Naked Narcissus

Narcissus are the classic spring-flowering bulb. For many people, appearance of these delicate flowers outside signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Indoor gardeners can enjoy narcissus too—they are generally less than a foot in height and bought already in bloom in decorative pots. Like other spring-flowering bulbs, narcissus can be forced to bloom, but will require a chilling period of about 12 weeks. The exception to this are the paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus jonquilla Tazetta type), a warm-weather Asian type that doesn’t require chilling to bloom and is perfect for the indoor grower.

Narcissus (another name for the daffodil), meaning – “narcissism”, which comes from “narke, ” the Ancient Greek work for deep sleep, stupor or numbness. Narke is also the root of the word “narcotic.” The name is probably a reference to a toxic paralyzing alkaloid contained within narcissi bulbs. The good news is the bulbs taste just awful, making it highly unlikely that anyone could even keep down one bite.

Herbal (from Culpeper and in relation to the yellow Daffodil)’Yellow Daffodils are under the dominion of Mars, and the roots thereof are hot and dry in the third degree. The roots boiled and taken in posset drink cause vomiting and are used with good success at the appearance of approaching agues, especially the tertian ague, which is frequently caught in the springtime. A plaster made of the roots with parched barley meal dissolves hard swellings and imposthumes, being applied thereto; the juice mingled with honey, frankincense wine, and myrrh  and dropped into the ears is good against the corrupt and running matter of the ears, the roots made hollow and boiled in oil help raw ribed heels; the juice of the root is good for the morphew and the discolouring of the skin.’

My advice would definitely be to just enjoy your Narcissus and Daffodils rather than engage them to address ‘approaching agues’ particularly of the ‘tertian’ kind – even though we will all be more prone to these now it is Springtime. I read a fair few old herbals and I must say that the above passage is a more perplexing one, I have no idea what a tertian ague is or indeed raw ribed heels. Therefore, I personally will not be engaging in any Narcissus related herbal healing, unless it is purely for the soul.

Greek Mythology Son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was distinguished for his beauty. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, Narcissus’s mother was told by the blind seer Tiresias that he would have a long life, provided he never recognized himself. His rejection, however, of the love of the nymph Echo or (in an earlier version) of the young man Ameinias drew upon him the vengeance of the gods. He fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring and pined away (or killed himself); the flower that bears his name sprang up where he died. Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, led the vain Narcissus to a shimmering mountain lake that mirrored his face. There, at the water’s edge , he fell in love with his image and was transfixed, caught in the spell of his beauty.  Every time he tried to touch the image it disappeared in the ripples of water, so instead he simply sat at the water’s edge and stared sadly at the reflection. The “drooping” of the daffodil symbolizes Narcissus admiring himself. The Gods thought that Narcissus would die of hunger if he remained there any longer so they turned him into a scented flower which, to this day blossoms in the mountains in spring and which is still called Narcissus.

Thus, the daffodil symbolizes unrequited love, vanity and excessive self-love. The center of the daffodil cup is said to contain the tears of Narcissus.

The story may have derived from the ancient Greek superstition that it was unlucky or even fatal to see one’s own reflection. Narcissus was a very popular subject in Roman art. In Freudian psychiatry and psychoanalysis, the term narcissism denotes an excessive degree of self-esteem or self-involvement, a condition that is usually a form of emotional immaturity.

Folklore Roman soldiers would carry several bulbs with them and if mortally wounded, they’d chow down on the bulbs.  The bulb would work its narcotic wonder and the soldier would painlessly die.

The word “Daffodil” didn’t come into the English language until the 1500s. The old name for daffodil was “Affodyle,” believed to originate with the Old English “Affo dyle,” meaning “that which cometh early.” It ultimately derived from Dutch de affodil meaning “the asphodel”(of Greek mythology).

And it is in asphodel-covered meadows (Homer) that the souls of the dead wandered, and thus the Greek related the flower with death.

According to this legend, it was here that Hades captured Persephone after she had strayed from her companions to pick some daffodils.  Persephone, down in the land of the dead, wore a crown of the flowers.  She wore this crown for ” it is symbolic of the one flower (life) that comes back in the spring, (often the first ‘bulb’ flower to do so besides snow crocus) whose leaves while laying fallow in winter, have actually fed the rhizome under the cold ground, thereby ” increasing the root” while “looking dead.” Persephone IS the return of the light (sun’s longer days that signals that the time of seeming deadness is over….) The little flower she bent down to cup in the field  was likely signaling that it is time for the darkening, the underground time, to begin.”

The daffodil is a good example of how plant folklore continues to evolve. Most of the ancient folklore is associated with the plant being one of lost love, deception and death but, with its adoption as the symbol of the Macmillan cancer charity, it now becomes a flower of hope.

Sources; Culpeper, Traditional Herbal, The Poison Garden.

Image; Jules Cyrille-Cave – Narcissus 1890

Jules-Cyrille_Cave_-_Narcissus,_1890

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4 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on hocuspocus13 and commented:
    jinxx ♠ xoxo

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  2. Thank you for such an informative, well-written post.

    I especially like the review of the several myths examples you gave.

    Funny how it is now past February, and there is no sign of the famous Jonquil, “February Gold” in bloom (or even close) in my quarter. All I have seen so far, is Snow Crocus (for about a week) and barely a few Jumbo Crocus, but no Narcissi yet. Yet to see some Snow Glory (Chionodoxa) and Snow Drops (Galanthus) in bloom. I don’t believe there are many folks planting those these days.

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

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    1. I am also still yet to see any daffodils, although in my local parks the snow drops are out. Hopefully now the weather (after the next few days!) is set to warm up a little the daffodils will be out soon. We have had a lot of very frosty mornings in February.

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      1. Same here. We were having some mid-to-upper fifties and sixties for a short bit. Then, our temps went down to lows in the low-twenties again. So, we are having another one of those “roller-coaster” type winters.

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