FlowerMuse: Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower) Angela Merkel

This week the world’s leaders have congregated in Davos (a small alpine town in Switzerland) for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) to consider what they say are the globe’s big issues (under the heading; “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”) – radicalism, populism, isolationism.  In other words the most pressing threats to their power and place in the world. There are 2500 attendees “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”.  There’s no shortage of people who want to have a say (Donald Trump today), yesterday it was the turn of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Taking the podium Ms Merkel seemingly took on Trump (though she didn’t name him) to warn  “about the rise of “national egotism” and said his style of politics ignored the lessons of the great conflicts of the 20th Century, such as the First World War, when national leaders “almost sleepwalked into a horrendous situation”. And we today, 100 years later, have to ask ourselves a very pertinent question: have we learned the lessons of history? We haven’t really” she said.

And more – “We’ve known since the Roman empire, since the Chinese wall, only shutting ourselves off doesn’t help to protect your borders,” she said

 

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Speaking at the WEF, Davos

 

It was interesting Merkel, wearing her favourite colour blue and with her blue eyes steely,  used history, both recent and ancient, to enforce her fears of growing populism in her own country. In-so-doing she epitomized the German national flower – the bright, unfussy Cornflower.

 

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The cornflower, the electric blue flower head. Thistle-ly looking but without the hurtful spikes.  Provider of summer-long colour in many garden borders (herbicides have made them nearly extinct in native countryside fields), unprepossessing perhaps but rather unique but like Angela Merkel shouldn’t be underestimated. Like her, cornflowers have a history of longevity and good fortune.

(And of bringing peoples together)

Today the cornflower has been adopted as a symbol all over Europe particularly in a political context;  as the symbol of the Estonian political party, People’s Union, the Finnish political party, National Coalition Party, and the Swedish political party, Liberal People’s Party.

 

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Emblem of the Swedish Liberal People’s Party.

 

More controversially cornflowers were worn in 1930s Austria to show Nazi sympathy, a custom adopted more recently by the Austrian Far-Freedom party (but after much derision, they have now dropped adopted the Edelweiss).

The cornflower’s historical significance reaches back much, much further; as an ancient flower of healing.  According to Greek mythology; “Centaurea” after the centaur Chiron was said to have used the blue petals of the cornflower to heal his wounds after battle.  A peacemaker too Chiron was credited with introducing humans to the power, and soothing abilities of herbs.  And as an ancient flower of Egygptain nobility.  3000 years after his burial cornflower wreaths, still distinctively blue, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, (believed then to aid re-incarnation).

And then later in the nineteenth century they became as the Kaiser’s Flower, the flower of unification. Kaiser Wilhelm I – the first Emperor of Germany (1871). So named because as a child he had hid from Napoleon’s invading forces in a field of cornflowers with his siblings. His mother Queen Louise of Prussia made the children a crown of cornflowers to keep them from crying and giving themselves away.  Germany and Prussia unified As Kaiser he went on to unify Germany and Prussia and adopted cornflower as the colour for the military uniform.

 

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Cornflower by Walter Crane (1900)

 

As a flavouring cornflowers are sweet and spicy (perhaps like Angela). Astringent, diuretic and anti-inflammatory,  they are used as a herbal treament for water retention, fever, constipation, and chest congestion. They are edible in salads and used as a flavouring for tea (Earl Grey).

Yesterday the German chancellor said that she wanted a “great partnership” with Britain after Brexit, but warned that protectionism should be resisted by countries to enable better working together. Perhaps then she should suggest the cornflower as a symbol of her hope for a renewed unity.

Failing that the world leaders might like to know it was once considered a useful remedy for the Plague.

 

‘…it is a remedy against the poison of the scorpion and resisteth all venoms and poisons. The seeds or leaves (or the distilled water of the herb) taken in wine is very good against the plague and all infectious diseases, and is very good in pestilential fevers: the juice put into fresh or green wounds doth quickly solder up the lips of them together, and is very effectual to heal all ulcers and sores in the mouth.’ Culpepper, A Complete Herbal (1653)

 

 

 

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