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Carnations date back over 2,000 years so there are many myths, stories and symbols behind them. One of the world’s oldest cultivated flowers, the carnation’s scientific name ‘dianthus’, translates to “flower of love” or “flower of the gods”
According to a Christian legend, carnations originally appeared after the Crucifixion of Christ, growing in the spots where the Virgin Mary’s tears fell to the earth. This is said to be how the carnation became associated with a mother’s love.
In the Victorian ages, the colour of a carnation was at times used as a way to send a secret message to an admirer, with a solid colour meaning ‘yes’, striped meaning ‘I can’t be with you’, and yellow meaning ‘no’. In Korea, three carnations were sometimes placed in the hair of a young girl to tell her fortune. It is believed that if the top flower dies first, the last years of the girl’s life will be difficult. If the middle flower perishes first, her youth will be challenging, and if the bottom flower dies first, she will be told that her whole life will be a struggle. Such a dire message from a simple flower.
Carnations have also been used in tea or topical applications throughout history for their healing properties, including as a treatment for depression, insomnia and hormonal imbalances. The ancient Aztec Indians used the blooms as a diuretic and to treat chest congestion. Now it is a common wedding flower in China, whilst in Japan the red carnation is often given for Mother’s Day. Yellow carnations commonly symbolise friendship and white stands for good luck or innocence.
In the Netherlands, white carnations are worn to remember the country’s war veterans, whilst in France, purple carnations are the traditional funeral flower.
Carnations are the flower for January.