May’s Flower ~ Lily Of The Valley

COMMON NAME:  lily of the valley
GENUS:  Convallaria
C. mabalis fortunei ‘Giant Bells’-up to fifteen large bells; grows 8 to 10 inches tall; suitable for forcing; will bloom approximately three weeks after being planted.
FAMILY:  Liliaceae
BLOOMS:  spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Flower stalks are arching and hold ten to fifteen fragrant, white, bell-shaped blossoms. The stems are strong, which helps to make this a good cut flower. Large ribbed leaves clasp the stem.
CULTIVATION:  Top-coat plants with a dressing of manure each fall, and fertilize heavily. Lily of the valley should be planted in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Plant the small pips horizontally, 2 inches deep, 3 inches apart, and be sure to place them in an area that gets plenty of moisture. Light shade or well-filtered sun give this plant the best lighting conditions. Lily of the valley spreads from year to year and is easy to grow.

Native to most European countries, lily of the valley is a favorite of people everywhere. It is cherished and revered in many countries for its symbolism and folklore.
A medieval Christian legend of the origin of lily of the valley told of Saint Leonard, a close friend of King Clovis of France {of the iris legend}. Though a brave and fearless fighter, Saint Leonard was something of a recluse and found life at court unappealing. In A.D. 559 he asked permission to go live in the woods so he could spend his days among the trees and flowers communing with God. The dragon Temptation, who also lived in those woods, was furious that Saint Leonard had invaded his privacy. He appeared to Saint Leonard one day, in the form of a dragon, demanding that he leave the woods. Leonard was at prayer and did not hear him, so this devil dragon went to Saint Leonard’s hut and burned it down with his fiery breath. When Saint Leonard returned, he fought the dragon. It was a fierce battle, and much blood was spilled. Wherever the dragon lost a drop of blood, a poisonous weed began to grow. Wherever Saint Leonard’s blood fell, a lily of the valley appeared. After three days Saint Leonard was finally able to slay the dragon.
Much symbolism involves lily of the valley. It is considered the sign of Christ’s second coming and is often called ladder to heaven or Jacob’s tears. The plant is also mentioned in the Song of Solomon in the Bible. Mary’s tears are yet another name for lily of the valley; legend says that when Mary cried at the cross, her tears turned into this flower. It is considered a symbol of purity and humility, sweetness, and renewed happiness. In some areas, lily of the valley was thought to have the power to help men envision a better world.
Lily of the valley was used extensively for medicine. Several elaborate recipes exist for creating concoctions from the plant. One of these was written by John Gerard,, a sixteenth-century English botanist. He said that if you put blossoms from lily of the valley into a glass, set the glass in an anthill, and cover it up for a month, the liquid found in the glass after this time would be invaluable for treating the “paine and griefe of the gout.” A similar recipe is in the first chapter of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. A recipe that is a bit easier to carry out calls for soaking one-half pound of the flowers in a liter of wine for four weeks. This creates a liquor that was considered more precious than gold. Smeared on the forehead and the back of the neck, it was thought to make one have good common sense.
Another early botanist suggested that the flowers, distilled in wine, would restore speech “unto those that have the dum palsie.” The flowers, dipped in the wine and eaten, were thought to relieve migraine headaches. Lily of the valley was also used to treat eye inflammations, to strengthen memory, and as a love potion. The medicinal power of the plant was thought to be so strong that infusions made from it were kept in gold and silver vessels.
Despite its reputed powers, all parts of the plant are considered somewhat poisonous. It, like the foxglove, contains substances that are used to strengthen the heart. It should never be used without first consulting a doctor. It is sometimes used to treat patients recovering from a stroke, and it seems to be particularly effective at helping restore speech.
Occasionally called glovewort, lily of the valley was used to treat sore or chapped hands.
The genus name is from the Latin word for the valley and perhaps refers to the original home of the plant, though it can be found growing naturally in many different habitats.
Lily of the valley, cultivated for over 400 years, seems to be loved everywhere. Sprigs of the blossoms are worn in the lapel on May Day in France, and it is the national flower of Finland. In Germany and Scandinavian countries, it was thought to be good luck to go to the woods and pick “Virgin’s tears” in the spring.
Often carried in bridal bouquets, lily of the valley is sometimes considered the “fifth thing” that a bride should carry {right after something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue}. The Dutch carry this a bit further and often plant the pips of lily of the valley in the first garden the couple owns. Each time the plants bloom. year after year, the couple is supposed to celebrate the renewal of their love.

Lily of the valley leaves makes a good dye, changing cloth to either yellow or green, depending on what season of the year the leaves are gathered.

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