Bouquet of Hyacinth on a mason jar

Hyacinth: A Magical Allure

Floral Beauty

Tiny blossoms cluster atop tall stalks.

The delicate star-like flowers form into conical groups, in many colors of the rainbow. The striking textures and shapes invite the viewer to take time to study their magic, and they are equally admirable from a distance as they are up close.

The plants are especially graced in striking shades of purple from violet to lilac. But this plant is not a violet or a lilac. It has a different name, based on an ancient deity with a story that’s been passed down through millennia. We know it as the Hyacinthus orientalis, the beloved garden hyacinth. 

The regal hyacinth flowers stand together as proud ornaments, celebrating the springtime at their long-anticipated arrival (usually somewhere around March and April). The flowers are cultivated both indoors and outdoors, and give a lovely floral scent. Their aroma strengthens as they bloom, and the plant’s potent essential oils are often incorporated into alluring perfumery and body care products. 

While the plants may be cultivated worldwide, the hyacinth family of flowers is native to the warm Mediterranean and tropical African regions. When grown indoors, a technique known as forcing may be required. This involves promoting early blossoming of the floral display.

Variations on a Theme

The ever-popular Hyacinthus orientalis, or garden hyacinth, is one of three species in the Hyacinthus genus. The other two are known as Hyacinthus litwinowii and Hyacinthus transcaspicus, and are grouped from the family of Asparagaceae. Although the garden hyacinth is a beautiful decorative sight in the garden or at home, the plant’s gifts and utility extends far beyond mere ornamentation.

An Ancient Myth 

What does it take to name a flower? Many blossoms carry quite a history upon their petals, and the hyacinth is one of them.

The hyacinth flower inherited its name from an ancient Greek hero of divinity. In the story, the Spartan athlete Hyacinth (or Hyacinthus) was tragically killed while playing a game of discus with the god Apollo. Despite Apollo’s profound gift for the healing arts, this time the god was unable to save poor Hyacinth. It is said that in his sorrow and mourning, Apollo made use of his powers and brought forth a flower at Hyacinth’s grave. The flower’s original identity is disputed in some circles, but the modern garden hyacinths that we know and love are widely associated with this ancient tale of myth.

Hyacinth: Rich Meaning and Symbol

In the Victorian era, many people cleverly used flowers and floral arrangements as a way to communicate secret messages. This creative practice has been revisited and celebrated in recent years. For example: in The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, different floral colors represent varied symbols. With an open mind, these can reference the tale of the Greek god of the same name.

The general meaning of the hyacinth blossoms could stand for athletics, and red or pink might indicate play. But the meanings were not necessarily uplifting. Yellow could mean great jealousy, while purple hyacinths could stand for sorrow, remorse or even a heartfelt apology.

Perhaps this last emotion assigned to the color purple, regret, is what Willy Wonka’s young Violet Beauregarde was trying to express as she cried out desperately for help during her unfortunate and self-imposed transformation into a berry. 

Good Medicine: Hyacinth’s Healthful Applications

The hyacinth is a gorgeous flower to behold, in any color. But in addition to its beauty and widely regarded reputation, the famed hyacinth herb can be used medicinally for a host of physical issues. The plant’s material functions as an anti-inflammatory. From beauty care and digestion to even treating cholera, hyacinth may really be a true gift from those ancient gods.

Hyacinth Day happens to be March 7, so mark your calendar to celebrate the wonders of the wondrous blooms.