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Lily Of The Valley

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Names of Lily of the Valley, past and present

French: muguet / muguet de Mai
Spanish: lirio de los valles
Macedonian: momina selza (lit. 'lady's tears')
Italian / Latin (esoteric): Convallaria / Convallaria herba
English: lily of the valley / May bells / May lily / Our Lady's tears / ladder-to-Heaven / Jacob's ladder / constancy
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Convallaria majalis / Convallaria magalis

Background and History

The lily of the valley is a popular flowering plant that thrives in several areas in the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Originally a wild-crafted plant, it has since been cultivated into a broad range of varietals chiefly employed as ornamental plants. The lily of the valley is characterised by its creeping, vine-like nature and the profusion of small, tear-drop or bell-shaped flowers of (typically) white or ivory-white hue, although other hues have now been made available through choice cultivation and breeding. [1]

Lily Of The Valley
Lily Of The Valley
Image source -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Convallaria_majalis_0002.JPG - CC

The flowers of the lily of the valley emit a very heady, attractive perfume once prized as a wedding flower and a ceremonial sacrificial flower used in many pagan magickal rites. The whole of the plant has been used medicinally since ancient times, with prolific usage sometime in the early to late High Middle Ages, lasting (in some areas) to until the latter part of the 1700s. The use of lily of the valley as a medicinal plant has declined in modern times - due to the fact that the plant is highly dangerous, with all of its constituent parts being poisonous, especially the berries and the leaves with even minor consumption of any of its parts resulting in extreme abdominal pain, flushing, coldness of the extremities, vomiting, reduced heart rate, and (in cases of excessive consumption) eventually death. Despite its deadly nature, lily of the valley is employed as a medicinal plant by many expert herbalists, citing that centuries of proper usage, preparation and dosage (and a hefty amount of experience and expertise) yield an indispensable medicinal plant that needn't be feared, but that must be used with the utmost care and reverence.

Lily Of The Valley - General Herbal Uses

The most common use of lily of the valley nowadays is as an ornamental garden plant and ground cover, not only due to the fact that its flowers yield a colourful and fragrant display, but also because of its ability to fill up an area in a very short amount of time, provided that the environs is in accordance with its preferred soil type and climate.

The secondary use (originally its primary use) of the lily of the valley is as an herbal medicine. Its medicinal use was quite popular from the High Middle Ages onwards, where its different constituents were further refined. The whole plant was employed as a medicine, although later on, the flowers and the roots became choice parts of medicinal use. Initially employed as a diuretic, chiefly by infusing the dried or fresh flowers with hot water, it was later employed by herbalists as a cardiac tonic, since it shared a similar function with the synthetic heart-drug Digitalis. [2]

A mild decoction of its roots and flowers were usually prescribed for palsy and wasting diseases. It was also prescribed to individuals who had weak constitutions or symptoms of a weak heart, as it was said to encourage the normalization of its function as well as improve its internal vigour. Lily of the Valley has also been employed as weak purgative, typically by infusing it into some type of alcoholic beverage, in effect creating a tincture of its flowers or roots (if not a combination of both). [3]

The flowers themselves have been used as a remedy for urinary tract infections and other urinary complaints and are typically brewed into a very mild tisane. The whole plant has also been used as a means to flush out toxins from the body effectively, as was the case during the First World War where incidences of gaseous poisoning through the use of mustard gas were fairly common.

Throughout history, references to lily of the valley being used to treat apoplexy, fits, anxiety and epilepsy have been recorded. The flowers, when infused into oil (typically olive) also made for an excellent healing salve for wounds, sores, and other ailments of the skin. A similar oil, but one made from its roots is an excellent remedy for ulcerations and burns, and makes for a good scar remover if used regularly. This oil can also be employed as an embrocation for aches and pains stemming from rheumatism, arthritis, or from injuries such as sprains. [4]

The petals of the lily of the valley may be dried and powdered into a form of snuff, and taken (as is regular snuff) via the nasal passages, as it is said to relieve migraines and help improve one's concentration. The roots, flower petals, and even the leaves may be macerated in wine or some other alcoholic beverage, the ensuing tincture then taken (in the case of wine-infusions, sans any dilution) for anxiety, stress, and apoplexy. Purified water, infused with the petals of lily of the valley, can be used as a remedy for sore eyes, conjunctivitis, and any other type of ocular discomfort. [5]

The use of lily of the valley, in very minute to somewhat moderate doses is considered "technically" safe, although it being a poisonous plant, extreme caution must be practiced when using it. While any herbalist can collect and store lily of the valley in their medicine chest, its use by beginning herbalists is not advised. If ever it is attempted, guidance from an expert herbalist is a must.

Lily Of The Valley - Esoteric Uses

In the magickal context, lily of the valley can be used as an invocatory herb, and is considered sacred to Apollo. Both the flowers and the root of the lily of the valley can be dried and used as an incense. When employed in this manner, lily of the valley is said to stave away depression and encourage happiness into one's life. In this regard, it is the essence found in the plant's oils (usually derived as an essential oil) that performs this action. This essential oil can be used in aromatherapy to relieve depression and reduce anxiety. In ancient pagan religions, the flowers of the lily of the valley is sacred to the Celtic goddess Ostara, and is burnt as sacrificial incense during her feasts. Incense made from lily of the valley flowers is also said to attract positivism into a person's life, as well as peace of mind, and tranquility. Lily of the valley is also said to increase one's sensitivity to psychic phenomenon, and to enhance one's intellectual prowess, as it is associated with the patron god of intellectuals – Mercury. [6]

Lilium convallium in old Herbals & Pharmocopœia:

Elizabeth Blackwell's "A Curious Herbal" (1751): 1. It grows to be 8 or 10 inches high, ye leaves are a grass green, and the flowers white. 2. It grows in the vallies, but chiefly in gardens and flowers in May and June. 3. Lillies of the Valley are of great service in all disorders of the Head and Nerves, as apoplexy, Epilepsy, Palsy, Convulsions, Vertigo. They are much used in Errhines and cephalic snuff. A large quantity of them are put in the aqua Paeoniae C. and spirit. Lavendulae C. and the Aq. Antepileptica.

William Thomas Fernie - "Herbal Simples" (1895): LILY OF THE VALLEY - The Lily of the Valley grows wild in many of our English woods, and possesses special curative virtues, which give it, according to modern knowledge, a just place among Herbal Simples of repute. This is the parent flower of our graceful, sweet-scented scape of pendent, milk-white little floral bells, enshrined within two broad leafy blades of dark green, and finding general favour for the jardiniere, or the button-hole.
Its name Convallaria majalis is derived from convallis, "a valley," and majalis, "belonging to the month of May," when this Lily comes into flower.
Rustics corrupt the double title to "Liry Confancy" and provincially the plant is known as "Wood Lily," "May Lily," and "May Blossom." The taste of the flowers is acrid and bitter; they have been employed with benefit, when dried and powdered, as snuff, for the headache, and giddiness arising from weakness. A tincture of the plant is made, and can be procured from any leading druggist. The active medicinal principle is "convallarin," which slows the disturbed action of a weak, irritable heart, whilst at the same time increasing its power. Happily, the remedy is a perfectly safe one, and no harm has been known to occur from taking it experimentally in full and frequent doses; so that, in this respect, it is far preferable to the Fox Glove, which is apt to accumulate in the blood with poisonous results. To make the tincture of Convallaria, one part of the flowers is treated with eight parts of spirit of wine (proof); and the dose is from five to fifteen drops, with a tablespoonful of water, three times in the twenty-four hours.
Also an infusion may be made with boiling water poured over the whole plant - root, stems, and flowers; and this infusion may be given continuously for from five to ten days; but it should be left off for a time, as soon as the irritability of the heart is subdued, and the pulse steady and stronger. If taken during an attack of palpitation and laboured breathing from a weak heart, the benefit of the infusion in tablespoonful doses is felt at once.
A fluid extract is further prepared, and may be mixed in doses of from five to twenty drops in water. The Russian peasants have long employed the Lily of the Valley for certain forms of dropsy, when proceeding from a faulty heart.
In the summer, when the flowers are in bloom, two drachms, by weight, of the leaves should be steeped in a pint of water, either cold or boiling; and the whole of this may be taken, if needed, during the twenty-four hours. It will promote a free flow of urine. Culpeper commended the Lily of the Valley for weak memory, loss of speech, and apoplexy; whilst Gerard advised it for gout. In Devonshire it is thought unlucky to plant a bed of these Lilies, as the person who does so will probably die within the next twelve months.
Distilled water from the flowers was formerly in great repute against nervous affections, and for many troubles of the head, insomuch that it was treasured in vessels of gold and silver. Matthiolus named it Aqua aurea, "golden water"; and Etmuller said of the virtues of the plant, Quod specifice armabit impotentes maritos ad heltum veneris.
A spirit made from the petals is excellent as an outward embrocation for rheumatism and sprains; and in some parts of Germany, a wine is prepared from the flowers mixed with raisins. Old Gerard adopted an unaccountable method for extracting these virtues of the Lilies. He ordered that, "The flowers being close stopped up in a glass vessel, should be put into an ant hill, and taken away again a month after, when ye shall find a liquor in the glass which, being outwardly applied, will help the cure of the gout."
After the blossom has fallen off a berry is formed, which assumes in the autumn a bright scarlet colour and proves attractive to birds.

Lily-Of-The-Valley - References & Futher Reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lily_of_the_Valley
[2] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/l/lilofv23.html
[3] http://www.natural-herbal-remedies.net/lily-of-the-valley.html
[4] http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.com/2011/02/lily-of-valley-health-benefits-and-uses.html
[5] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/l/lilofv23.html
[6] http://www.magialuna.net/l.html

Lilium convallium

Lilium convallium
Lilium convallium

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

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