Fun Facts About Botanicals

Just about everyone has heard of botanicals these days, but what you associate with the word botanicals depends on how they are used in your life. The dictionary definition of botanical is: “1: of or relating to plants, or botany; 2: derived from plants; 3: species (tulips)”. Wikipedia defines botanicals as “a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal or therapeutic properties, flavor, and/or scent”. So already we have four slightly different meanings of this word. A scientist would probably think of definition #1. A doctor or health enthusiast would most likely think of the Wikipedia definition. I myself think more of the #3 definition because I am heavily into gardening and plants.

As far back as 60,000 BC man has been using plants for medicinal and health reasons. In the Middle Ages most castles, abbeys and monasteries, and homes of prominent citizens had herb gardens and a “still room” where soothing and healthful drinks were concocted. Botany (Botanicals) became more studied in the 16th and 17th centuries when universities in Europe started planting herb gardens so that the plants could be examined while students took a formal course in botany.

Today we find botanicals in many forms; tablets, liquids, fresh and dried products and tea bags. Ginger is found fresh (ginger root) and dried (teabags). Also used in the kitchen are parsley, rosemary, mint… and the list goes on. Juniper berries are the chief flavoring agent in gin, and many manufacturers add their own “secret” botanicals to give the product its own distinctive flavor, such as cinnamon, coriander, angelica root, and orange peel. Medicinally we use Echinacea (coneflower), garlic, caraway, in a holistic approach to health; but with traditional medicine we process plants to get a whole host of prescription drugs such as aspirin, digitalis, quinine, morphine and codeine. Obviously there are way too many of these to list them all.

When dried, the petals, leaves and berries or fruits of herbs and flowers give us the ingredients to make potpourri. They are decorative additions to any décor. Mix a few different flower shapes and colors for your own signature potpourri, or else purchase a mix. You can also scent your potpourri by adding a few drops of fragrance oil. If your mix contains some of the stronger smelling botanicals, such as mint, sage or thyme you might not want to add any other scent. But whatever you choose, botanical potpourri is definitely a soft, beautiful way to decorate your home or office.

One other use of botanicals is not so much employed today. In the language of flowers, each particular flower and its various colors have a specific meaning. Long before men understood the cyclic changing of the seasons and its effect on plants, they realized that the flora changed and began to assign meanings to the different flowers and trees. This symbolism allowed man to express various sentiments. Originating in the poetry of Persia, the “language of flowers” came to Europe around the early 1700’s. But evidence exists that show that flowers were used as secret code in art, architecture and legend well before this time. Using flowers to express one’s sentiments really came into vogue during Victorian times. Fresh flowers were used whenever possible; but if one was unable to obtain them, then herbal intention bottles, or Blessing Bottles made of combinations of dried flowers were substituted. The Victorians had the art of communicating through flowers down to a science. Not only did each individual flower have its own meaning, the combination of various flowers imparted special sentiments and desires. And sometimes the meaning wasn’t very nice!

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