Sunday, February 21, 2010

Convallaria majilis

First, the edged form...
and then the striped one...
It's funny, but I had no luck with the plain old all green variety, but these two variegated ones grow and multiply just fine. They like some sun, though probably not the hot afternoon type. They are a woodsy plant and will sometimes make a large patch and other times, just kind of wander or ramble through a bed. Mine do both in various parts of the garden. The flowers bloom here in late spring, a lovely scent if brought into the house.
The common name, of course, is Lily of the Valley, though it is also known as May Lily or Our Lady's Tears. Until recently, despite its being a common garden flower, it was considered an official drug. There is a long history of its value, not only as a substitute for Digitalis, but in a number of other situations. This fragrant garden flower has followed man from one garden to another for many centuries, and was mentioned as early as the fourth century.
In medicine, the whole plant may be used, especially the rhizome and roots, but the carefully dried tops (including flower stalks) are also quite potent. It is usually administered as a tincture. Grieve's Herbal says:
... valued as a cardiac tonic and diuretic, the action of the drug closely resembles that of Digitalis, though it is less powerful; it is used as a substitute and strongly recommended in valvular heart disease, also in cases of cardiac debility and dropsy. It slows the disturbed action of a weak irritable heart, whilst at the same time increasing its power. It is a perfectly safe remedy. No harm has been known to occur from takin it in full and frequent doses, it being preferable in this respect to Digitalis ...

Yet, even with this laudatory statement some caution is advised, as lily of the valley is said to be quite poisonous if eaten fresh. As with the others, my inclination is to pretty much avoid any of these remedies unless one does a whole lot of research beyond what the old herbals mention.
The mucilaginous nature of the plant juices suggests that lily of the valley might be healing in external conditions, and one does indeed find a suggestion that "a poultice of the roots takes away the marks of bruises." Culpeper's Complete Herbal written in the seventeenth century, even says that "The distilled water of the flowers is very effectual and is recommended to take freckles, spots, and sunburn from the face and other parts of the body." And Jane, a redhead says "Just what's wrong with freckles?????" I could never understand why someone would want to get rid of them. I've always like mine - maybe because it is something none of my friends had when I was growing up, me being the only red head I knew. I also remember a lovely cologne, Muguet des Bois, that I used back then that had the scent of lily of the valley. I no longer use any sort of cologne as I spend so much time in the gardens and anything scented seems to attract unwanted attention from bugs, but I remember it fondly and if I were to go back to cologne, I might be tempted by that one.

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