Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lily of the Valley

The root is small, and creeps far in the ground, as grass roots do.  The leaves are many, against which rises up a stalk half a foot high, with many white flowers, like little bells with turned edges, of a strong, though pleasing smell....It is under the dominion of Mercury, and therefore it strengthens the brain, recruits a weak memory, and makes it strong again.  The distilled water dropped into the eyes, helps inflammations there....The spirit of the flowers distilled in wine, restores lost speech, helps the palsy, and comforts the heart and vital spirits.  ~Nicholas Culpeper, Complete Herbal, 1649

As lily of the valley blooms in May it was customary to decorate churches with them at Whitsuntide...In the West of England, to plant a bed of lily of the valley was a bad omen, and invitation to an early death. ~Josephine Addison, The Illustrated Plant Lore

One legend associated with the lily of the valley comes from Sussex, England.  The hermit St. Leonard battled a dragon that was the devil in disguise.  He struggled for four days and finally summoned the strength to cut off the dragon's head, not before, however, his adversary's strong claws had torn through his armor and spilled his blood.  Lilies of the valley sprang up from the drops of blood, and pilgrims to the site could trace the path through the fields and woods where the battle had raged.  Every year since, lilies of the valley bloom each May on the battleground. ~ Bobby J. Ward, A Contemplation Upon Flowers

White bud! thu'rt emblem of a lovelier thing:
The broken spirit that its anguish bears
To silent shades, and there sits offering
To Heaven the holy fragrance of its tears.
~ George Croly, nineteenth-century poet, The Lily of the Valley

Photos courtesy of Loree Lough.  Thanks!