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Hyacinth

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Hyacinth, Other Names - Past and Present

Chinese: feng xinzi
Japanese: hiyashinsu (onomatopoeia and transliteration of the English 'hyacinth')
Korean: hiasinseu (onomatopoeia and transliteration of the English 'hyacinth')
French: jacinthe
Italian: giacinto
Spanish: jacinto
English: hyacinth / common hyacinth / garden hyacinth
German: hyazinthe
Swedish: hyacint
Greek (ancient): hyakinthos
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Hyacinthus orientalis / Hyacinthus litwinowii (not to be confused with the plants of the genus Muscaria and the plant Scilla bifolia, which are also referred to as hyacinths)

Background and History

The hyacinth is a relatively small to medium-sized bulbous flowering plant under its own distinct genus, which is characterised by its gaudy and highly alluring blue or lapis lazuli-hued flowers. It belongs to its own distinct genus - Hyacinthus, which is under the family Asparagaceae, although for a time, it was once classified as a type of lily. Other plants belonging to a different genus may be referred to as 'hyacinths' although they are not, strictly speaking, true hyacinths in the botanical sense, and are usually differentiated from hyacinth-proper through the addition of names prior to the term 'hyacinth' (i. e. grape hyacinth, water hyacinth, etc.). It is a relatively ancient plant, having been mentioned in texts dating back to the time of the Early Greeks. The name itself is Grecian in origin, in spite of the possibility that the plant may have been a native of the Eastern Mediterranean and some parts of the Palestinian border, instead of in Greece-proper. The plant may have spread through natural means from its native soil until it landed in Greece, although another very strong possibility is that the hyacinth of the Early Greeks was not hyacinth as it is known today (genus Hyacinthus), but another, different plant - the alpine squill (Scilla bifolia). Either way, hyacinth was a very popular plant for the Early Greeks, and it was attributed medicinal and magickal properties, the former nowadays being considered dubious at best and the latter simply dismissed by the scientific community.



The ancients revered hyacinth chiefly due to its uniquely eye-catching inflorescence, and also for the fact that it supposedly sprung from the spilt blood of a youth - Hyakinthos - who was beloved by the solar deity Apollo. The plant is typically propagated from bulbs, and is characterised by six tough, linear leaves of a matte but seemingly fibrous texture and appearance. It is highly discernable for the unique growth of its turquoise-hued, azure, or lapis lazuli-hued, or even lavender-tinted flowers, which spring and flourish from one, to up to three spikes that grow from the base of the plant. These startling blue flowers tend to number between six to eight heads per spike, and contribute somewhat to the trifling height of the plant, which, in some species, can reach no more than eight inches upon maturity. Some species of hyacinth boast more robust flowers than others, and so are generally more sought-after by horticulturists. Initially grown in flower gardens for its inflorescence and its bulbs (which were then employed medicinally), it is now only chiefly grown for ornamental purposes with only a very small number of alternative medicinal circles continuing the employ of its constituent parts for medicine. [1]

Common / Popular Uses

Hyacinth was initally wildcrafted in ancient times for its flowers, which were used as an early type of potpourri for perfuming rooms or scenting clothes and other personal articles. The flowers were also collected for its oil, which was used in the creation of often costly perfumes, and for the extruded dye which was derived as a general byproduct of the perfume-making process. It was also prized for its bulbs (literally, its root-system, much like the root system of onions or garlic), which was employed by medicine men or herbalists for healing.

The primary medicinal constituent part is the bulbs of the plant, which is almost always employed in its dried and powdered state, and only in very minute amounts due to the inherent toxicity of its active compounds (saponin and comisic acid), which can be fatal even in moderate dosages. The root was chiefly employed as a medicine since the time of the Early Greeks until well into the latter part of the Victorian Era, where it was generally prescribed as a sort of styptic. [2] It has also been prescribed as an additive to oral medicines which possess either stimulatory or diuretic properties, although the integration of the powdered bulb required extreme precision, as anything beyond two to three grains of the compound could already be lethal to an individual. The root was even prescribed by early Victorian doctors as a remedy for leukorrhea, and a number of 'patent medicines' sold at apothecaries or otherwise peddled by street vendors and sold to unwary customers. [3]

In times of severe food shortages however, the dried bulbs of the hyacinth were even consumed as food, although it yielded very bitter, unpalatable, and often sickening results due to the presence of saponins. When employed in its fresh state, the oral intake of hyacinth bulbs almost always results in death. After its poisonous nature was made apparent, its medicinal usage declined, although it remained a commonplace plant in most apothecaries during the latter Victorian to mid-Edwardian eras, its usage having been revamped to that of a source for fragrant essential oil, generally employed for perfumery. [4]

Nowadays, hyacinth is still cultivated for perfumery, although its use as a source of organic dye has all but declined. Due to its toxic nature, even its medicinal usage has all but died out, with only very few applied remedies remaining. The most common applications of hyacinth that remain to this day are in the horticultural world, where it is chiefly cultivated and purposely bred for its unique inflorescence. It is also commonly grown in gardens as an ornamental plant.

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

Hyacinth is a plant which is only rarely employed esoterically, but that has long been attributed occult or esoteric origins. The Greek myth of the youth Hyakinthos gave rise to the purported 'divine' attributions ascribed to the plant. It was believed that the plant was made from the spilt blood of Hyakinthos, who was murdered by the god of the North Wind, Zeypherus, out of spite for the sun god Apollo, who loved the youth. In Apollo's sorrow, he denied Hades the right to take the youth and bring him to the Underworld, opting, rather, to 'resurrect' him in the form of the flower hyacinth. Further expansions upon the intial myth suggested that Hyakinthos was a highly skilled youth, whose prowess was further honed by Apollo's teachings. Because of this, he had a somewhat sizeable cult following, and was worshipped as a sort of demi-god. [5]

The plant itself is sometimes employed magickally, although its applications tend to be somewhat limited. It is commonly associated with happiness, playfulness, and freedom and its flowers are often burnt as an incense or otherwise decocted into a potion to help combat feelings of melancholy. The smoke of hyacinth incense is also said to assist an individual in crossing the aetheric planes smoothly. It is employed as a de-hexing smudge and is said to help exorcise negative energy and replace it with positive ones. While it possesses no significant talismanic properties, it is often employed for de-hexing and uncrossing spells, typically as a 'finalising smudge' that helps to dispel whatever remaining negativity is found in a person after an initial exorcism. [6]

In spite of the fact that hyacinth has a long-standing traditional reputation as a medicinal herb, the toxicity of its constituent parts, more so its bulb, makes any attempt at oral consumption or even so much as topical application inadvisable. It should be noted that the active compounds found in the bulb and sap of hyacinth can cause severe allergic reactions, and so careful harvesting (preferably with safety gear such as gloves) is advised.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyacinth_(plant)

[3] http://www.anniesremedy.com/herb_detail281.php

[4] http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Hyacinthus+orientalis

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyacinth_(mythology)

[6] http://www.pookapages.com/Gruenwold/Magical%20Herbs.htm

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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