Supermarkets in the UK have been warned against placing the ever popular spring daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus L.) near to food products as shoppers can mistake the bulbs for vegetables - people tend to mistake them for onions.
There has been an increase in admissions to hospital over the past few years involving people suffering from the symptoms of poison by daffodil bulbs or stems. In fact according to the BBC news service website, 10 people from a Chinese community were admitted to hospital last spring after eating daffodil stems in the belief they were chives.
So are daffodils really dangerous?
Daffodils contain toxic alkaloids - these are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in many organisms. The bulbs, stems, leaves and seed pods of the daffodil all contain poisonous alkaloids that are harmful to people. The bulk of the noxious alkaloids are concentrated in the bulb of the flower. However, the leaves of the flower are toxic to livestock and other animals so care should be taken with puppies, kittens etc if you have daffodils in your garden.
The main human symptoms caused by eating daffodil bulbs or stems are:
- abdominal pain
- Dermatitis - can be caused by the sap
I don't know of any fatalities from eating daffodil bulbs or stems, but it's interesting to note that there are a number of old wives tales about daffodils and death and they were once very popular as funeral flowers.
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Daffodils and superstitions
A little yellow cup,
A little yellow frill,
A little yellow star
And that's a daffodil.
In days gone by the daffodil, although beautiful, wasn't always viewed with a kind eye. There were a number of superstitions relating to them that mentions bad luck and death. However, the daffodil in some cultures was viewed in a positive light.
- The latin name for the daffodil - Narcissus pseudonarcissus L. - is thought to derive from the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus. He was said to have fallen in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. The beautiful nodding heads of the daffodil were thought to represent the golden bowed head of Narcissus as he gazed lovingly at himself.
- Daffodils - particularly in Wales - were used, along with primroses and violets, as funeral flowers when an infant had died.
- The ancient Greeks believed that the daffodil grew in Hades and were eaten by the dead who inhabited this terrifying place. Interestingly, the Dutch word de affodil is said to come from the Greek language word asphodel . In Greek myth the asphodel was a flower of the dead and would be seen blooming in meadows where the dead walked.
- The Egyptians also used the daffodil during funerals. They made daffodil wreaths, hanging them around the funeral area during the ceremony.
- There are also many superstitions stating that to stand on a daffodil will bring bad fortune. On the other hand, if you go out of your way to avoid standing on a daffodil, this is supposed to bring good luck. In addition, to witness a daffodil head suddenly drooping down was said to signify a death.
- You could bring daffodils into your home for good luck, but in some traditions, you should avoid bringing the flowers over the threshold if you had birds laying eggs as this was said to bring bad luck to the eggs. In addition, it was thought to bring bad luck if you only brought one daffodil into the home.
- On a more positive note, daffodils were viewed by the Druids as a flower symbolising purity and so adopted it as their national emblem.
- Both the Chinese and Persians used the daffodil during their new year celebrations.
- As a medicine, the Arabians used the daffodil as both a cure for baldness and as an aphrodisiac.
The above is only a small selection of the hundreds of superstitions and folklore related to this popular spring flower. Today, the daffodil is viewed in a very positive light and has been adopted by several different charities across the globe since the daffodil is often associated with rebirth, new things and new beginnings. I for one will continue to love this flower as one of my favourites and a welcome sight after the long winter.
Here's hoping however, that our supermarkets do take note of the warning and that the daffodil bulbs are kept well away from shoppers on the hunt for spring onions!
© 2015 Helen Murphy Howell
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