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The Common Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus)

I simply happen to like the serene beauty of wildflowers. The Common Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus), for instance, is delightful and delicate. This plant is very prolific in the Balearic Isles and it is flowering right now. Homer liked the plant as well. In his Odyssey, the plant is subject of an eulogy: ‘The heroes of Elysium, as living in a meadow covered with Asphodel’.

And it is useful as well; bees just love its nectar and find this flower useful for making wildflower honey. Mallorcan shoemakers find the pulverized plant’s dried tuber rhyzomes useful for making a strong glue when mixed with cold water. The same glue is also used in the process of bookbinding. The Asphodel fibre is also used in the making of cord for seat coverings of chairs and stools.

This plant has one of the earliest recorded histories of any species, having been given a detailed description already around 800 B. C. The Greeks and Romans used different parts of the plant in the treatment of several diseases, but in modern medicine, the Asphodel does not seem to be used any longer. The tuberous root, gathered at the end of its first year, is said to be acrid, antispasmodic, and diuretic.

You may not believe me but, parts of the plant are edible as well. The root is rich in starch. Dried and boiled in water it yields a mucilaginous matter which can be mixed with grain to make a nutritious bread. Boiling destroys the acrid principle in the tubers, rendering them quite pleasant to eat. The flowering stalk can be eaten when cooked and the seeds can be eaten when roasted.

The photo was taken near Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: May 7th, 2010. The time was 15:45:11.

3 replies »

  1. I love wild flowers too and I do love your posts. I use them in my lessons but above all I enjoy reading them. Thank you so much.
    Asphodels come hand in hand to me with a beautiful poem by Willian Carlos Willians, which is on the Internet. I have an excellent translation to Spanish by Carmen Martín Gaite.
    An excerpt can be read here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15541
    I cut and paste the beginning:

    Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
    like a buttercup
    upon its branching stem-
    save that it’s green and wooden-
    I come, my sweet,
    to sing to you.
    We lived long together
    a life filled,
    if you will,
    with flowers. So that
    I was cheered
    when I came first to know
    that there were flowers also
    in hell.
    Today
    I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers
    that we both loved,
    even to this poor
    colorless thing-
    I saw it
    when I was a child-
    little prized among the living
    but the dead see,
    asking among themselves:
    What do I remember
    that was shaped
    as this thing is shaped?
    while our eyes fill
    with tears.
    Of love, abiding love
    it will be telling
    though too weak a wash of crimson
    colors it
    to make it wholly credible.
    There is something
    something urgent
    I have to say to you
    and you alone
    but it must wait
    while I drink in
    the joy of your approach,
    perhaps for the last time.
    And so
    with fear in my heart
    I drag it out
    and keep on talking
    for I dare not stop.
    Listen while I talk on
    against time.
    It will not be
    for long.
    I have forgot
    and yet I see clearly enough
    something
    central to the sky
    which ranges round it.
    An odor
    springs from it!
    A sweetest odor!
    Honeysuckle! And now
    there comes the buzzing of a bee!
    and a whole flood
    of sister memories!
    Only give me time,
    time to recall them
    before I shall speak out.
    Give me time,
    time.
    When I was a boy
    I kept a book
    to which, from time
    to time,
    I added pressed flowers
    until, after a time,
    I had a good collection.
    The asphodel,
    forebodingly,
    among them.
    I bring you,
    reawakened,
    a memory of those flowers.
    They were sweet
    when I pressed them
    and retained
    something of their sweetness
    a long time.
    It is a curious odor,
    a moral odor,
    that brings me
    near to you.
    The color
    was the first to go.
    There had come to me
    a challenge,
    your dear self,
    mortal as I was,
    the lily’s throat
    to the hummingbird!
    Endless wealth,
    I thought,
    held out its arms to me.
    A thousand tropics
    in an apple blossom.
    The generous earth itself
    gave us lief.
    The whole world
    became my garden!
    But the sea
    which no one tends
    is also a garden
    when the sun strikes it
    and the waves
    are wakened.
    I have seen it
    and so have you
    when it puts all flowers
    to shame.
    Too, there are the starfish
    stiffened by the sun
    and other sea wrack
    and weeds. We knew that
    along with the rest of it
    for we were born by the sea,
    knew its rose hedges
    to the very water’s brink.
    There the pink mallow grows
    and in their season
    strawberries
    and there, later,
    we went to gather
    the wild plum.
    I cannot say
    that I have gone to hell
    for your love
    but often
    found myself there
    in your pursuit.
    I do not like it
    and wanted to be
    in heaven. Hear me out.
    Do not turn away.
    I have learned much in my life
    from books
    and out of them
    about love.
    Death
    is not the end of it.
    There is a hierarchy
    which can be attained,
    I think,
    in its service.
    Its guerdon
    is a fairy flower;
    a cat of twenty lives.
    If no one came to try it
    the world
    would be the loser.
    It has been
    for you and me
    as one who watches a storm
    come in over the water.
    We have stood
    from year to year
    before the spectacle of our lives
    with joined hands.
    The storm unfolds.
    Lightning
    plays about the edges of the clouds.
    The sky to the north
    is placid,
    blue in the afterglow
    as the storm piles up.
    It is a flower
    that will soon reach
    the apex of its bloom.
    We danced,
    in our minds,
    and read a book together.
    You remember?
    It was a serious book.
    And so books
    entered our lives.
    The sea! The sea!
    Always
    when I think of the sea
    there comes to mind
    the Iliad
    and Helen’s public fault
    that bred it.
    Were it not for that
    there would have been
    no poem but the world
    if we had remembered,
    those crimson petals
    spilled among the stones,
    would have called it simply
    murder.
    The sexual orchid that bloomed then
    sending so many
    disinterested
    men to their graves
    has left its memory
    to a race of fools
    or heroes
    if silence is a virtue.
    The sea alone
    with its multiplicity
    holds any hope.
    The storm
    has proven abortive
    but we remain
    after the thoughts it roused
    to
    re-cement our lives.
    It is the mind
    the mind
    that must be cured
    short of death’s
    intervention,
    and the will becomes again
    a garden. The poem
    is complex and the place made
    in our lives
    for the poem.
    Silence can be complex too,
    but you do not get far
    with silence.
    Begin again.
    It is like Homer’s
    catalogue of ships:
    it fills up the time.
    I speak in figures,
    well enough, the dresses
    you wear are figures also,
    we could not meet
    otherwise. When I speak
    of flowers
    it is to recall
    that at one time
    we were young.
    All women are not Helen,
    I know that,
    but have Helen in their hearts.
    My sweet,
    you have it also, therefore
    I love you
    and could not love you otherwise.
    Imagine you saw
    a field made up of women
    all silver-white.
    What should you do
    but love them?
    The storm bursts
    or fades! it is not
    the end of the world.
    Love is something else,
    or so I thought it,
    a garden which expands,
    though I knew you as a woman
    and never thought otherwise,
    until the whole sea
    has been taken up
    and all its gardens.
    It was the love of love,
    the love that swallows up all else,
    a grateful love,
    a love of nature, of people,
    of animals,
    a love engendering
    gentleness and goodness
    that moved me
    and that I saw in you.
    I should have known,
    though I did not,
    that the lily-of-the-valley
    is a flower makes many ill
    who whiff it.
    We had our children,
    rivals in the general onslaught.
    I put them aside
    though I cared for them.
    as well as any man
    could care for his children
    according to my lights.
    You understand
    I had to meet you
    after the event
    and have still to meet you.
    Love
    to which you too shall bow
    along with me-
    a flower
    a weakest flower
    shall be our trust
    and not because
    we are too feeble
    to do otherwise
    but because
    at the height of my power
    I risked what I had to do,
    therefore to prove
    that we love each other
    while my very bones sweated
    that I could not cry to you
    in the act.
    Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
    I come, my sweet,
    to sing to you!
    My heart rouses
    thinking to bring you news
    of something
    that concerns you
    and concerns many men. Look at
    what passes for the new.
    You will not find it there but in
    despised poems.
    It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
    yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
    of what is found there.
    Hear me out
    for I too am concerned
    and every man
    who wants to die at peace in his bed
    besides.

    • hi María, thanks for your kind words and for the lovely poem by William Carlos Williams.
      I had been thinking of visiting you and the class before you break up for the summer vacaciones. would there be a possibility for a visit any day this week or next?
      un saludo.

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