Medical Herbs Catalogue



otanical: Galanthus nivalis (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Amaryllidaceae
Synonyms: Fair Maid of February. Bulbous Violet.

Snowdrop, usually spoken of as the first flower of our year, though the Winter Aconite has perhaps a better title to be so considered, has never been of much account in physic, and has never been recognized. Gerard says 'nothing is set down hereof by the ancient Writers, nor anything observed by the moderne.' He calls it the Bulbous Violet, but adds that some call it the Snowdrop, the earliest mention of it by this name, and it was known to all the old botanists as a bulbous violet.

The generic name, Galanthus, is Greek in its origin and signifies Milkflower. Nivalis is a Latin adjective, meaning relating to or resembling snow.

Gerard speaks of it as not a native of England, though somewhat common in gardens, having been introduced from Italy. It is a native of Switzerland, Austria and of Southern Europe generally, but where naturalized here spreads into considerable masses, and is plentiful wherever it occurs, generally growing in shady pastures, woods and orchards. There is probably no bulbous plant, however, which for all its extreme hardiness in resisting cold, shows such a marked preference or distaste for certain localities, even though there may be little variation in soil or altitude. In some districts snowdrops will grow and spread in woods as readily as the wild hyacinth; in others, with apparently identical conditions, it is difficult to get them to grow and they will refuse to spread.

The bulbs grow in compact masses. Each sends up a one-flowered stem. The points of the leaves protecting the flower-head are thickened and toughened at the tips, enabling them to push through the soil. This simple device shows on the mature leaf like a delicate nail on a green finger.

The flowers remain open a long time; the bud is erect, but the open flowers pendulous and adapted to bees. The perianth is in two whorls, on the inner surface of the inner perianth leaves are green grooves secreting honey - the stamens dehisce, or open, by apical slots and lie close against the style, forming a cone. The stigma projects beyond the anther cone and is first touched by an insect, which in probing for nectar, shakes the stamens and receives a shower of pollen.

Gerard appears to be wrong in saying that the plant has no medicinal use.

An old glossary of 1465, referring to it as Leucis i viola alba, classes it as an emmenagogue, and elsewhere, placed under the narcissi, its healing properties are stated to be 'digestive, resolutive and consolidante.'