Friday, January 29, 2010

Life Among The Flowers, It's National Carnation Day

Life Among The Flowers is a hidden treasure of mine. It doesn't sit on my bookshelf nor is it tucked in a draw. Life Among The Flowers lies peacefully on its very own pillow on the night stand by my bed side.

Forgive me, I will not be able to share the pictorial content of Life Among The Flowers with you today. You see, it is a very old book first published in 1855. My copy, a gift from my cherished friend Walter, proprietor of The Antiquarian Bookstore in New Hampshire, gave it to me one Christmas many years ago. I find it rather enchanting that the previous owner was also gifted it on Christmas.

I was, however, delighted for you when I found a copy of Life Among The Flowers online at google books. Just like the hardcover edition, the online version has a list of flowers and their meanings right in the table of contents. Navigating the book is as simple as clicking on the page number and you're magically lifted to the prose contents. Why not just take one moment to flit amidst the Language of Flowers.

Why am I introducing you to Life Among The Flowers today? Would you mind if we got back to that explanation a little later? At the moment, I would like to present the Gillyflower in honor of National Carnation Day.

"Hot July brings cooling showers, Apricots and gillyflowers."
~Sara Coleridge~
Gillyflowers are of several kinds, and the stock is one of the number. A gillyflower may be a stock, or a wallflower, or a clove, or a carnation. The word is often regarded as a modification of July flower, or of the French giroflee; but it has deeper and older roots, being a corruption of the Indian caryophyllou, the odor of which resembles that of the clovepink. The illustrative passages cited by Dr. Richardson indicate the probability of its being a vagrant sort of word; for in Douglas's translation of Virgil it is spelt jereflouris; in Holland's "Plinie," gillofre; in Spenser's "Shepherd's Calender," gilliflower; and in Burrow, gillyflower. In Parkinson's "Paradisus" we find descriptions of "gillowflowers" of many kinds, the chief being carnations, dame's violets, and stocks...There is a fine subject for a learned discourse in the word gillyflower, but the pith of it is now before you; all that really remains is amplification...the mention of the flower by Perdita in Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale." (aboutflowers.org)

If you were born in the month of January, chances are you already know the Birth Flower for January is the Carnation. But, did you know, January 29th is National Carnation Day? Did you also know the Carnation is the National Flower of Spain? Some sources say Pliny wrote that the "clove pink" was found in Spain at the time of Augustus Caesar. There, natives used it to give a spicy flavor to beverages. ("soppes in wine")

The national flower of Spain is considered to be the carnation, in Spanish clavel. Essentially it's associated with Spanish folklore, especially from southern Spain, or Andalusia.

It is also a symbol of affection between lovers and especially as a religious symbol related to the Jesus passion that represents the Crown of Thorns (Clavos de Cristo).

It comes from the catalan language word for clove: "clavell" because the carnation also has a nice fragrant aroma, as does the spice.

In Spain and America it symbolizes passion, and it's a very expressive gesture to bite its stem and hold the clavel between one's teeth. In the Spanish language of flowers it represents caprice, passion, wish and desire. wiki

Legend has it that Ohio adopted the Scarlet Carnation as its state flower to memorialize Ohio native William McKinley who was wearing a carnation when he was elected President on November 3, 1896.

The carnation was the favorite flower of President William McKinley, and he always wore one in his coat lapel. After his death, a mr. Lewis G. Reynolds of Dayton, Ohio wrote to The New York Herald Tribune suggesting that on President McKinley's birthday (January 29th) each person wear a carnation in his memory...Mr. Reynold's idea was adopted and a Carnation Day was observed on January 29th. (All About the Months by Maymie R. Krythe pg. 24)

I think it is high time I reveal a little secret about myself. After all, most everyone who knows me is quite aware of my love affair with Carnations. My feeling for Carnations are exactly the same as William Corbett who said he preferred "the plant of a fine carnation to a gold watch set with diamonds."

Oh, I know what you may be thinking, too often others have thought the same. You think I adore Carnations because they were first grown in this country in my home state of New York; Long Island as a matter of fact.

The first carnations came to the United States in 1852, arriving on Long Island from France. Growers in the Northeast produced carnations until the mid-1900s. Before the 1870s, however, few American gardeners cultivated carnations. Dr. Levi Lamborn of Alliance, Ohio started growing the flowers in his greenhouse in 1866. (source)
"Carnations and streaked gillyflowers,
the fairest flowers of the season."
The Winter's Tale

So wrote the Bard Of Avon about such a dainty flower with an ancient lineage. The same sentiment is felt today of the "Divine Flower" whose genus name is Dianthus"from dios, divine, and anthos, a flower; The old English name was Gillyflower, of which there were numerous quaint spellings. The name 'gillyflowers' comes from the Old English word for clove: "gilofre." In Shakespeare's time, the smaller dianthus were commonly called gillyflowers. The meaning of the word Carnation has been much disputed. The name Carnation first occurs in "The Historic of Plantes," by Rembert Dodoens, translated by Henry Lyte of London, in 1578.

Yes, the often misunderstood Carnation is often underestimated. Some think they are inexpensive flowers and would rather receive cut flowers with a more exotic flare. Not me, I appreciate being able to enjoy their everlasting beauty for days; sometimes weeks if I'm extra careful. I simply call them pinks:) Today, most pinks are called dianthus and take my word for it, this cordial flower fashioned in frills evokes memories of penny store cinnamon candy.

I found John Parkinson's definition of Gillyflowers in the Plants of Shakespeare by Adelma Grenier Simmons.

Gillyflowers grow (don't you just love the soft G sound of the word jĭl'ē-flou'ər) like unto Carnations but not so thick set with joints and leaves, the stalks are more, the leaves are narrower and whiter for the most part, and in some, do as well a little turn. The flowers are smaller, yet very thick and double in most; and the green husks in which they stand are smaller likewise. The ends of the leaves are dented and jagged. Some of them also have two small white threads, crooked at the ends like horns in the middle of the flower; others have none.

Don't you just crave some slips of gillyflowers and frilled edges in your scented garden this year? I know I do!!!

The language flowers speak has changed since 1891 when Home Dissertations ...was first published. Today, in the language of flowers, a red carnation symbolizes pure and ardent love while a pink carnation symbolizes marriage...During the Victorian era, the carnation stood for fascination and devoted love. Here then are the meanings from 1891.

Language of Flowers: Pinks
Pink, carnation, Woman's love
Pink, Indian, double, Always lovely
Pink, Indian, single, Aversion
Pink, red, double, Pure and ardent love
Pink, single, Pure love
Pink, variegated, Refusal
Pink, white, Ingeniousness, Talent

Please don't be too disappointed in the scanned images from Life Among The Flowers. As I said, it is a treasured oldie:)


Like most other flowers of 300 or 400 years ago, Carnations and pinks were regarded as having medicinal value. During the Elizabethan era, the highly fragrant flowers were steeped in wine and ale for a delightful drink. Sops, pieces of toast or stale bread were offered as solid food for dipping in the tasty liquid of "soppes in wine." Carnations were the answer to rejuvenating the body and spirit. The plants were highly regarded by Gerard, "The conserve made of the flowers of the Clove Gilloflower and sugar, is exceeding cordial, and wonderfully above measure doth comfort the heart...It prevaileth against the hot pestilential fevers, expelleth the poison and fury of the disease, and greatly comforteth the sick...." Nicholas Culpeper, "They are gallant, fine, temperate flowers, of the nature and under the dominion of Jupiter...they are great strengtheners both of the brain and heart...." and Dodoens who said, "the conserve of the flowers, made with sugar, comforted the harte, and the use thereof is good against hoate fevers and the pestilence." What these ailments may have been, is any one's guess. I'm not at liberty to uncover their meaning at present. I do however, want to include a few floral culinary uses in celebration of National Carnation Day. I'm not likely to include carnations, pinks or gillyflowers on my kitchen table except perhaps in a vase. For those of you who have extra planting space in your garden, why not sow a few "spicy petals" for culinary use. Gillyflowers are low-growing perennials that bloom in late spring to early summer. They are hardy through USDA Zones 3 and 4, but benefit from some winter protection in the coldest areas. (I've left a link below)

"Bring hither the pink and purple columbine,
With gilliflowers ;
Bring coronations, and sops in wine,
Worn of paramours:
Strew me the ground with daffadowndillies,
And cowslips, and kingcups, and loved lilies:

Edmund Spenser; The Shepherd's Calendar

In Shakespeare's time Gillyflowers, Carnations, and Pinks were so many that English botanist John Gerard, who lived from 1545 until 1607 said, "A great and large volume would not suffice to write of every one at large in particular, considering how infinite they are, and how every yeare, every clymate and countrey, bringeth forth new sorts, and such as have not heretofore bin written of;" and so we may certainly say now—the description of the many kinds of Carnations and Picotees, with directions for their culture, would fill a volume.

First, I would like to include a scanned recipe found in the book titled The Miniature Book of Flowers As Food by Jane Newdick & Mary Lawerence. Since today the culinary focus is on flower cookery, I must include this recipe for Marigold Cauliflower. I must also direct you over to Kate @ Serendipity. She just posted an intriguing "floral" recipe for Hummus. Yes, I said hummus:)

In medieval times, cooks used pinks as food seasoning, sometimes they made conserves, other times they candied them. The flowers were preserved, made into vinegars, syrups, cordials and wines. At times, the flowers were made into a sauce for lamb or mutton while tansy was a sort of sweet omelet colored with pinks. Elizabeth Grey, the Countess of Kent, and Hannah Wooley (scroll down) were two Englishwomen who used carnations in their recipes for food they prepared and also in medicines they concocted.

I don't have a recipe, per se, for Sops-in-Wine. I did, however, find a recipe for Gillyflower Sorbet and a tempting spell some may want to initiate in time for Valentine's Day. It's called, Carnations, Nuts, and Ruby Wine and was found in a book, given to me by my son, titled White Magic; Titania's Book of Favorite Spells by Titania Hardie copyright 1997.

And, from historicfood.com a recipe To Make Gilly-flower Wine:

To make Gilly-flower Wine: Take two ounces of dried Gilly-flowers, and put them into a pottle of Sack, and beat three ounces of Sugar-candy, or fine Sugar, and grinde some Ambergreese, and put it in the bottle and shake it oft, then run it through a gelly bag, and give it for a great Cordial after a weeks standing or more. You may make Lavender Wine as you do this.

I mentioned the other day that I had a special post planned for today in honor of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey's (aka Susan Coolidge) birth anniversary. Truth be told, my heart just wasn't in it. If there is one thing I have learned about blogging, it's that it is not a job!!! The great thing about blogging is you can always get to it another day. Perhaps one where the note that strikes is in tune with your surroundings. Today was an unsettling day filled with sun, snow, wind and rain. A perfect day to celebrate National Carnation Day and serve it up tomorrow; which as I look at the clock is today!!!

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Every morn is the world made new.

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey

1. "Select carnations, picotees, & pinks: the history & cultivation of all sections" (1907) (available online @ Biodiversity Heritage Library)
2. Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions. (Richard Folkard @ google books (1884)
3. The Story of the Carnation @ The British National Carnations Society
4. The Antiquarian Bookstore (New Hampshire's largest antiquarian book store)
5. Carnation and Poppy Symbols in Art (Rembrandt's “Woman with a Pink”)
6. Carnation, Dianthus, Gillyflower, & Pinks, @ The Dictionary of Botanical Names
7. How to Winterize Gillyflower
8. Rosemary for Remembrance: Adelma Simmons (previous post)
9. Springhill Nursery Carnation Selection


  1. You knew I'd love this post. What a treasure that book is! My Nana was quite serious about what we called "flower lore." Yellow roses were the worst, as heralds of death... I can't recall her favorite flower. Her sister's was the rose, her sister inlaw's, the pansy...

  2. Yes,Channon. In the wee hours of the morning, I was comforted by the notion that perhaps, you would enjoy this post. I'm so glad you did.

    From the book:
    Carolina Rose: "Love is dangerous"
    Yellow Rose: "We will be strangers."
    Pansy: Pansies are in the Violet family. In the language of flowers, the white violet symbolizes modesty and the blue violet, faithfulness.

    I suppose I should have mentioned in the post, the Tansy symbolizes; courage:)

  3. I love carnations! They are so dainty and their petals look like pencil shavings...



  4. What a treasure of a book! I didn't know carnations were edible! Their way too pretty to eat.

  5. Louise, I love carnations too! I love their spicy scent and their frilly petals. I didn't know you could make wine with them, though. I wonder if you could flavor vinegar with them?

    Thanks for the link to my post!


  6. Oh my! Aren't you fortunate to have been given such a wonderful old book? I loved this post! And am going to check out the link. Can't wait. I have lots of questions.....
    Happy Carnation Day back!

  7. That was fascinating! While carnations aren't my favorite flower, I adore their simplicity and honest charm (my faves are calla lilies, which fit that bill as well).

    So, can I call any July flower a gillyflower, or is it just the gilofre? I didn't quite understand that part. And will anyone kill me if I pronounce a hard "g"? I like it better that way because it sounds like "silly". :D

  8. I understand why you cherish this book so much!
    Fantastic book !

  9. Thanks duckie, I took them myself:)

    Carnations are my favorite flowering cut flower although, I do adore statice too:) Thanks for visiting, Rosa.

    Thank you Reeni, I do treasure it so. Cooking with flowers seems a bit "mean" sometimes. They are just so lovely. However, I think about it the same way as I do pruning. The rewards are oh so pleasurable:) Thanks for stopping...

    I'm sure you can make vinegar with them, Kate. I would imagine any floral vinegar would work especially when it has that serendipitous touch of yours:)

    Have FUN Barbara YOU are going to love it!!!

    You can call any July flower whatever you like nightowlchef. Personally, I like the hard G too. Gilly, Jilly we're so Silly!!! I'm delighted that Calla Lilies have stepped back into "vogue." They are oh so lovely.

    Thank you for stopping Sidney. It's dear to my heart:)

  10. I am completely intrigued by this article. I'm sorry to admit that I have never given carnations much respect. Only because I considered them the inexpensive flower. For my wedding, I remember being disappointed by not having the budget to buy more expensive flora. My only alternative was to have dyed carnations. Maybe having those carnations was good luck after all.

  11. This post was so much fun - I love carnations there scent and just about everything about them. I learned so much today, what a wonderful write up!

  12. Thanks for your kind words, Sher and Oyster Culture. I can't wait till the carnations are in bloom this year. I simply LOVE them!!!

  13. Carnation is my favorite flower. Do you know that carnation means forever?

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none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise