Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Daffodil Narcissus

William Wordsworth probably did more for the daffodil than any other in his enchanting verse:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of the bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

John Gerard sets the scene ideally for this chapter. The fair Lady Europa, entering with her Nymphs into the meadows, did gather the sweet smelling daffodils:

But when the Girles were come into
The medowes flouring all in sight, That Wench with these, this Wench with those
Trim floures, themselves did all delight: She with the Narcisse good in sent,
And she with Hyacinths content.

Gerard in his Herbal (Woodward, 1990) says “It is not greatly to our purpose, particularly to seek out their places of growing wild, seeing we have them all and every one of them in our London gardens, in great abundance. The common wild Daffodil groweth wild in fields and sides of woods in the West parts of England.”
Today, the daffodil or narcissus is a very popular garden plant and an important commercial crop, with a large number of species, hybrids and varieties in cultivation. Gerard’s Herbal lists 37 different types that were already in cultivation by the end of the l6th century, which demonstrates the popularity of the plant from the early days of horticulture. Many different daffodils are now found naturalised in grassland, hedge-banks, woodland margins, roadsides and waste ground throughout the British Isles, especially in the south.


In the Middle Ages, when the art of reading and writing was known only by a privileged few, there grew up a tradition of the language of flowers, whereby every flower had a meaning. It was a tradition that was revived by the early Victorians, who took great delight in this fanciful idea and collected together much of the information that survives to this day. The example that most of us would recognise is the giving of red roses as a sign of love. In this tradition, the daffodil is for rebuttal in domestic situations: “I do not share your feelings”. However, in battle emblems the daffodil is for regard and chivalry (Greenaway and Marsh, 1978; Pickles, 1990).


According to Culpeper's Herbal (Potterton, 1983), yellow daffodils are under the dominion of Mars.
Daffodil flowers, though beautiful to the sight, leave a feeling of sadness when the history and folklore of the plant is examined. In classical mythology there was a handsome Greek shepherd boy named Narcissus. Though he was loved by all the wood nymphs, there was one called Echo who loved him more than the rest. Unfortunately she could not tell him of her love, because she was only able to repeat his last words. It comes as no surprise to learn that Narcissus was totally unaware of Echo's love and adoration for him. He was equally unaware of the pain and suffering that his ignorance of her love was causing her. Echo became thinner and thinner as her love robbed her of her appetite, until she slowly pined away to nothing more than a spirit who took sanctuary in the mountains. Only her soft voice remained. Venus, the goddess of love, came to hear of Echo's hopeless devotion and immediately assigned the blame for her condition on Narcissus, who she decided should be punished. One day Narcissus was hunting in the forest. Little did he know that Venus had arranged with Cupid to set a magic spell on him so that he would fall in love with the first person that he saw. Coming to a crystal clear pool he stopped for a cooling drink to assuage his thirst and there in the water he saw another face rise up to meet his own as he leant over. Narcissus immediately succumbed to Cupid's spell and fell in love. Again and again he tried to catch the face of the spirit who appeared to live in the water. In vain he called out to this vision, but all that could be heard was the faint and sad echo coming from the mountains. Narcissus had fallen in love with his own reflection. Every day he returned to the pool in the hope of capturing the face that he saw there, and every day his tears added to the water in the pool. Slowly, like Echo, he began to waste away with unrequited love. The Immortals were not totally heartless and turned him into a delicate white papery flower, which would grow forever by the pool in memory of the egotistical youth. Another story continues by saying that when the nymphs came to look for him, they only found “A rising stalk with yellow blossoms crown'd”, and that the cup in the flower’s centre of all varieties contains the tears of Narcissus (Pickles, 1990).

The flower has another legend, which is even more gruesome than the former! Earth first put forth the flowers to lure the lovely Prosperine for Pluto, god of the underworld. The maid was so taken with the beauty of the daffodil that she stopped to admire it and as she stooped to pick it, the very worst happened. Pluto looking out from his hiding place took advantage of this momentary lack of attention and pounced out from his lair and seized her. It was, therefore, quite understandable why the ancients labelled the narcissus the flower of deceit. (MacFadyen, 1992).
Another version of this story is told by Perdita in William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, where it was Proserpina who was picking lilies and was subsequently captured by Pluto. However, in this story, as she dropped the lilies in her fear, they turned into daffodils as they touched the ground.


Considering that narcissus are a rich source of alkaloids, it is not surprising that the genus has figured in herbal medicine. This has been vindicated by recent developments. The Daily Mail (28 September 1996) carried a headline “Shire says it with snowdrops”. “Flower power could soon be helping sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome. Shire Pharmaceuticals is testing galanthamine, a compound found in daffodils and snowdrops, on victims of ‘yuppie flu’. The drug already has improved the mental performance of Alzheimer's patients.”
However, narcissus are not recommended for domestic use. A homoeopathic medicine is made from the bulbs and used for respiratory disease, particularly bronchitis and whooping cough. According to Culpeper's Herbal (Potterton, 1983):
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.
Galen saith: That the roots of Narcissus have such wonderfull qualities in drying, that they consound and glew together very great wounds, yea and such gashes or cuts as happen about the veins, sinues, and tendons. They have also a certaine clensing facultie. The root of Narcissus stamped with hony and applied plaisterwise, helpeth them that are burned with fire, and joineth together sinues that are cut in sunder. Being used in manner aforesaid it helpeth the great wrenches of the ancles, the aches and pains of the joints. The same applied with hony and nettle seed helpeth Sun burning. Being stamped with the meale of Darnel and hony, it draweth forth thorns and stubs out of any part of the body.
Narcissus are also referred to in John K'Eogh's Irish Herbal (Scott, 1986). Narcissus was said to have a hot and dry nature. The roots, pounded with honey were good against burns, bruised sinews, dislocations and old aches. They take away freckles and heal abscesses and sores, and they draw out thorns and splinters. A decoction of the roots is a great emetic.
It has also been used as an application to wounds. For hard imposthumes, for strained sinews, stiff or painful joints, and other local ailments. The narcissus was the basis of an ancient ointment called Narcissimum. The powdered flowers have been used as an emetic in place of the bulbs, and in the form of a syrup or infusions for pulmonary catarrh. A decoction of the dried flowers acts as an emetic, and has been considered useful for relieving the congestive bronchial catarrh of children, and also useful for epidemic dysentery. In France, narcissus flowers have been used as an antispasmodic. A spirit has been distilled from the bulb, used as an embrocation and also given as a medicine and a yellow volatile oil, of disagreeable odour and a brown colouring matter has been extracted from the flowers, the pigment being quercetin, also present in the outer scales of the onion. The Arabians commended the oil to be applied for curing baldness and as an aphrodisiac (Grieve, 1998). The influence of daffodil on the nervous system has led to giving its flowers and bulb for hysterical affections and even epilepsy, with benefit. It entered into the books as a purge and a vomitive and a cure for erysipelas and the palsy (Grigson, 1996).


On the upper Nile, Grant found a narcissus about 20 cm high, with white flowers having a waxy, yellow corona and with leaves tasting of onions. The leaves, cooked with mashed groundnuts, he reported, make a delicious spinach (Sturtevant, 1972).

by G Hanks


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©Allisonians (I sketched this for fun and it was)
Please ask me for permission to use my drawings, which are my attempt to play. I sketched this from the print of the woodcuts of the 1601 Raiotum Plantarum Historia(account of the rare plants) by Clusius, father of descriptive botany. Given free use of the prints which is aloud with mention of the book, Plant and Floral Woodcuts for Designers & Crafts(wo)men,©1974 dover Publications, Inc. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. Above is my sketch of #8 narcissus/daffodil,silly silly

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Banana This; Recycle Old Peels~ fertilizer or silver polish

There are things you can do with that old peel.

1. Do you have a green thumb? House hold plants and outside gardens require fertilization. A great way to give your plants nutrients is with a banana peel. The banana peel is very rich in potassium and phosphorus, which give that added boost to your plants soil, especially so with roses. Here is how to use a banana peel to fertilizer your soil for your plants. Remove the peel from the banana. Place the banana peel on a cookie sheet to let it air dry. Grab a paper bag or envelope. Crumble the dried banana peel and place it in the bag. Let the banana sit at room temperature for about two days. When your caring for your plant, give it a potassium treat of crumbled banana peel. Mix well in the soil to ensure the roots are fed evenly.
2. Have you been thinking about pulling out that old silver? Well there is no time like the present. Bananas peel can also be used to polish silver. Yes, polish silver. Take the old peels and place them in a blender. You want the peels to become smooth and creamy. Once they have, grab a cloth and small amounts of the creamed banana peel and begin polishing your silver. The shine will be breath taking.


Wild yeasts exist in the air around you and to some extent on the wheat berries. There are wild yeasts on grapes (unsulphured) and apples and other fruits. It is those wild yeasts which are 'captured' to make a sourdough starter. The process takes from 3 to 5 days. I wish I had specific amounts for you, but you could start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and mix in enough warm (not hot) water to make a thin paste. DO NOT make it too soupy. That, in fact, is the trick to a good starter, according to the French bread makers, and I think they should know. And after you've fooled around with the flour and water thing, you might wish to branch out into adding those unsulphured grapes, apples, sour milk, etc as a catalyst in order to capture other strains of yeast. Each of these strains has a slightly different taste. In fact if you move to another area, you might end up with a starter that produces an entirely different flavor. For instance, San Francisco sourdough bread is well known and has a distinct taste due to the wild strains in the air there. On day one you mix the flour and water (and add any catalysts to encourage fermentation) and place in a warm spot. After 3 days, the dough should be moist, inflated, and slightly sour. More flour and water is added (mixed in) and left to sit in a warm spot. After 2 days the process is repeated. Then the next day it is done again. Note the order: 3 days, 2 days, 1 day. At this point you should be able to make a loaf of bread using part of the starter and adding back what you took out in the form of more flour and water. Rule of thumb: Use about 10% starter to size of loaf. In the case of a 2 lb loaf this is a bit over 3 oz of starter (3.2 to be exact). For a 1 lb loaf 1.5 oz would be used. A book that describes this process in great detail is The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz, copyright 1993, published by Ten Speed Press, Berkley CA. If it's not still in print, try the used books stores, that's where I got mine. Or try your local library. If they don't have it, they might be able to get it for you. ©2008 by Ernestina Parziale

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