Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Common Bluebell {Hyacinthoides non-scripta}

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
'Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;
That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.
Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.
Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.
But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil --
Those bitter feelings rise?
O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood's hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,
Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.
I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others' weal
With anxious toil and strife.
'Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!'
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
~The Bluebell by Anne Bronte (1820-1849)

Other Names: English Bluebell, Auld Man's Bells, Ring-o'-Bells, Culverkeys, Wood Bells, Jacinth.

Description: The Common Bluebell is a perennial that is native to Britain. It can now also be found growing is some parts of North America, as well as other parts of Europe such as Portugal, France, and Ireland.

It is a bulbed woodland plant that is member of the Hyacinthaceae family. The plant has leaves that are a long lanceolate shape, which are located at the bottom half of the plant. The stem rises to a curve with spikes of their signature blue, pensile bell-shaped flowers on the top; the flowers themselves give of a wisp of a sweet fragrance.

It is thought that the Common Bluebell is under threat due to hybridization, and it is a protected species in the United Kingdom under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. You can view a video here on how to identify different types of Bluebells.

Warnings: As with all herbs, one should make sure to be thoroughly informed before ingesting them, and is best to do so under the guidance of a qualified healer.

From what I understand, all parts of the Common Bluebell are considered poisonous, especially the bulb.

In a report released by the Canadian government, there are cases of both people and livestock being poisoned after ingesting the plant.

Reported symptoms of poisoning for humans included: abdominal pains, diarrhea, heart rate slowed, flushed skin. For cattle symptoms included: slowed heart rate, shallow breathing, lethargy, and depressed temperature; for horses: abdominal pains, diarrhea, moist and cold skin, absent urination, depressed temperature, and vomiting.

So I think it's safe to say not to ingest any parts of the plant, and to make sure that pets and livestock don't either.

Cultivating: The Common Bluebell's natural habitat is deciduous {often ancient} woodlands, hedgerows, and sometimes in shady meadows. It typically does well between hardiness zones 5 to 7. Depending on your region, it will flower anywhere from April to June.

It is an excellent plant to have in a woodland garden, or in a spot that is part sun to dappled shade. It prefers a slightly acidic soil, and it is probably best to use a fertile loam. However, I have heard that it can also grow in a heavy clay, and it can grow in 'dry' soil, providing that it gets enough shade and moisture.

The best way to start Common Bluebells from seed is to grow them in a pot for the first year, after a period of about 5 weeks of a cold-moist stratification. It can then be planted in its permanent home in the second year, once the leaves are dormant {late summer or early fall}.
Before planting it is a good idea to prepare the soil with an organic fertilizer {like compost}, and to mulch afterwards.

Some great plants to grow with it are Ferns, Daffodils, Tulips, Sweet Woodruff, and Hostas.

Medicinal/Remedial Properties and Lore: Diuretic, styptic.

The Common Bluebell is rarely used for medicinal purposed today, although there is research on its potential use for treatment in cancer and HIV.

It was historically thought by some to cure snake bites, as well as calm the effects of a bee sting if the juices from the stem were rubbed on the wound.

Sir John Hill recommended it for as a styptic for leucorrhoea, by drying the bulb and making into a powder, but he warned not to use anymore than 3 grains in a dosage.

Magical/Spiritual Properties and Lore: This is one plant that is strongly associated with the Fair Folk, as well as death.

In English folklore, Faeries were thought to congregate in a
'Bluebell wood'. If one were to trample into such a wood they could be cursed by the Faeries. They would leave them maimed or sick{ultimately leading to their death}, or the carry them away to never be seen again.

To hear the ringing of the Bluebell would be a harbinger of death or a signal that a troop of malevolent Faeries were near by.

For those who want to attract the sympathies of the Fair Folk, you can grow Common Bluebells in your garden. To attract them at Bealtaine, make posies of the flowers (not sure about what the law in the UK would say about picking them in the wild, but of course, this should be done respectfully!) to adorn your altar or ritual space.

Common Bluebells are a
funeral plant, and some appropriate uses are planting it on graves to bring peace and blessings, or to decorate as a decoration for a funeral, as well as a ancestor altar at Samhain.

They can also be an excellent charm to sew into a dream pillow to ward off not only nightmares, but also protect someone from a potential run in with a Succubus.

Other Uses: At one time the juice from the bulb was used as a replacement for starch in the days when stiff ruffs were worn was much in request {Mrs Maude Grieve}; English herbalist John Gerard told of the juice's usefulness to set feathers onto arrows, and it was also popular at one time to create a gum to bind books.



  1. I love that poem by Emily Bronte. There is a lot of great information here. Thank you.

  2. You are welcome, Deirdre! Thanks for reading! :)