

– Winifred Mabel Letts

Brigid is associated with Imbolc, celebrated in early February to mark the returning sun,  the beginning signs of spring and fertility, whether that is literal in the sense of childbirth or in the sense of birthing a new venture or idea.  Fertility is something we tie strongly to women but it can refer to the fertile earth, the fertile inner landscape which helps creations to blossom.  I wanted to add this because as someone who can’t have children, the focus on fertility and motherhood can feel exclusionary at times.  Interestingly, many types of dandelion produce seeds without pollination!

Brigid is also a figure of healing and creativity and alchemy.  She is the spark that comes before the full light of spring to give us hope and guide us through the last days of darkness.

Their roots reach deep into the earth, making them resilient, grounding them and giving them the strength to thrive in any situation. Think about the dandelions you see pushing their way through the concrete and the pavement.  They have the ability to flourish wherever they land.  Staying with the link to Imbolc, the dandelion is taking root in our darkest self and taking that pain and transforming it into a spark of visible light.

Despite our modern day perception of the dandelion as a tenacious weed, they have been used as food and as a herb for a long time.  Their leaves are high in vitamin A and C and have been eaten in a similar way to spinach; blanched, in salads and in sandwiches.  The whole plant is edible – flowers can be used to make wine and the roots can be used to make a coffee type drink.  The latex from the stem of the dandelion has been used to cure warts.  They are said to aid digestion, act as a mild laxative and act as a diuretic.

And if that’s not enough to redeem the dandelion, they are important plants for bees, providing an early source of pollen.  Because they flower early in the year, the early emerging pearl-bordered fritillary (a butterfly) also uses it as a source of food.

For all those embittered gardeners struggling to remove the full dandelion route from their flowerbeds, you might like to know it’s actually a beneficial weed.  The root brings up nutrients for plants with shallower roots, they add minerals and nitrogen to the soil and they attract pollinating insects.  Perhaps instead of fighting the dandelion, we could learn to live with it, alongside it.

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.

Sunflowers for the summer solstice

A beam of sunshine

So whilst I’ve been posting my animal dreaming posts I’ve also been working on some plant profiles/plant spirit posts.  They will be coming soon but I felt moved to write and post one on the sunflower today, the summer solstice. Health reasons are keeping me inside during this lovely period of British weather (for once, not a sarcastic comment!) so I may also create some sunflower art today as a way of noting the longest day.

Here and yonder, high and low,
Goldenrod and sunflowers glow.
–Robert Kelley Weeks

The sunflower’s botanical name literally means sun flower and they are used over and over as a symbol of the sun.  In peru, the sunflower was considered an image of their sun god.  In the Rider Waite Smith tarot, the sun card includes a sunflower.

The most well known type of sunflower are tall, bright flowers with strong stems and ray like petals.  These are happy looking plants which are often grown by children.  As the plants grow, they turn to face the sun, tracking with it as it moves across the sky.  This stops once they have bloomed and they generally face east as mature flowers, welcoming the sun each morning.  We too, should look to the light, literally and figuratively.

There is something so beautiful and wondrous about the sunflower, there is nothing being hidden by them, they are what they seem.  This isn’t to disparage them and suggest there are no hidden depths, more to acknowledge the confidence required to put your authentic, full self on display.

They have been cultivated for over 5000 years and are grown both for their beauty and their usefulness.  Their abundance of seeds, considered a sacred food by some north american tribes, can be eaten raw or roasted, they can be ground into a flour for making bread.  They can be used as bird feed, to grow more sunshine and they are rich in useful oil.  The oil from the seeds can be used for cooking as well as to moisturise skin and hair.  Flowers can be used to make yellow dye and the seeds apparently produce a blue or black dye.  The stems of the plants do not go unused and are fed to cattle and used as fuel.  All of the sunflower is used to create in one way or another.

In flower giving lore, to give someone a sunflower says “my eyes see only you”, in the same way that the sunflower sees only the sun, the giver sees only the recipient.  I suspect most people would see this as a romantic gesture but for me it feels a bit too intense… Whilst the light of the sun is vital to us and whilst I am an advocate of looking to and for the light, I do not want only the sun.  Without the moon I would become unbalanced.  In the same way, being admired so singularly would overwhelm me and leave me feeling cut off from others.  If the sunflower has been gifted to you, by another person or by the universe, it may be time to look at your relationships.  We cannot be sustained and entirely ourselves if we rely on one person or relate primarily with one person.  We are many faceted beings who turn to different people for our needs.

Sunflower

A while back I asked myself, what does the sun mean to me, and this feels like a potent time to think about that a bit further.  For me, whilst I resonate more with the moon, the sun has a major impact on my wellbeing.  I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder so am quite sensitive to the light levels, or lack thereof.  The sun can also bring with it warmth which can help my pain levels but worsen my other conditions.  Despite that, I would much rather be warm than cold!  The sun, to me, is a powerful being, creating and sustaining life, providing us with fuel.  So powerful is the sun that it creates our seasons.  It is the base of all life, our life force.  It feels like an assertive, intense entity which brings clarity and visibility.

The sun is associated with the astrological sign of Leo and the traits of this sign echo some of what I have already said.  It is bright, fiery, passionate, out there, cheerful and expressive.  There is a sense of dominance, you cannot easily hide from the sun.  In many cultures, not all, the sun is a masculine figure with the moon as the feminine.

We owe a lot to the sun but like anything, there is a necessary balance.  The gravity of the sun keeps us in orbit but too much pull or too little would throw us out of balance.  The sun warms us and creates life but can also burn us and destroy.  Do not underestimate this powerful star.

How are you paying homage to the sun on this, the longest day?


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.