Myth, legend and folklore
associated with snowdrops throughout the UK and beyond
It’s that time of year when Galanthus or snowdrops, can be seen in hedgerows, woodlands, gardens and churchyards across the British Isles. To see the first snowdrops shows that winter is waning and the warmer days of spring are near.
With their gently bowing flower heads of pure white spoon-shaped petals and with inner green-tipped segments. Snowdrops are the first of the perennials to flower, and one of the only plants that can bloom in freezing temperatures, with frost and snow on the ground.
Unlike many other plants which have one or the other, snowdrops have both pollen and nectar. They provide a much needed food source for our insects and pollinators in winter and early spring, when there is very little other food around. Insects find single petaled varieties easier to access.
The Galanthus, derives it’s name from the Greek words gala (milk) and anthos (flower). There are around 20 species of Galanthus, with the most common snowdrop being Galanthus nivalis or ‘Milky Flower’ from the Greek and ‘Snow’ from the Latin.
This is a plant that has a long, rich history. There are numerous myths, legend and folklore associated with snowdrops throughout the UK and beyond, including:
In Christian religious settings snowdrops may be referred to as 'Candlemas Bells', 'Mary’s Taper' and 'Eve’s tears' and are frequently seen in churches at the time of Candlemas on 2 February. 2 February also marking the halfway point between the shortest day of winter and the Spring Equinox.
For pagans, snowdrops were regarded as the start of Spring. For the Victorians, snowdrops were seen as unlucky, poisonous and were closely associated with death. Unlike many other plants, Snowdrops are appropriate flowers for winter weddings and funerals. In the language of flowers the snowdrop represents rebirth, innocence, purity, hope and sympathy, reflecting the positive and negative connotations this tiny plant has obtained.
Snowdrops can be found in poems and literature, including Lord Tennyson who described them as “a February fair-maid” and Cicely Mary Barker described them in her Snowdrop Flower Fairy poem as 'The Fair Maids of February'.
Used for centuries to treat pain, migraine and headache among regular folk across Europe including Greece, Romania, the Balkans and Georgia. More recently the bulb of the snowdrop has provoked further pharmacological interest due to it’s chemical properties which may support the treatment of Alzheimer disease and cancer. The bulb has also been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. These little 'Fair maids of February' truly offer hope.