Notes from the Apothecary: Hyacinth
The hyacinth is a flowering plant which grows from a bulb. It has beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers and is very popular during the holiday season and spring. This easy to grow plant has a wealth of history and mythology, and could bring a touch of magic into your home as well as a blast of floral colour and fragrance.
The Kitchen Garden
Hyacinths are poisonous so aren’t grown for culinary purposes. They contain oxalic acid, a compound that causes skin irritation externally. If taken internally it can cause:
- Damage to mucous membranes
- Damage to respiratory tract
- Shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the lungs
- Swollen larynx
15 to 30 grams of oxalic acid may cause death. Never consume hyacinth, and keep them away from children and animals. Wear gardening gloves or other protective gloves when planting the bulbs to avoid skin irritation. Wash your hands afterwards.
Hyacinths naturally flower in spring, and make a beautiful border plant. Their fragrance is very popular and they attract pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. They come in various colours, but the most common tend to be blue and white. Hyacinths are often “forced” or encouraged to bloom much earlier to coincide with the holiday season.
How to grow hyacinths:
- Plant hyacinth bulbs outdoors in early autumn for March or April flowering. If you buy specially prepared bulbs for winter flowering, plant these no later than September.
- Plant bulbs with the pointy end upright about 4 inches deep, in soil with good drainage and some compost. Make sure there is a space of at least 3 inches between each bulb. Once planted, pat soil down over the bulbs and water.
- Hyacinths can also be grown in containers. Make sure the container has drainage holes. To make the drainage even better, add some grit and lift the container onto bricks to raise it off the ground.
If you live in a climate which gets frosty, protect hyacinths with fleece or plastic. They can come indoors to flower and you can take them outside once the weather warms up again.
Some sources claim that the seeds of hyacinth, or hyacinth beans, have healing properties. These include anti-inflammatory properties, galactagogue properties (increases lactation) and even use as an antidote to snake bites. The high amounts of oxalic acid make any of these applications extremely unwise.
The fragrance of hyacinth is often replicated and may offer the following benefits:
- Improved mood
- Reduced muscle tension
- Reduced stress levels
Don’t apply it directly to your skin. Use fragrance oils in an oil burner or diffuser, and in small amounts. Never leave an oil burner or diffuser on while you are sleeping.
Having the plants in your house can safely fill a room with the fragrance of hyacinths, making it a calmer and more welcoming place.
The Witch’s Kitchen
The hyacinth is named for Hyacinthus, a hero in Greek mythology. He was the lover of Apollo, god of archery, prophecy, music and more. Hyacinthus was so beautiful and had many admirers. However, Hyacinthus only had eyes for Apollo. They hunted together, they climbed mountains together, and Apollo taught Hyacinthus many skills including archery and the secrets of prophecy.
One of Hyacinthus’ admirers was Zephyrus, the West Wind. Jealous of Apollo, Zephyrus took action. One day, as Hyacinthus and Apollo competed to see who could throw a discus the furthest, Apollo threw the disc so high it split the clouds. Hyacinth ran to catch it, and Zephyrus blew the discus off course and into Hyacinthus’ head.
In other versions, the injury was a genuine accident and Apollo bore the responsibility after the discus bounced off the ground into Hyacinthus’ skull.
The injury was fatal, and Apollo did not have the skills to heal him, even using Ambrosia, the Gods’ drink of immortality. Denied the right to join his love in death, the deity created a flower from the blood of Hyacinthus: the hyacinth.
From this tale we can link the hyacinth to the following:
- The futility and danger of jealousy
- Beware of carelessness
- True love
- Death and rebirth
Eventually, Apollo was able to resurrect Hyacinthus and he became a divine hero and immortal. Some scholars believe that Hyacinthus pre-dated Apollo and was a nature deity representing the cycle of the seasons; new growth in spring and the death of plants in the heat of summer.
A Spartan festival, Hyacinthia, may have lasted three days and mourned the death of Hyacinthus and the rebirth. Young people may have had their initiations into adulthood during this type of festival, reinforcing the themes of transformation and growth.
Home and Hearth
Growing your own hyacinth from a bulb can be a spell for achieving your goals. As you plant the bulb, focus on your goal, what you want to achieve.
Focus on the earth, and how you are grounded to the earth, a part of the world, made of the same atoms as everything else.
Think about the air being the right temperature for your plant, and how the air keeps you alive with every breath.
Think about the sun that will shine upon the flowers once they bloom, and will help the plant feed itself. Think about the fires of creativity and ambition within yourself.
Water the plant and think about the power of water; its destructive and healing properties, and the power of your own emotions.
Keep this hyacinth inside your home. Look after it, move it if it becomes too cold. Water it before it gets too dry. Support it if it starts to fall over (very common when bulbs are grown in small pots!). Every day, do a little for your hyacinth and a little for yourself. The hyacinth encourages you to love yourself, to love your goals, to be brave, playful, and remember that love has no limits.
To further cement the magic, keep a journal of your own progress and the progress of your plant. Take photos of the growth. Exult in the satisfaction of growing something and keeping it alive, and feel triumph in your own achievements. Be brave enough to applaud yourself, and kind enough to try again if things go wrong.
I Never Knew…
*All flower images copyright free via Unsplash. The Death of Hyacinth by Alexandre Kiseliov, late 19th century, public domain.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.