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Monday, October 10, 2011


Wallflowers are native to southern Europe and Greece, and are sometimes called Aegean wallflowers and gillyflowers, although the latter name also refers to pinks which are closely related to carnations and not at all related to wallflowers which are in the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family. Wallflowers are related to cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, mustard, horseradish and turnips. It usually flowers between April and June when it attracts a lot of insects and bees. As the name suggests it grows well on walls and cliffs and can grow to 2½ feet high.
  The original wallflower was named Cheiranthus cheiri by Linnaeus (cheiros meaning hand and anthos flower in Greek). However it has undergone a botanical name change and is now Erysimum cheiri. It was held in people’s hands during festivals in the ancient world and this may be why it got its original name.
  The wallflower is poisonous in large amounts but has been used as a wound herb for Roman soldiers in battles, and a tincture of the whole plant was once used to dull the pain of cutting wisdom teeth. Formerly it was used as a diuretic, and to bring on a woman’s period if it were late. It has also been used to treat impotence and paralysis, and this might be because it contains cheiranthin which has a stronger action on a weak heart then digitalis which comes from the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea); because of its effects on the heart it is not wise to use wallflowers for any medicinal purpose at home.
Wallflowers wild
  In the past wallflowers have been used to treat rheumatism, spasms, nervous problems and as a purgative, while its distilled oil has been used in perfumes. The oil can smell unpleasant if not distilled.
  In the Middle Ages, these plants were grown in monastery gardens, having been introduced into the British Isles at sometime during the Norman Conquest (after 1066). Their leaves were crushed and applied to wounds to heal them, used as an antiseptic dressing. The seeds apparently have expectorant properties as well as an oil which seems not to have been used very much in medicine in the past.
  Nicholas Culpeper the 17th century English herbalist says that Galen (c.130-200 AD) believed that the yellow wallflowers had the best medicinal value, and continued by saying that a wallflower: -
  “..cleanses blood and fretteth the liver and reins (kidneys) from obstruction, provokes  women’s courses, expels…the dead child; helps the hardness and pain of the mother, and of spleen also; stays inflammation and …comforts and strengthens any weak part, or out of joint, helps to cleanse the eyes from mistiness and films upon them and to cleanse the filthy ulcers in the mouth or any other part, and is a singular remedy for the gout and all aches and pains in the joints and sinews. A conserve made of the flowers is used for a remedy both for the apoplexy and the palsy.”
  Young women who were not asked to dance at balls in the past were known as wallflowers, perhaps because they stayed close to the walls so as to be less noticeable. The wallflower is a symbol of misfortune in love, perhaps due to this 14th century Scottish legend made famous in the poetry of the Robert Herrick (1591-1674). The legend has it that Elizabeth, the daughter of the Earl of March promised to marry a man from a clan which were enemies of hers. She was confined to a castle but the young man entered dressed as a wandering minstrel or troubadour. They organized an escape plan and she was to climb out of a castle window using a rope made of silk. This is a part of the poem: -
   “Up she got upon a wall
     Attempted down to slide withal;
     But the silken twist untied,
     She fell, and bruised, she died.
     Love in pity to the deed
     And her loving, luckless speed,
     Twined her to this plant we call
     Now the Flower of the Wall.”
  I have always liked wallflowers, especially the brown-orange ones which grew in my grandmothers’ gardens. My paternal grandmother probably used them in some medicinal concoction or made the flowers into a conserve. However I only remember playing in them and loving their fragrance. 

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