Tuesday 10 February 2009
Romantic Roman flowers for Valentine's Day
As a forerunner to Valentine's Day, and with my Roman books in mind, I thought I'd talk about some romantic Roman flowers. Some are surprising. Some are popular even today.
Sweet violet is a pretty, sweet-smelling flower used, like the anemone and the madonna lily, in garlands at Roman banquets. The scent was believed to ward off drunkenness! The Romans loved the scent of violets and even drank wine infused with violets and honey.
Vervain is a dull-looking plant but one which the Romans believed held magical proprieties. Believed to bring good luck, it was used in love potions.
Roman brides used mint for their garlands, and their faces may have been cleansed with a facepack made from the juice of yellow elecampane, because it was believed that Helen of Troy was collecting the flower when Paris abducted her.
Then as now however, the most popular romantic flower was the rose. Roses were grown in Campania for sale and the streets in Rome were red with rose garlands. They were known as flowers of seduction - Cleopatra was rumoured to have seduced Mark Anthony with rose petals. I'll leave it to your imagination as to how!
(Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and drawings of sweet violet, elecampane and mint from Wikimedia Commons.)