Broom – Cytisus scoparius Meaning: Humility, Neatness
I love herbs. They are a gift to all the senses, smell, sight, touch and taste. What about hearing, you say, what do herbs do for the hearing? They rustle in the wind, they draw the birds with their song and they make their own noise, yes they do, but you have to slow down, be quiet and listen. Lay in the grass next to a line of blooming broom bushes on a hot summer day and listen. Be lulled into alpha state by the sound of gently buzzing insects and the muted popping of ripe seed pods as I did one day. Herbs are also very useful, as I learned while still a child. While others ran home for a bandaid after a scrape on the playground I used my “playground bandaid”, a leaf of common plantain, a “weed” which thrives in depleted soils. But the language of herbs is a mysterious one. Plaintains are also a banana-like vegetable.
Summer Savory – Satureja hortensis
I discovered the key to the Rosetta Stone of the language of herbs in my grandparents Encyclopedia Britannica. Plants had Latin names. All those hours in church finally provided something which paid off in this life, as well as the next one. Still, Latin does not solve all the confusion. Though I may savor the moment, the Latin root for the herb savory is not the same and it’s eytymology is really not known. I am fond of rue, an ingredient in my bug repellent sachets, although should I consume it as flavoring I might truly “rue the day”. To paraphrase Wilipedia, “The bitter taste of its leaves led to rue being associated with the (etymologically unrelated) verb rue “to regret”. which has roots in proto-German. Rue is well known for its symbolic meaning of regret…” You may indeed regret that bitter taste unless you like martinis. as it is still used to flavor vermouth.
Rue – Ruta Graveolens Meaning: Disdain
Herbs appeal to sight and smell through fragrant foliage and colorful flowers; one does not need to be an apothecary, a chef or a perfumer to get enjoyment from them. We humans tend to make more of things than needs be, however, and so we came up with floriography, the language of flowers. Here we pass from cryptic to cryptological as plants are given secret meanings to convet a message. While called the language of flowers, many of the plants werein fact herbs. This takes the mystery of the language of herbs to another level. The interest in floriography reached it’s height in the Victorian era and many dictionaries were published, not surprisingly with conflicting meanings. My grandmother taught me something about this as she worked her flower beds. She grew liliy of the valley, that stood for return of happiness, and honeysuckle, which meant generous and devoted affection. The big hydrangeas in font of the house signified heartlessness. I did not understand why the wonderful chives that overran the lawn had no meaning while plain old cabbage did. I was was delighted to find on Internet Archive The Language of Flowers illustrated by Kate Greenaway, almost certainly the book my grandmother had. It was from this I refreshed my memory that so many were herbs but it also brought back those wonderful memories of my grandmother. I include a link for the curious:
Lavender – Lavandula augustifolia Meaning: Distrust
Herbs are what they are. I find no logic in assigning distrust to the marvelous lavender, with it’s wonderful scent, beautiful blue violet flowers and ability to deter fleas. Why should fennel stand for strength, cheerful marigolds get stuck with grief, or tiny, low-growing thyme mean activity? While it was an amusing diversion to explore that side path of the language of herbs. going forward I am going to trust in lavender. I will not disdain rue and I will not flee away from pennyroyal. The only fleeing will be done by fleas when I combine them in my repellant sachets to insure the cats aren’t exposed to pesticides. Herbs are what they are. Their language is mysterious because language is our creation. The books give no mysterious meaning to catnip, perhaps because we are not able to properly appreciate it. There are many who do, they just don’t write books.
Catnip – Nepeta cataria Meaning: Absolute ecstasy
(Meaning provided by a unanimous vote of my cats)