It is easy to think of flowers when it comes to love and Valentine’s Day. Red and white roses infiltrate grocery stores before discounted Christmas ornaments are swept into storage. The early 1800s is the first mention of the Language of Flowers, which assigned meaning to various blooms. A rose means beauty, while hyacinth means jealousy. Any number of flowers convey hidden messages, and that concept has fascinated me since my late teens when I discovered such a language existed. What I was unaware of until a few weeks ago, however, was that there also exists a Language of Herbs! Part of the perks of being a librarian is that I am constantly surrounded by books, and The Complete Language of Herbs: A Definitive & Illustrated History by S. Theresa Dietz caught my eye. I thought this month I would share a few from this book with love and friendship themes.
Lemon Verbena is a pretty common herb with a lovely, tangy, lemony scent. Symbolically it means attraction and love. Because it is a flowering herb, it also has a meaning in the language of flowers which is sensitivity. People in the past have also believed that lemon verbena can prevent bad dreams, purify the home and lighten the mood of one who uses it. It can be added to tea for a refreshing zing, and when boiled in milk and used for desserts, whatever the milk is added to will have a light lemony taste.
I was surprised to see beets mentioned in this book of herbs! The brief article mentioned that growers originally cultivated it for the greens, which is probably why it was included in this herbal dictionary. Beets have a lot of known health benefits, including lowering blood pressure. Please do not consume beets for this use without consulting your doctor first! In folklore, it was believed that if two people ate the same beet they would fall in love. Others would use beet juice to write love poems for an added red ink flair.
While bachelor buttons are still a dream to us in the dead of winter, they are another fun entry. There was a time when men would don these beautiful blue blossoms to indicate that they were in love, but if the flower faded too quickly it was assumed that their love was unrequited. The book also mentions that folks used to bathe in a bath steeped with bachelor buttons to help rid them of the plague! Perhaps if your flower fades too quickly, a bath steeped in the petals of the flower will prevent you from the plague of a broken heart.
English Chamomile is a familiar herb that tea lovers will know right away. Known for its peaceful properties, it is often consumed in tea to help ensure a restful sleep. According to the entry, you can bathe in an English Chamomile infusion to increase your chances of attracting love! Traditionally the lovely daisy-like flowers of this plant also mean ‘may all of your dreams and wishes be fulfilled’ and also represents humility. They also symbolize a fresh start, so perhaps if you or a friend are having love difficulties, sharing a cup of chamomile tea may inspire you to begin a new journey.
The mint family is found on every continent except for Antarctica, and has several entries in the book. Incredibly common, peppermint means affability, cordiality, love and warmth of feeling. It has been used for centuries to refresh homes and help rid them of negative energy. It has also traditionally meant virtue. Spearmint symbolizes burning love, warm feelings and warm sentiment. Like peppermint, spearmint essential oil is helpful as aromatherapy for emotional regulation, tension and regaining concentration.
I was surprised to see basil listed as another herb that includes love in its symbolism. In Italy, of course, basil is a symbol for love and is widely used as a love token. Perhaps this is why it is in so many beloved Italian dishes? The fragrance of basil is said to promote thoughtful consideration between two disagreeing people, and if a married couple shares a basil leaf to rub over their hearts it was believed that fidelity would bless the relationship. If you’re having a tense moment with a friend or loved one, perhaps make a caprese salad with fresh basil to help ease tensions. At the very least, you get a tasty snack!
There are dozens of other herbs mentioned that include love and friendship as traditional symbols, but I will leave you with these. While science and medicine has advanced significantly since the formation of these symbols and beliefs have changed in the power of plants to provoke change, it is always interesting to see how history has utilized something growing just outside our back doors. The next time you sip some chamomile tea to rest after a long day, or enjoy fresh basil in a pesto dish I hope that a sense of peace and love envelops you and gives you a smile or two. Perhaps these ideas will stick in your mind as you plan out this year’s herb garden. Spring is near, after all.