The quietly deceptive Konwalia : Lily of the Valley

With the month of May coming to a close, as Spring turns into Summer, and as the last of Golden Rzepak fields can be feasted upon by your eyes, many fragrant flowers are sprouting their last flower buds, before they disappear until the next year. One of these is Konwalia  or Lily of the Valley.

Konwalia - Street Seller in Poland (from

Konwalia – Street Seller in Poland (from

When I first saw some old ladies selling them on street corners in Poland, I had no idea what they were. (I learned later that it was illegal to sell them on the streets, as a lot of the sellers would bring them from the forest, where it was forbidden to pluck them). Neither do they grow in India, nor have I ever seen them in any other country I have lived or worked in. Maybe I was too busy staring at computer screens, to stop and smell the flowers.

Konwalia in our Olsztyn Garden

Konwalia in our Olsztyn Garden

But when my fiancé’s mommy brought a bunch back from her garden, and I deeply inhaled its fragrance, I was instantly teleported back to my childhood, through a labyrinth of memories of light, shade and aromas, somewhere near a bathtub, maybe my mom’s soap or talcum powder, a soft and safe smell from long ago. Warmth. To a particular green container on a shelf from a couple of decades back.

Mom's Yardley - Lily of the Valley

Mom’s Yardley – Lily of the Valley

When I told my fiancé that I wanted an essential oil of Konwalia,  he laughed out loud, for only the old grannies of Poland apparently buy Lily of the Valley perfumes and perfumed products. But there’s something really soothing about the smell, which, although I would not maybe wear lest I gave out olefactory signals of an old Polish lady, I would definitely keep in my room, or throw into potpourri in my wardrobe.

Anyway, what I found out about Konwalia or Convallaria Majalis  was that it’s firstly a Highly Toxic Plant when ingested directly, and can lead to numerous things such as  blurred vision, seeing halos, rashes, hives and a hoard of other dangerous side effects. When had as a tea (don’t try to make this yourself, buy in a shop please), or in the form of tinctures or capsules they are very healthy. They strengthen the muscles around the heart, at the same time slowing down your heart rate. They aid memory loss problems and it’s flower-water is a great astringent for your skin. In aromatherapy, the fragrance of Konwalia can lift you out of depression.

This delicate and hardy flower is often used in bridal bouquets. Legend says that it was a gift from Apollo to Aesculapius, God of healing. An old folk tale also says that if you rub its oil on your forehead, it will impart common sense ! In the Garden too, this sweet little 8-inch high plant is quietly deceptive, because it’s certainly not as delicate as it looks.

Martha Stewart very rightly describes here:

“Have you ever known someone dainty, attractive, and exceedingly charming, yet surprisingly determined? Many gardeners would describe the diminutive lily of the valley as just such a character.  With its deeply fragrant flowers — scallop-edge bells that dangle above bright emerald-green leaves — this nearly deer-proof shade lover appears to be delicate in an old-fashioned way. But the pretty plant is also an intrepid wanderer, spreading readily and rapidly, and anyone who gardens in a small space will want to watch this perennial to make sure it stays in bounds.”

It’s true. The Konwalia looks beautiful, with it’s tiny dainty bells like shyly nodding heads, yet is poisonous when ingested, but a gift when delicately distilled, and as hardy as an oak. When you see a batch peeping under the shade of a tree from behind a rock, don’t be fooled by this pretty little thing.

Tip : Whatever you do, don’t eat it.

Konwalia in our Olsztyn Garden

Konwalia in our Olsztyn Garden


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