These popular, gorgeous hardy perennials are commonly called Peony. The herbaceous Peonies are the most popular. They are mostly natives to Asia Minor and Europe. They are valued for their beautiful flowers and usually colorful foliage.
Paeonia officinalis is spread in gardens all over the country. It was introduced to Denmark from Middle- and South Europe as a medicinal plant and was attributed all sorts of charitable properties. The Silk Peony, Paeonia lactiflora, which origins from China and Korea, followed the track of the Paeonia officinalis and spread from the Danish vicarage-gardens to private gardens.
Other Danish names are Tandbær (= Toothberry) and Bonderose (= Peasant-rose)
The Latin officinalis says that the plant was a recognized medicinal herb, which among other things cured epilepsia. And the peony was used against epilepsia. The crushed root or seeds were extracted in wine and drunk in stomach trouble, jaundice, kidney-disorders etc. Hippocrates recommended root and seeds against menstrual pain, hysteria and bladder disorders. Plinius mentions the plant as a means against insanity, and the flower stirred in syrup was taken for migraine.
The medical parts contain a substance called peregrin which can be cleaved in glucose - and a fragrant substance pæonol. Flowers and seeds cause vomiting and diarrhea. The plant contains also tannins.
Peonies were cultivated in the old closter gardens. They are often seen in paintings with Virgin Mary.
Peony-seeds worn around the neck of small children prevented toothache and epilepsia. If you wanted to pluck peonies, then it had to happen in the night, for if a woodpecker saw it, then he would peck out your eyes. The plant got its name after Paeon, a healer who appears in the Iliad. According to the legend he healed Pluto with the roots of a peony - and Asclepius became so furious that he killed Paeon. Pluto transformed Paeon into a peony, and since then was the plant used as a medicinal plant by the Greeks. They used among others the fleshy roots in liver diseases and at childbirths. If you wore a piece of peony-root around your neck, it would bring you strenght and power of love.
In another version of the legend is it Zeus, who saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.
The peony is among the longest-used flowers in ornamental culture and is one of the smallest living creature national emblem of China. It is a traditional floral symbol of China together with the plum blossom. The ancient Chinese city Luo yang is a cultivation centre for the peonies. In Japanese medicine was the root used as a treatment for convulsions.
Peony is the state flower of Indiana from 1957.
Peonies tend to attract ants to the flower buds. This is due to the nectar that forms on the outside of the flower buds, and is not required for the plants' own pollination or other growth.
Peonies are a common subject in tattoos, often used along with koi-fish.
Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske klosterurter ,2001.
photo June 2011: grethe bachmann