The Forget-me-not – a tiny gem of a flower

The Forget-me-not (Myosotis) is a tiny gem of a flower, or ‘flowers’ would be a better term, as there are over 50 species scattered across the globe. Some are upright, and grow up to two feet tall, others are inconspicuous, and have a ‘creeping’ habit, staying close to the ground. Universally, they are either blue or purple, (although there is a pink American cultivar) with small leaves which resemble a mouse’s ear, – at least, that is according to the great American author, Henry Thoreau, who wrote of them. The name Myosotis is derived from the Latin for mouse’s ear!

All Forget-me-nots are members of the Boraginaceae family, and, in cultivation, are remarkably free of pests and diseases. Indeed, they make a fine addition to a rockery, or informal border, and their blanket of tiny, flat, five-petalled flowers with a yellow centre makes a pretty show. Indeed, they will ‘self set’ and spread easily all over the garden – you will have to control their fecundity. Here we can see an example of Myosotis decumbrans, a species widely distributed in Europe, from Spain in the west, to Roumania in the east, from Italy in the south, to the very tip of Norway, the North Cape. These flowers are quite at home in the garden in South Yorkshire.

There are many stories and legends associated with the Forget-me-not, many of them of dubious veracity. One of the alternative names for the plant is ‘scorpion grass’, for it is said to be a sovereign remedy for the sting of a scorpion (this is one remedy I would NOT wish to try out!). Another 15th century legend from Germany has a knight in armour picking a posy of the flowers to give to his lady, then slipping into a river where he drowns. He throws the posy to her and shouts ‘Forget me not!’ (‘Vergiss mein nicht!’)

One thing we can say, is that Henry of Lancaster had them as one of his personal emblems. He was exiled from the realm in 1398 when he attempted to fight a duel with Thomas de Mowbray, the 1st Duke of Norfolk, and adopted the Forget-me-not as a symbol whilst in Europe. He returned in 1399, and was eventually crowned King Henry IV of England.

One of the Forget-me-not species, the Alpine Forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris), is the State Flower of Alaska, having been adopted as such in 1949. I suppose that this sends a subtle message to the rest of the ‘lower 48’ not to forget that it really is ‘North To The Future’ (Alaska’s motto).  There appears to be some dispute as to whether members of the Masons, in Nazi Germany, actually used a small lapel pin of a Forget-me-not as a covert recognition symbol during WW2, so as to avoid being singled out for harsh treatment by the Gestapo. This story has been perpetuated in some circles, so much so that you can buy such commemorative pins online, from certain Masonic websites. It is fair to say that Masonic authorities are divided on this matter.

One thing I am certain about is that you can buy dried Forget-me-not flowers from China, where the mild taste of the tea (technically, a tisane, rather than a tea) made from the flower is well-known. Such an infusion is asserted to be caffeine-free, with a mild taste, and is said to reduce hypertension, give restful sleep, calm nerves, and even make the skin more beautiful – goodness, I obviously need buckets of the stuff!

Whatever you say about the Forget-me-not, you simply have to acknowledge the sheer beauty of this little gem of a flower.

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