You know, the Madonna lily has a very long history of cultivation. The Chinese and Japanese have been eating them for thousands of years and while the Minoans of 4000 years ago perhaps didn't eat them, they did put them on their famous ceramic pottery.
Some ceramic historians think the Minoan pottery is really from Atlantis; this means of course that Madonna lilies were known in Atlantis. A fact I'm sure will sweep our summer parties like wildfire.
It has pharmaceutical applications
Not only did these poor lilies get eaten or preserved for posterity, they were the basis for a thriving pharmaceutical industry. The Roman Plinius recorded that salves and oils were prepared from the leaves and flowers and this used continued well into the 17th century. If you were stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake then the Madonna lily was your prescription. Rub it on stiff muscles or suffer from irregularity - rub it elsewhere.
It even got used as a distilled product for leprosy, bumps on the breast, and childbirth. If one bruised a bulb and then rubbed the bruised bulb on the affected body part it was said to be quite effective; it was reputed to cool infections, act as a diuretic and a remedy for fluctuating fevers. If you soaked the leaves in brandy and then applied them to a wound, the wound was said to heal uninfected.
Madonna Lily and Cosmetics
Naturally with a name like Madonna lily, the plant was also a serious cosmetic factory. Mix the petals with honey and apply them to your wrinkles to create a wonderfully smooth skin is the recommendation from one writer. (All you wrinkled people out there can leave my lilies alone - get your own)
Lily oil from Persia was used by women who believed that if they bathed in the stuff, they would retain their youthful beauty forever. (Now those Persians were serious salesmen!)
My personal favourite and the reason I'm taking the garden label off the Madonna lily patch is that it was also used as an aphrodisiac and as a central ingredient in magical love potions.
Now this wonderful lily came into cultivation through the crusaders bringing it back to their estates. I mean, if some Persian told you about this plant that would do all the things I've mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, wouldn't you bring it back with you as well? It was mentioned by Chaucer in the Canterbury tales and Gerard's Herbal, written in 17th century England records that it was commonly grown in the best gardens of the time. This is a plant with a serious history lesson to share.
I started the seeds for my lilies myself and now that they are blooming again, I'll be able to increase the numbers I have in my clump. Sometimes mail order bulb companies offer them if you're not a seed starter and they can be purchased quite reasonably.
If you are a seed starter, simply give them a 90 day damp cooling period (the baggie/vermiculite in the frig trick) and then sow them in a flowerpot in a warm spot. Germination is slow and irregular so don't move the bulb until late in the summer when all the germinated bulbs can be moved at the same time. Plant it at the same depth as it was in the seedling tray, it will adjust its own depth over the next few years. Tag the spot so you don't lose it or dig it up by mistake and then mulch in November of the first year with a pile of leaves or straw or something that will protect the tender transplant from winter ravages.
The Madonna lily is a little different in that it also throws a small rosette of leaves in the fall that sit there (looking a bit like a weed) evergreen until the next spring.
So, as a last note, I do have to report that the Madonna lily is truly a beautiful lily, quite hardy and easily grown in USDA zone 4. And, if I ever dig one up again, I'll keep some of those uses in mind.
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