"One little daffodil had nothing much to do,
Out popped another one, then there were two.
Two little daffodils were smiling at a bee,
Out popped another one, then there were three.
Three little daffodils were growing by the door,
Out popped another one, then there were four.
Four little daffodils were glad to be alive,
Out popped another one, then there were five.
Five little daffodils were wearing golden crowns,
They danced in the breeze in green satin gowns."
-Traditional Children's Poem
for a game that can be played with
all the fingers of one hand dressed in paper petals
or with tiny yellow flowers painted over the fingerprints
We planted seven autumn bulbs for Narcissus poeticus 'Milan' beside the sump-pump lid, next to ten bulbs for 'Pinnochio' Greig's Tulips. 'Milan' is an heirloolm variety dating to the 1930s.
This gleaming white Poet's Daffodil has a small flattened cup which has the appearance of a yellow-green eye with crimson rim, called a Pheasant's Eye. The whole bloom is about three inches across, on stems sixteen or eighteen inches tall.
It would be my guess that whoever named this narcissus after the city of Milan had some historical awareness, & well knew that there was a school of "contemplative" painters in Milan inspired by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), for whom Narcissus was a recurring figure, both the mythological character & the head-bowlng flower symbolizing internal thought & invention.
Leonardo's own famous painting of Narcissus (reproduced at right) shows a pale girlish youth gazing into a laver or birdbath. Caravaggio (1573-1610), who apprenticed in Milan, likewise painted a famous portrait of Narcissus, on hands & knee gazing into a pool.
Daffodil legends are not restricted to myths of Narcissus & Echo. A legend likely of Victorian origin held that daffodils originated as the brightest stars in heaven. Whenever the Recording Angel saw selfless deeds performed upon the earth, the angel would pluck one of these stars from heaven, & set it upon the earth.
Folklore is a continuous process, & it is a modern tale that the daffodil, as national flower of Wales & a symbol of purity, was sacred to the ancient Druids. There's not much likelihood of that having been true, but it makes a pretty tale embraced by neo-Druids today.
Narcissus poeticus is reportedly the most toxic of these toxic flowers, but none within the genus can be regarded as safely used as home remedies. Nevertheless, folk-medicine has attempted to find uses for it that in most cases would not today be regarded as either safe or beneficial.
Typically the bulbs were mashed into a paste, & often mixed with other ingredients, from wine to honey. The dried & powdered flowers sometimes stood in for the bulbs. Narcissus has been used internally for treatment of respiratory diseases, palsy, epilepsy, & other illnesses, or to induce vomiting. For topical use, bulbs were pounded into a paste or poultice with sufficient starch to literally glue a wound closed, or mixed into honey & smeared on sunburns, or applied to joints to relieve rheumatism, or on the pate as an alleged baldness cure, or applied to splinters with the belief that honeyed daffodil starch could pull the splinter from the flesh as well as heal the injury.
The danger of such usage was acute, as even with topical application to open wounds, daffodils have been reported to induce staggering, paralyses & even death, & its internal usage was even more acutely dangerous. Some toxic plants can be eaten after drying or cooking, but the toxins in narcissus can survive such preparation. Even to eat just the leaves can induce, at least, gastric illness. This is why they are so resistant to the foraging of deer.
On the other hand, such potent alkaloids, for all their dangers, would seem inevitably to have provable values when used as pharmaceutical-grade extracts which can be given in predictable, controllable doses, thereby less risky than when gobbled down or smeared on as a folk remedy.
Medical researchers have found narcissus starches contain antifungal peptides, so the traditional use of daffodil for treating discolored skin was completely bone fide. Galanthamine from narcissus & snowdrops has been shown to slow down the neurological degeneration caused by Alzheimers. Hydroxyhaemanthamine, haemanthamine & lycorine derived from Amaryllidaceae plants, including daffodils, have been found effective in the treatment of malaria.
So as with so much folk wisdom, some of it was hokum, some of it has proven credible, though modern herbalists quite rightly leave narcissus out of their remedies because the danger far outranks the possibility of benefit.
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