Lily, Modonna

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Lily, Modonna

Botanical Name: Lilium candidum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Liliaceae
Synonym: White Lily.
Part Used: The bulb.
Habitat: Mediterranean countries.

History: When found in Palestine, Lilium candidum is sometimes pointed out as the 'Lily of the Field,' but this more probably was L. chalcedonicum, the brilliantly scarlet Martagon Lily, which is specially abundant about the Lake of Gennesaret on the plains of Galilee. The Shushan, or Lily of Scripture, had probably a very broad meaning and might refer to any striking blossom.

This white Lily was a popular favourite with the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the early days of Christianity it was dedicated by the Church to the Madonna (hence its popular name), probably because its delicate whiteness was considered a symbol of purity. It is employed on the 2nd July, in connection with the celebration of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin.

It has been cultivated in this country for over three centuries, and no cottage garden was considered complete without this old favourite. Gerard, the famous apothecary, botanist and gardener of that period, says, 'Our English white lilie groweth in most gardens of England.'

It produces stiff, erect stems, 3 to 5 feet high, clothed with lance-shaped leaves. The flowers appear in June, flowering into July, and have a strong, sweet, penetrating perfume, so powerful as to be even annoying to some people. The honey is secreted in long grooves at the base of the white, floral leaves. There are several varieties, that with black stems, var. peregrinum, being the best for the garden.

Cultivation: The Madonna Lily, when it is immune from disease, to which it is very prone, has a vigorous constitution, being so hardy that frost does not injure it. It will thrive in almost any soil and situation and is easily cultivated. Though it will do well in ordinary garden soil - especially in raised beds - one of the chief causes of disease is planting in low, badly-drained soil. It produces the finest flowers when growing in a rich, deep, moist loam, where its roots remain undisturbed for years. It is a limelover and failures to grow it can often be ascribed to absence of lime in the soil. No plant dislikes removal or digging near the roots more than this lily. This really is the secret of its thriving so well in cottage gardens. It should, therefore, be assigned a home where it can be left, so to speak, to the care of itself (if grown from the horticultural point of view), when it will flower and flourish for a number of years, but the bulbs should be dug up and replanted as soon as they show signs of deteriorating. So long as the plants continue to thrive, it is not advisable to disturb them, for cases have been known where they failed entirely after being transplanted, although they were in a perfect condition previous to shifting them, and they should never be moved more frequently than once in three years.

Planting or replanting should not be delayed beyond the end of August. The bulbs should not be planted more than 4 inches deep and not less than 6 inches apart, as the plants grow tall and spread very fast, being increased by offsets, which the bulbs send out in such plenty, as to make it necessary to take them off every other, or at most every third year, to prevent them weakening the principal bulb. The time for removing them, to ensure flowering next year, is the end of July to August, soon after the stalks decay.

Besides wood ash, an annual top dressing of decayed manure and a dusting of bonemeal in autumn have been found most beneficial to this Lily.

The bulbs are collected in August, and used both dry and fresh. Each bulb is composed of imbricated, fleshy scales, lanceolate and curved, about 1 1/2 inch long and rather less than an inch broad at the widest part. It is odourless, with a slightly bitter and disagreeable taste. The scales should be stripped off separately for drying, and spread on shelves in a warm room for about ten days, then finished off by artificial heat.

The flowers of the Lily were formerly considered anti-epileptic and anodyne: a distilled water was employed as a cosmetic, and oil of Lilies was supposed to possess anodyne and nervine powers. But their odorous matter, though very powerful, is totally dissipated in drying and entirely carried off in distillation, either with spirit or water, so no essential oil can be obtained from them in this manner.

The petals communicate their fragrance to almond and olive oil, and also to lard, and have thus been employed in the past by perfumers.

Uses: The bulb, only, is now employed for medicinal purposes, having highly demulcent and also somewhat astringent properties.

Bulbs are collected in August, and used both dried and fresh.

Each bulb is composed of imbricated, fleshy scales, lanceolate and curved, about 1 1/2 inch long and rather less than 1/2 inch broad in the centre. It is without odour, but has a peculiar, disagreeable, somewhat bitter and mucilaginous taste.

To dry the scales, strip them off separately and spread them on shelves in a kitchen or other warm room for about ten days, then finish off more quickly in greater heat over a stove or gas fire, or in oven when the fire has just gone out.

The bulb contains a great deal of mucilage and a small proportion of an acrid principle, but the latter it loses by drying, roasting, or boiling; when cooked, the bulb is viscid, pulpy, sweet and sugary and is eaten by many people in the East. The Japanese are said to specially esteem the bulb of this species served with white sauce.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Demulcent, as tringent. Owing to their highly mucilaginous properties, the bulbs are chiefly employed externally, boiled in milk or water, as emollient cataplasms for tumours, ulcers and external inflammation and have been much used for this purpose in popular practice. The fresh bulb, bruised and applied to hard tumours, softens and ripens them sooner than any other application.

Made into an ointment, the bulbs take away corns and remove the pain and inflammation arising from burns and scalds, which they cure without leaving any scar. The ointment also had the reputation of being an excellent application to contracted tendons. Gerard tells us: 'The root of the Garden Lily stamped with honey gleweth together sinewes that be cut asunder. It bringeth the hairs again upon places which have been burned or scalded, if it be mingled with oil or grease. . . The root of a white Lily, stamped and strained with wine, and given to drink for two or three days together, expelleth the poison of the pestilence.' In the fresh state, the bulb is also said to have been employed with advantage in dropsy, for Culpepper (1652), besides confirming the uses of the Lily bulb which Gerard gives, tells us 'the juice of it being tempered with barley meal baked is an excellent cure for the dropsy.'

Combined with Life Root (Senecio aureus), it is recommended in modern herbal practice for healing female complaints generally.

Dosage: Of infusion, in water or milk, 3 tablespoonsful.

Country people sometimes steep the fresh blooms in spirit and use the liquid as a lotion for bruises in the same manner as Arnica or Calendula.

The bulbs of several other species of Lilies besides those of L. candidum are eaten, as those of L. Kamschatcense, L. Martagon, the Turk's Cap, and L. Pomponium, the Turban or Yellow Martagon, in Siberia. The Chinese and Japanese eat regularly the bulbs of L. tigrinum, the Tiger Lily and the Goldenrayed Lily of Japan, L. auratum.