July 2nd, 2018
With its soft and delicate petals, large and full shape and pretty pastel colours, it’s no wonder that the peony is one of the world’s most celebrated flowers. Native to Asia, these beautiful flowers stem from the same family as the humble buttercup.
The peony is named after Paeon, who was a student of Asclepius, the Greek God of medicine and healing. Asclepius began to be jealous of his clever student, and was about to unleash his anger and frustration on his unwitting student, when Zeus turned Paeon into a peony flower to save him.
Peonies are perhaps most well known for their significance as ornamental flowers, and were grown in the gardens of China as far back as 1,000 BC. It was during the T’ang Dynasty that peonies began to be used in imperial gardens, and the finest varieties were incredibly expensive because of such royal endorsement. Today, China is still the world’s largest peony grower. The city of Louyang is famed for growing peonies and there are several parks there dedicated to growing them. It is the “City of Peonies” and the flowers from here are said to be the finest in the world.
However, peonies were originally cultivated for medicinal purposes, and the root, bark, seeds and petals are all believed to have medicinal qualities. Traditional Chinese herbal medicines use the powdered bark of tree peonies as antibiotics and the root of the herbaceous peony to nourish the blood.
Although the use of peonies in medicine fell from favour in Europe in the middle ages, at one time the peony flower was used to relieve the pain of childbirth, to ward off evil spirits, to stop nightmares, sooth tooth ache and cure gall stones. Practically any ailment, in fact!
Today in the Western world, peonies are admired more for their pretty looks than for anything else. Peonies were popular subjects for European artists during the late eighteenth century. Renoir, Van-Gogh and Edouard Manet all have very famous peony paintings. And in Japan, the peony is a popular tattoo choice, and symbolises masculine confidence and spontaneity.
If you’ve been lucky enough to receive a bunch of beautiful and elegant peonies, make sure they stay looking their best by keeping them in a vase of fresh water and in a cool spot. Why not try drying your peonies, so they’ll last forever! The easiest way is to air dry them, by hanging them upside down in a cool, dark place. They will take around two to three weeks to dry.