Tag Archives: flower symbolism

An alternative start to the weekend: Verbena.

I was rifling through photos looking for some good florals for a gift I’m working on, and I came across this beauty.  Verbena.  It is a flower I’ve always liked.  So graceful on their long, long stems, waving softly in the breeze.

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This shot was taken in a traditional herbalist style garden in England, but before spotting it there I had not known anything about its uses.  It turns out there is a long history attached to this one, spanning a whole variety of divine and supernatural associations, as well as folklore and traditional medicine remedies.

There is also a lot of symbolism associated with the verbena flower.  The language of flowers has long been used as a subtle or secret way to convey meaning.  Some people use them to make a request for prayers or well wishes.  Verbena flowers are also symbolically used to represent healing, creativity, and happiness.   They are even used for protection against harm and evil.

Verbena has a lot of different names around the world, including Holy Herb, Herb of the Cross, Devil’s Bane.  These three possibly something to do with the belief that verbena was one of the flowers used to staunch the bleeding when Jesus was lifted down from the cross.

Ancient Egyptians called it ‘tears of Isis’, believing the verbena flower grew from the tears of the fertility goddess, Isis.  That ties in neatly with the purported galactagogic  (promoting lactation!) and emmenagogic (promoting bloodflow and bleeding!) properties attached to it in folkloric medicine.  It also makes sense of some of the other names given to verbena – Iron-Hardener, Medical Ironwort, True Ironherb and other slight variations on a similar theme.

In herbalism and folk medicine it is thought to be effective for treating a wide variety of ailments, including ear aches, arthritis pain and headaches.  As a powerful emmenagogue it can also be helpful to women suffering with their periods, but should be strictly avoided by pregnant women because of serious risk of pre-term labour.

I never fail to be amazed at the incredible properties of plants – flower power is exactly right!  There is so much more I discovered, just spending a little time searching for information.

I don’t necessarily believe everything that has been claimed, but I do find it fascinating, seeing how the perception of one little plant has evolved and grown across different times and cultures.  Now I’m wondering how many other interesting flowers I’ve appreciated for their beauty but completely under-estimated.  I might have to take another look through my archives.

Orchid obsession.


Yellow dendrobium orchid

Orchids hold a very special place in my heart.  Stunning crimson centred, white Phalaenopsis orchids featured heavily in my wedding bouquet.  As a popular symbol of beauty and refinement, orchids are a natural choice for a bridal bouquet.  I also like them for their less commonly known symbolic qualities of charm and thoughtfulness.  But it is not only the flower, but also its colour which is important when conveying meaning.  We gave buttery yellow orchids as gifts to family to mark the birth of our daughter, as yellow orchids represent new beginnings, which seemed a perfect choice.  Not that Ian had any idea about the depth of thought behind the plant and the colour when I suggested it! I also think that it is interesting how the language of flowers changes across the globe.  For instance, a Chinese friend tells me that in China, orchids are popular gifts for expectant parents as they are a token of fertility and successfully having many children.  So perhaps taking the Chinese approach we should have been receiving rather than giving orchids when our daughter was born?!

I find the hidden symbolism attached to flowers very interesting.  Immensely popular in Victorian England, but also commonly used in other parts of the world such as Japan and America, the language of flowers enabled friends and lovers to express their emotions in a society and time when it was highly unacceptable to say them out loud.  Modern British social culture enables far more freedom of expression than during the Victorian heyday of the language of flowers.  But there is something that still resonates for me in the careful, considered construction of a message through flowers.  So there was very deliberate planning behind my wedding flower choices.  Roses, pink stargazer lilies and orchids, with foliage including rosemary and bells of Ireland.  Beautiful, and with a loving message behind them. Perfect.

Living in South East Asia enables me to continue to indulge my passion for orchids.  Out here, cut flowers are pretty expensive, but you can find the most beautiful and unusual orchid plants for sale at the local markets for just a few Bruneian dollars. Long lasting, and far cheaper than an orchid back home.  Far cheaper than a bunch of flowers from the supermarket, come to that!


Phalaenopsis orchid growing outdoors.

But as much as I love my growing collection of orchids, I prefer seeing them growing wild, or planted up in the trees in a more natural arrangement.  I am always struck by the incongruity.  So fragile and elegant looking, and yet tough as old boots, clinging on to tree trunks, taking everything they need from their host tree and the air around them.  I didn’t make it to the orchid garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on the way through, but seeing the wild orchids growing here in Bali reminds me how much I love them.  So perhaps it should be on the priority list for the return stop-over.  As the Singapore national flower is actually an orchid, the stunning Vanda Miss Joaquim, it would certainly seem fitting.