In Ancient Greece, people didn’t use to grow flowers in flower beds or pots for decoration. But they’d let them spring up between their vegetables and you wouldn’t be surprised to see beautiful flowers growing betwixt onions and garlic. On your daily walks you would enjoy their beauty and aroma in open spaces where they grew plenty. In springtime, they place was full of wild roses, lillies, hyacinths, violets, narcissi and anemones.
Anemone, the Wind Rose
Anemone means “daughter of wind” and that is the how the Ancient named it seeing that its blossom would open up only when the wind blew. Meadows full of sparkling anemones dancing in the wind were to be found all over the Greek countryside. British botanist Sibthorp named the flower “Wind Rose” when seeing this picture in mount Parnassos.
Three species were known in antiquity:
Cultivated or Anemone coronalia, with blue, violet, purple or white blooms.
Wild or Anemone stellata, which sprang up from Aphrodite’s tears as she weeps for dead Adonis, or according to another version of the myth, from Adonis’ own blood. And that’s why the blooms are either white or crimson.
And finally, the anemone with dark leafs, Anemone nemorosa.
Hyakinthus orientalis or common hyacinth
Another flower of spring that sprouted up where blood dripped. This time it was the blood of youngster Hyacinth, who got killed during the clash of his two admirers, god Apollo and Zephyr. Some researchers identify the ancient flower with today’s Delphinium Ajacis, others with Gladiolus communis, but some believe it was the same as nowadays’ hyacinth.
Viola odorata or Sweet Violet, Aphrodite’s sacred flower
In a ledge of violets (“ia” in Greek), an infant was found. Snakes had been feeding him with honey and the infant survived. The infant was the son of god Apollo and Poseidon’s daughter, Evadne. The nearby shepherds, who found him, took him in and named him Iamos, after the “ia” (violets) he was found in. Later in his life he became the ancestor of Iamids, the hieratic family of Olympia.
This beautiful flower still is one of the most common flowers to be found in Greek gardens today. But it is also used to produce essential oils as sedatives for skin irritations and for perfumery, too.
Pansy belongs to the same family.
Iris florentiana was the most common species and is often to be found as the ornamental design in artworks. It carries the name of goddess Iris and it means rainbow, as well as the colored part of the eye.
In ancient texts we find the orange Lilly (lillium bulbiferum, the tiger lilly) and Turk’s cap Lilly, which is officially called Lillium martagon.
Narcissus, or jonquil, was used by the ancients to make “narcissus’ myrrh”, which was a medicine. This flower sprouted up by the lake where Narcissus died of exhaustion while admiring his reflection in water. Narcissus was the son of river Kifissos and nymph Leiriopi. The actual name of the flower probably derives from the verb “narcoo” (“ναρκόω”, root of narco), for the ancients had noticed the sleep-inducing quality of its aroma. Maybe Narcissus got his name from dying enervated by admiring his own image… Modern research has revealed that the bulb of narcissus contains Galantamine, which is used for the treatment of dementia.
The flower narcissus was the symbol of chthonic deities in ancient times.
Narcissus poeticus, the flower with a single white bloom, was also known.
The blooms of Wild Roses were definitely widely known and popular in Ancient Greece. Its official name is Rosa cinnamomea, also called Rosa majalis.
Finally, we find Rosa arvensis and Rosa centifolia, or cabbage rose, which is used for Rose petals sugar conserves.
Spring is here, enjoy it!