Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Scilla nutans (S. M.)
Hyacinthus nonscriptus (LINN.)

Synonyms: Calverkeys. Culverkeys. Auld Man's Bell. Ring-o'-Bells. Jacinth. Wood Bells. Agraphis nutans, Link.
Part Used: Bulb, dried and powdered.
Habitat: Abundant in Britain, Western Europe to Spain, eastward to Central France, along the Mediterranean to Italy.

Description: From the midst of very long, narrow leaves, rising from the small bulb, and overtopping them, rises the flower-stem, bearing the pendulous, bell-shaped blossoms, arranged in a long curving line. Each flower has two small bracts at the base of the short flower-stalk. The perianth is bluish-purple and composed of six leaflets.

The Wild Hyacinth is in flower from early in April till the end of May, and being a perennial and spreading rapidly, is found year after year in the same spot, forming a mass of rich colour in the woods where it grows. The long leaves remain above ground until late in the autumn.

Linnaeus first called it Hyacinthus, tradition associating the flower with the Hyacinth of the Ancients, the flower of grief and mourning. Hyacinthus was a charming youth whom both Apollo and Zephyrus loved, but Hyacinthus preferred the Sun-God to the God of the West Wind, who sought to be revenged, and one day when Apollo was playing quoits with the youth, a quoit (blown by Zephyrus out of its proper course) killed Hyacinthus. Apollo, stricken with grief, raised from his blood a purple flower, on which the letters Ai, Ai were traced, so that his cry of woe might for evermore have existence upon earth. As our native variety of Hyacinth had no trace of these mystic letters our older botanists called it Hyacinthus nonscriptus, or 'not written on.' A later generic name, Agraphis, is of similar meaning, being a compound of two Greek words, meaning 'not to mark.'

It is the 'fair-hair'd hyacinth' of Ben Jonson, a name alluding to the old myth. We also find it called Jacinth in Elizabethan times. In Walton's Angler it is mentioned as Culverkeys.

Constituents: The bulbs contain inulin, but are characterized by the absence of starch (which in many other monoeotyledons is found in company with inulin). Even if fed on cane-sugar, Bluebell bulbs will not form starch. They also contain a very large quantity of mucilage.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Though little used in modern medicine, the bulb has diuretic and styptic properties.

Dried and powdered it has been used as a styptic for leucorrhoea; 'There is hardly a more powerful remedy,' wrote Sir John Hill (1716-75), warning at the same time that the dose should not exceed 3 grains. He also informs us that a decoction of the bulb operates by urine.

Tennyson speaks of Bluebell juice being used to cure snake-bite.

The flowers have a slight, starch-like scent, but no medicinal uses have been ascribed to them.

The bulbs are poisonous in the fresh state. The viscid juice so abundantly contained in them and existing in every part of the plant has been used as a substitute for starch, and in the days when stiff ruffs were worn was much in request. From its gummy character, it was also employed as bookbinders' gum.

Gerard informs us that it was also used for setting feathers upon arrows. De Candolle (1778-1841) suggested that the abundant mucilage might be put to some economic purpose.

Dosage: 3 grains.

Substitutes: any other bulbous plants related to Scilla (Hyacinthus, Muscari Gagea, etc.) have been used as diuretics, and probably contain related, if not identical substances.