May Day Muguet. A tradition in France which goes back to the 1500s is the giving to friends, family and loved ones a sprig of muguet, (Lily of the Valley), on the 1st of May. Said to be started when some were presented to Charles IX and his mother for good luck. The King found them to be so beautiful and charming that every year on the 1st of May he gave a sprig to all the ladies of the court, thus starting a tradition that continues today.

Legend & Beliefs

The belief grew that the plant had healing powers and also symbolised sweetness, purity and a return to happiness. Many legends surrounded the flower. It is mentioned in the Song of Solomon in the Bible. Christians named it ‘Mary’s tears’ after the tears she wept at the cross when Jesus was crucified. People called it the birth flower of May. A legend grew that the nightingales would not return to the woods until the flower bloomed. It is often used in weddings. Prince William and Katherine chose it for her bridal bouquet. It used to be the floral emblem of Yugoslavia and it is the national flower of Finland.

The start of the French Revolution brought a halt to the giving of the flower but in the 1940s Marshall Petain revived the tradition using Muguet as the workers day symbol giving people the right to pick it and offer it for sale without licence or taxes for the Labour Day only. Most of the plants are grown in the Loire-Atlantic region although it will grow almost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

The not-so-lucky side

Convallaria majalis to give it its Latin name, commonly known as lily of the valley, has a few dark secrets. Originating from Japan this sweetly scented, beautiful woodland plant with its dainty white flower bells is highly poisonous and extremely deadly, although in early years it was actually used, one assumes in small amounts, in folk and herbal remedies. It also grows in most types of soils and environments and is extremely invasive spreading quickly via rhizomes in the ground. Its gentile looking nature makes it appealing to children and its scent attractive to animals. If eaten it can cause severe abdominal pain, heart problems, skin rashes and blurred vision and can kill pets.

Pleasure and happiness it may bring too many but caution is advised if you are growing it in your garden.

MAIN PHOTO: By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,