Notes from the Apothecary: Bluebell
Tiny bluebells are, for me, a sign that spring is truly on the way. In the woods near where I live, they spring up, completely unannounced, sometime between the snowdrops and the wild garlic. It’s a “blink and you miss it” kind of phenomenon; Come to early, and the ground is just green and dormant. Come too late, and the flowers have already wilted, the plants getting ready to store their energy until next year.
The most spectacular showing of bluebells is at a patch of woodland a little further afield, by the banks of one of our waterways. These bluebells arise and turn the woodland floor into a wishing mirror of the sky above, hopeful for cloudless days ahead.
The Kitchen Garden
There are many plants known as bluebells. Scottish bluebells (pictured), also called harebells, are a species of campanula: Capanula rotundifolia. English bluebells, possibly the most famous, are related to hyacinths, with the scientific name Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica are very similar to English bluebells, but don’t have the classic “drooping” bells. There are many hybrids between the two Hyacinthoides species.
In American gardens, you may see various species of bluebells, some of which may be bought at garden nurseries but others may have escaped their pots and containers and spread. Bluebells can be considered an invasive species, so always check the laws where you live before introducing bluebells to your garden. Conversely, in the UK bluebells are protected, and it’s against the law to dig up a bluebell bulb.
Every part of the bluebell is poisonous, to animals as well as humans. Keep kids and pets away from them – they’re for admiring, not touching! They do attract a wide range of insects, including bees, hoverflies, and butterflies, so they make a wonderful addition to any wildlife garden in spring.
Despite their toxicity, bluebells have been associated with medicine for many years. However, you should never attempt to replicate folk remedies using bluebells as they can make you very sick.
In her Modern Herbal, Mrs Grieve noted that the bulbs had diuretic properties, and the powdered bulb was used to treat leucorrhoea, a type of vaginal discharge possibly caused by hormonal imbalance.
One folk remedy was that bluebells were good for snakebites, although there’s no known evidence to back this up.
The Witch’s Kitchen
Many strange folktales surround bluebells. They are associated with fairies, in a variety of dark and doom-filled ways. Pick a bluebell and you may be led astray and wander, lost, until you perish. If you hear the impossibility of a bluebell ringing, your death may soon be at hand. A bluebell wood was not thought to be a place to wander alone.
Bluebells are a natural indicator of ancient woodland in many parts of Europe, so you know that when you see native bluebells, you’re walking through something much older than you or perhaps even your ancestors. Stick to the paths and leave nothing but footprints.
Bluebells are also associated with honesty, and according to the National Trust, one folk legend states that wearing a garland of the pretty flowers compels you to tell the truth.
Bluebells are also associated with gratitude, humility, and consistency – possibly because of their persistence in reappearing year after year in the same spot.
Home and Hearth
Find the truth of a situation by meditating on the image of bluebells. Use your favourite meditation technique to move into a dreamlike state, whilst resting comfortably where you won’t be disturbed. Imagine yourself in a cool woodland, with sunlight streaming through the leaves, dappling the forest floor. Bluebells are in flower, bright and almost surreal, across most of the ground. You are safely on a path and can leave the woodland at any time without damaging the flowers. You can see a clear way out in both direction and feel safe. You rest for a while here, in whatever way makes you most comfortable. You could sit on a bench, or a tree stump, or stand relaxed, or lie down. You could simply be, without worrying about your form. Listen; what do you hear? Make a note of it in your mind. What can you smell? Is there something more than the scent of flowers? What else do you see? Note any other plants or animals, or any items that seem out of place. See if you can touch the path, or feel the air on your face. Make a mental note of any sensations.
Let your question arise gently in your mind. Does the energy in this place change? Can you see anything different? Focus on the bright, peaceful colour of the flowers. Let them clear then fill your mind. Breathe, and leave this place whenever you feel ready to. Come back to yourself gently and kindly. Feel your breath moving in and out, and move your body in a way that’s comfortable for you, feeling safe and settled where you are.
Drink some water then write everything down in a journal or even in a notes app on your phone. You can draw, if it’s more effective for you. Look up the correspondences of any creatures, plants, or inanimate objects you saw. Note any messages or prominent thoughts that popped into your head. If you do this (or any other) visualisation regularly, look for patterns, repeated images, or feelings that constantly recur. You may find that your answers appear quicker than you would imagine!
I Never Knew…
According to Mrs Grieve, the gummy substance found in bluebell bulbs used to be used as the gum in bookbinding. It’s possible that it helped repel creatures that would otherwise eat the paper. The same starchy goo was used to keep neck ruffs stiff during Elizabethan times.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.