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saffron Saffron
Crocus sativus
Family: ~Iridaceae~

The word ~saffron~ comes indirectly from the Arabic word ~za-fran~ meaning ~yellow.~ Native to the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and Iran, saffron has long been cultivated in Iran and Kashmir. It is mentioned in the Chinese materia medica (Pun tsaou, 1552-78), and in an English healing manual, of the 10th century.

The first crocuses were sent to England from France by Jean Robin, curator of the Jardin du Roi in Paris. Crocus roots, or corms, are thickened stalks and these were brought over to America by settlers. In the Bronze Age Minoan culture, saffron had religious associations and provided a flourishing trade. One of the first historic references of saffron comes from Ancient Egypt and Rome where the stigmas, were used as hair and fabric dye, in perfumes, as a drug, as well as for culinary purposes. It was used by Cleopatra and other Pharaons as an aromatic and seductive essence, and to make ablutions in temples. Ancient Egyptians sacrificed cakes of saffron to their gods.

As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek and Roman halls, courts, theatres and baths; it was associated with the hetaerae, a professional class of Greek courtesans. Like the Romans, the Greeks also used it to dye their hair, textiles and even their fingernails. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero made his entry into the city.

Arabs introduced the cultivation of saffron in Spain. They used saffron in medicine for its anaesthetic properties. Saffron was an irreplaceable ingredient in the hispanic-arabic cooking of that age.

During the Middle Ages, saffron became popular in Great Britain. A legend tells us that, during the period of Edward III, a pilgrim brought a bulb of saffron hidden in a hole in his stick from Middle East to the town of Walden. There the bulb was grown giving prosperity to the town. During the Renaissance, Venice was the most important commercial center for saffron. During that time saffron was worth its weight in gold, and till today it is still the most expensive spice in the world. Its high price led to its adulteration, which was severely punished. Henry VIII, even condemned to death adulterers of saffron. In 15th century Nuremberg, men were buried alive in punishment for adulterating it. There is a saffron museum, Le Maison du Safran, in Orleans, France.

Waghbhatta, a famous physician of Pampore, a small town in India's Kashmir Valley, reputedly planted the first saffron crocus bulb. A golden-coloured, water-soluble fabric dye was distilled from saffron stigmas in India in ancient times. Shortly after Buddha died, his priests made saffron the official colour for their robes. The dye has been used for royal garments in several cultures. During the Middle Ages it was sometimes used by impoverished monks to replace gold leaf in religious paintings.

Scented flowers have long scarlet stigmas and the female parts are handpicked from each flower, male parts of no culinary value. Each flower has only three stigmas, over 14,000 of which are dried over charcoal fires to yield one ounce of saffron.

Crocuses flower around Valentine's Day. ~Krokos~ was the Greek name for the saffron crocus. It was considered to be an aphrodisiac. The legend about its origin is of Zeus and Hera making love so passionately that the heat of their ardor made the bank on which they lay burst open with crocuses.

According to a Greek legend, a mortal named Crocos fell in love with the nymph Smilax. Smilax rebuffed his overtures and Crocos became a lovely purple flower, Crocus sativus.

~Crocologia,~ published in 1670, was devoted to its medicinal properties. In 19th century England, saffron was used as an aromatic. Saffron concoctions were designed to raise the spirits. It was reputed to ~move men to laughter.~ One legend says that ~Krokos~ was accidentally killed by Mercury during a game of quoits. A saffron-bearing flower sprang from the ground where Krokos bled.

From earliest times, the most and best quality saffron came from Cilicia, Persian Empire (Iran), to the extent that ~Crocum in Ciliciam ferre~ became a common expression. For unknown reasons, crocuses grown in Spain also produce the best saffron.

Saffron is one of the sweet-smelling herbs in the Bible ~Song of Solomon 4:14.~ It has a long history of spiritual and magical use. It was a sacred flower in ancient Crete. It is an ancient symbol of the sun, and has been used to dye foods the color yellow as part of solar worship. Mice and rats love them, squirrels dig them up and birds love to peck the petals off.

In India saffron is used in many recipes of rice and sweets. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine and in religious rituals.

In Saudi Arabia, real Arabic coffee has saffron and cardamom.

In the North of Italy and South of Switzerland, saffron is essential in the preparation of risotto.

In Sweden it is a traditional to bake saffron bread on the day of St. Lucile.

In Spain saffron is an indispensable ingredient in such famous dishes as Paella, Fabada or Pote Gallego.

sage.jpg button Sage
Salvia officinalis
Family: Labiatae
Common Names: ~Scarlett Sage~ ~Salvia~

The name ~Sage~ is the English corruption of ~salvia,~ derived from the Latin salvere meaning ~healed~ or ~saved.~ There are 900 species of sage. It is a member of the mint family.

To the ancients, including Arabians, sage was associated with immortality and thought to increase mental capacity. Sage was held sacred by Romans as a healing plant. They believed that it could create life, and that eating sage would make one immortal.

Sage is found in many continents. In the Middle Ages sage was believed to auger prosperity. Business was believed to flourish where sage thrived. Sage was a treasured source of tea. The Chinese would trade their fine green tea for sage in a ratio of 4 lbs. green tea to 1 lbs. of sage.

American Indians used it for medicinal purposes. They claimed it cured skin sores. It was also used as an infusion for baths and to color the hair silver. Spiritually it was used as a cleansing agent, to banish evil spirits or to smoke, often with sweetgrass or cedar. Early American settlers of the 1800's said that the herb cured warts. Sage attracts bees and grows well with rosemary. It is used for insect repellent and for fragrance in potpourris. It was believed that sage grew vigorously in gardens where the household was ruled by a woman.

Legend of the Sage Plant......
When the soldiers of King Herod were killing little children, Mary and Joseph fled through the mountains of Judea, with baby Jesus. They came to a village and seated by the roadside, heard the sound of Herod's soldiers coming. The only place to hide was a bush nearby, where a rose was blooming. They begged the rose to open its petals and hide them but it refused and asked them to get shelter from the clove plant. The clove plant also refused and told them to get help from the sage plant. The sage plant then blossomed so abundantly that its leaves created a canopy under which the Christ child and His mother sheltered. The soldiers passed by without seeing them. Mary and Jesus came out from the flower-bedecked canopy and blessed the sage for the good deed.

Since then the rose has had thorns, the clove ill-smelling flowers, while the sage plant possesses many curative powers, as the Provencal saying goes:
Whosoever uses not sage
Remembers not the Virgin.
In the Language of Flowers it stood for Wisdom, Long life and Good health.

sham button Shamrock (White Clover)
Trifolium repens
Family: Leguminosae
Common Names: ~Dutch White Clover~ ~White Shamrock~

There is no Shamrock Plant. The Irish word ~shamrock~ translates to the English word ~clover.~ The ~Original Irish Shamrock~ is the White Clover Trifolium repens. The word ~shamrock~ is derived from the Irish ~seamrog~ meaning ~little clover.~ Once called the ~Seamroy~ it symbolises the cross and the trinity. Before the Christian era it was a sacred plant of the Druids who considered them a sign of luck. From the writing of Caesar, it is said that from about the year 200 BC, the sun-worshipping Druid Priests believed that if one had a four-leaf clover, he could sight witches and ambient demons. White clover was held in high esteem by the early Celts of Wales as a charm against evil spirits. This pagan tradition was continued by early Christian leaders till it became the symbol of the Holy Trinity for the Irish people.

According to legend, it was used by St. Patrick in the 5th century to demonstrate the meaning of the Trinity to the people. It is said tha the religious Druids on the island dragged St. Patrick before King Loaghaire where Patrick related the story of the Christian trinity. As a sign for the king he bent down and picked a shamrock to demonstrate the three leaves in one. The king agreed to adopt the Christian faith and the shamrock became the basis for the Celtic cross and the emblem of Ireland. Not all Irish people agree with this folklore St. Patrick. The shamrock is found on Irish medieval tombs and on old copper coins, known as St. Patrick's money. The plant was reputed to have mystic powers... the leaves standing upright to warn of an approaching storm.

The legend of the shamrock is also connected with the banishment of the serpent tribe from Ireland by a tradition that snakes are never seen on trefoil and that it is a remedy against the stings of snakes and scorpions. The trefoil in Arabia is called ~Shamrakh~ and was sacred in Iran as an emblem of the Persian triads.

The rare four-leaf clover, a universal symbol of good luck, has its own legend: Some say Eve carried it from the Garden of Eden. The four leaves stand for faith, hope, love and luck.

The first reference to the Shamrock dates from 1571, and in written Irish, as seamrog, from 1707. As a badge to be worn on the lapel on the Saint's feast day, it is referred to for the first time in 1681. The Shamrock was used as an emblem by the Irish Volunteers in 1770's. During the same period, crosses of ribbons were worn. It was fashionable from about 1800 onwards to use shamrock as a decorative motive on buildings, churches, furniture, and clothes, but the great 'explosion' in their use was after 1820 when almost anything of Irish connection had trefoils on them. Nowadays, shamrock are usually confined to souvenirs. In 1900 Queen Victoria instructed that all Irish soldiers serving in British regiments should wear shamrock on St Patrick's Day in memory of those who died during the Boer War. This practice is still continued today.

As a symbol of Ireland it has been integrated into the United Kingdom. Today, on St.Patrick's Day, a member of the British Royal Family presents Shamrock to the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army.

The Shamrock is not an official emblem of Ireland but it is used by all sorts of State Bodies and commercial concerns. The Irish national airline Aer Lingus, has a heart-shaped trefoil on the tail of each plane. On St. Patrick's Day every year, Aer Lingus flies fresh shamrock to Irish Embassies all over the world for the National Day diplomatic parties. Irish uniformed personnel everywhere are also presented with Shamrock to wear for the day. It is a fragile little plant, and doesn't keep long out of its habitat. Recently someone has invented a little lapel sachet in which the Shamrock is both grown and worn, and will bloom until the last of Patrick's Pot is drunk.

Three is Ireland's magic number. Hence the Shamrock. Numbers played an important role in Celtic symbolism. Three was the most sacred and magical number. It is sacred to Brigid and signifies totality. Everything good in Ireland comes in threes. The rhythm of story telling in the Irish tradition is also based on threefold repetition.

~In Clover~ is an expression that means being in a ~state of happiness~ or ~well being.~ In the Language of Flowers Four Leafed Clover says ~Be Mine~
White Clover says ~Think Of Me~

Snapdragon button Snapdragon
Antirrhinum majus
Family: Scrophulariaceae
Common Names: ~Toad's Mouth~ ~Dog's Mouth~ ~Lion's Mouth~ ~Rabbit's Lips~ (in Asia) ~Lion's Lips~ (in Holland)

Actual origin is not known but some botanists believe they grew wild in Spain and Italy. The botanical name Antirrhinum majus, comes from a Greek word, anti meaning ~like~ and rhis meaning ~a snout~, due to its snout-like blossoms. A light pressure on either side of a single blossom will make the jaws of the snapdragon open, resembling a yawning mouth.

Snapdragons are sensitive to the influences of gravity. Flowers held in a horizontal position quickly curve upward. Snapdragon has been a good source for cloth dyes. In Mediterranean areas it was cultivated for seed oil that was used like olive oil.

Concealing a snapdragon made a person appear gracious and fascinating. Snapdragons were said to protect one from deceit and curses. The Victorian language of flowers states that Snapdragons symbolizes presumption. Snapdragons have a vase life of up to 14 days.

snowdrop button Snowdrop
Galanthus nivalis
Family: Amaryllidaceae

Common Names: ~Fair Maid of February~ ~Bulbous Violet~ ~Emblem of Early Spring~ ~Maids of February~ ~Candlemas Bells'~ ~Mary's Tapers~

Native of Switzerland, Austria and of Southern Europe, Snowdrops and carnations are the traditional flowers for the month of January. The name Galanthus, is Greek in its origin and signifies ~Milk -white- flower.~ Nivalis is a Latin adjective, meaning ~relating to~ or ~resembling snow.~

A legend about the origin of the snowdrop tells us that after being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve sat weeping. An angel comforted her. Since the Fall, no flowers had bloomed, but snow fell ceaselessly. As the angel talked with Eve, he caught a snowflake in his hand, breathed on it, and it fell to earth as the first snowdrop. The flower bloomed and Hope was born. In Germany there is a different snowdrop legend. When God made all things on the Earth, He asked the snow to go to the flowers and get a little color from them. One by one the flowers refused. Then, very sad, she asked a snowdrop to give it a little of its colour and the snowdrop accepted. As a reward, the snow lets it bloom first whenever spring shows.

Years ago snowdrops were dried and transported to European shops from Turkey. Monks brought snowdrop bulbs from Rome to England and were the first to plant them around old monasteries. Because of this snowdrops became known as the ~church flower.~ Traditionally on Candlemas (Feb.2) the image of the Virgin Mary was taken down and a handful of snowdrop blooms were scattered in its place. Their presence in churchyards generated an unlucky reputation as time went on.

Every spring on March 1, the national Moldovan holiday, is celebrated. On this day people present each other with the traditional flowers. One of the old Moldovan legend says that once in a fight with the winter witch, that didn't want to give up its place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her finger and few drops of her blood fell on the snow, which melted. Soon on this place grew a snowdrop and in such a way the spring won the winter.

According to superstitions it is unlucky to bring snowdrops indoors and the sight of a single snowdrop blooming in the garden foretells of impending disaster. It is regarded as an omen of death despite its beauty. It symbolises purity and hope in tha language of flowers.

Solidago button Solidago
Solidago sempervirens
Family: Asteraceae
Common Names: ~Seaside Goldenrod~

Solidago gets its name from the two Latin words ~solidus~ and ~agere~ which means ~make strong~ or ~make healthy.~ There are nearly 130 varieties, most of which can be found in the United States.

The Chippewa Indians called it ~Gizisomukiki,~ which means ~sun medicine.~ The plant has been used for medicinal purposes. Old-time Californians named Solidago californica, ~oreja de liebre~ which means ~Jack Rabbit's Ear,~ supposedly the shape of the leaf.

The Great Saladin ~1137-93~, the poor boy who rose to be caliph of Egypt and fought King Richard in the Third Crusade, treasured the goldenrod as a medicine and introduced it to the Middle East. The Mediterranean-grown S. virgaurea commanded high prices, when first introduced into Elizabethan England as a medicinal herb. However, when the same species was found growing wild, its monetary value plummeted along with its popularity.

Brews and teas were popular and witches used it in potions. In Europe, the leaves were concocted into Blue Mountain wine. The flowers were used to make yellow dyes for cloth. Nowadays, it is used as beautiful cutflower. It is the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska.
*See Goldenrod

button Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum Multiflorum
Common Names: ~Common Solomon's Seal~ ~True Solomon's Seal~ ~Eurasian Solomon's Seal~ ~Solomon's Seal~ ~Lady's Seals~ ~St. Mary's Seal~ ~Sigillum Sanctae Mariae~ ~Fo-ti~ ~Drop Berry~ ~Sealwort~ ~Seal Root~ ~He-shou-wu~ ~Polygonatum~

A native of Northern Europe and Siberia, Solomon's Seal is an ancient aphrodisiacal herb. It's genus name comes from the Greek Polys meaning ~many~ and Gonu meaning ~joint~ refering to the many jointed rhizome (root). The origin of it's common name, relates to the shape and characteristics of it's root and their relevance to King Solomon.

Solomon's Seal was said to heal wounds. Medevial herbalists believed it that the deep scars along it's rootstock had been put there by the legendary magician as a testimony to it's medicinal virtues. It contains a substance called allantoin which is used in modern medications for the external treatment of wounds and skin ulcers.

Solomon's Seal is an herb of protection ruled by Saturn. It is used for consecrating a ritual room or space. Used in ceremonial magic to bind magical works and to make sacred oaths.

The plant's age can be estimated by counting the scars along the root. Each year the root (rhizome) produces a new stem that withers in the summer, leaving one scar. The False Solomon's Seal has flowering plumes at the end of it's stems, while Solomon's Seal has bell-shaped flowers that dangle down along the stem.

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Copyright Pinkie D'Cruz 1998

Friday, January 16, 1998

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