To Elizabethans, bluebells were enchanted, and heaven forbid you hear their bell-shaped heads ring, for death would likely follow. Links with folklore were still prevalent more than three centuries later, as borne out by Cicely Mary Barker’s depictions of Flower Fairies (the first book in the series was published in 1923) and her assertion that the bluebell be ‘the peerless Woodland King’.
Deep blue H. non-scripta, a perennial bulb, flourishes in humus-rich soils, and on limestone ridges. Young shoots push their way up through leaf litter to allow their flowers to open in the dappled shade of trees such as beech and oak.
The bluebell is a natural indicator that helps us to identify ancient woodlands, where it has grown for hundreds of years. Rich in pollen and nectar, it is also a vital food source for many native insects, including its main pollinator, the bumblebee.
Believed to call the fairies when rung, and thought to be unlucky to walk through a mass of bluebells, because it was full of spells.It is also considered an unlucky flower to pick or bring into the house. The Latin name for this flower is Endymion who was the lover of the moon Goddess, Selene. The goddess put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so she alone
could enjoy his beauty. Bluebells were said by herbalists to help prevent nightmares, and used as a remedy against leprosy, spider-bites and tuberculosis, but the bluebell is poisonous. Noted for the gummy sap from its bulbs, which made it useful as a starch substitute. It was also used as glue for bookbinding (as it is so toxic it stops certain insects from attacking the binding) and setting the tail feathers on arrows. The same type of technology is used today, varnish that covers overhead telephone wires and the wiring systems of nuclear missiles contain a poison that stops insects, birds, and mice etc from chewing the outer casing of the wires thus stopping a short circuit. When you consider the potentially fatal results of faulty wiring on a missile I think you will agree, its use is warranted.
The bulbs are extremely toxic and this toxicity may be the origin of the superstitious belief that anyone who wanders into a ring of bluebells will fall under fairy enchantment and soon after die. Other tales come from a time when forests where forbidding places, people believed that the bells rang out to summon fairies to their gatherings, unfortunately any human who heard a bluebell ring would soon die.
However, not all the Bluebell’s folklore is quite so gloomy. Some believed that by wearing a wreath made of the flowers, the wearer would be compelled to speak only truth. Others believed that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one you love.
Where Bluebells are found in hedgerows it may indicate an ancient hedge as their presence is indicative of ancient woodland.
Geoffery Grigson, author of An Englishman’s Flora, also points out that many Bluebell names such as Snake’s Flower, Adder’s Flower, Crows Flower, Cuckoo Flower and Granfer Griggles, are shared with the Early Purple Orchid, with which it often grows in old woods. Together these two flowers may have symbolized the potency and fertility of spring for ancient people and have special magical properties that we no longer fully understand.