In Poland more than a thousand years ago single girls wore wreaths of flowers on their heads. Often times in June they made and wore herbal wreaths for the mid summer (midsummer) solstice which they celebrated on the eve of St. John June 22 with the St. John's fires. Each region had its own fires of St. John, but most all ended with the maidens throwing their wreath in the fires. If the burning wreath was thrown in the river and then pulled OT by a single man it might mean they are engaged. These customs are ancient and are not often celebrated in urban areas. I do remember a few years back going to Washington D C and attending a wonderful St. Johns Eve celebration where 100's of Polish Americans made and wore the wreaths and floated them with candles in the reflection pools. It was a wonderful event and one that may still continue.
Polish maidens wore wreaths for many occasions, with the most significant one also the last time being their wedding. Many of the flowers had special meanings with some of these being universal. Romantics, lovers and brides all were given the herb rosemary as a symbol of fidelity, remembrance and love. Since this is a plant native to the Mediterranean area it must have come along with its legends by way of ancient traders crossing Poland. Later when bouquets became more popular it also was placed with roses for a girls to carry.
Both lavender and Myrtle were also associated with love and worn and carried by brides. These like the rosemary were brought to Poland in some unknown time, but became very popular a popular traditions. Roses and rue both probably natives were also used in both hair wreaths and later in bouquets. The housewife grew all for her daughters and other young females in the family. The art of making a beautiful hair wreath was practiced by all of the women. Early records and diaries often to give detailed list of each sprig of herb or flower used in both air wreaths and bridal flowers. Poles are romantic in general and this type of flower symbolism appealed to all, especially in ancient times.
Throughout Europe during the Middle Ages some flowers and herbs were thought to protect one from ills. People of means would carry little bunches of special herbs and blooms to hold up to their noses when in the city and in crowded places. This custom spread also with little bouquets called Tussie Mussie by the English and soon becoming known by many. This is little nosegay of flowers and herbs. They goes back to the ancients but were made throughout Europe from medieval times. That was an era when there was little or no public sanitation and people thought by carrying and sniffing the little nosegay it would protect them from sickness and plague. Made of scented medicinal herbs, like rosemary, thyme, lavender, mint and rue it was rather antiseptic and protected one from germs and bad odors. They also threw or strew these same strongly scented herbs and flowers on the floor of homes to freshen the air and protect against the plague.
Although some blooms had meaning during the Middle Ages and Shakespeare often used herb and flowers to convey meaning in his prose and poetry, it was during the Victorian era that many lists of flowers and meanings began to circulate. Most young ladies knew the symbolism of flowers so they could send and receive bouquets with a message. Lavender, roses and sweet smelling violets were favorites as were Forget-me-nots for true love, and purple lilacs to say falling in love with you. Even today some people who grow and use herbs in America are familiar with the following meanings and make Tussie mussies with a message:
- Rosemary - for remembrance
- Sage - immortality and good virtue
- Lavender - love
- Myrtle (Myrtus communis)- a symbol of love and fertility
- Ivy - faithfulness and friendship
- Globe amaranth - everlasting feeling and love
- Mint - virtue and truth
- Roses - love forever
Many times these plants and blooms are used in wedding bouquets and as wedding favors. Even the color of the rose has meaning:
- White roses signify simplicity or purity
- White and Red roses together-unity
- Red -true love and passion
It is fun to create your own special bouquets or hair wreath. As a florist I get to make them for many girls. My most special bouquet and hair wreath was for my beautiful daughter in law who was of polish heritage (she is from Pottstown, PA). Sharon is shown on page 42 of Sophie Knab's book Polish Wedding Customs and Traditions wearing her beautiful wedding wreath. We carry that book) in our shop Triple Oaks Nursery, Florist & Herb Garden in Franklinville and can readily send it out (19.99 plus postage). Email me at Lorraine@tripleoaks or call 856-694-4272.
Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator), Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore