The heliotrope plant – which is sometimes referred to as the cherry pie plant because of its strong caramel, vanilla and cherry-like fragrance belongs to the moderately-sized heliotropium genus, and is a member of the boraginaceae family and heliotropioideae subfamily. These perennial plants, which can reach heights of 2 to 3 feet, consist of broad, coarse, dark green leaves, and large clusters of delicate flowers. Although the velvety, veiny leaves are spectacular on their own, these plants are best known for their fragrant blossoms, which burst forth in large clusters, and appear in shades of blue, white, and purple. As their name implies, the flower heads move with the sun as it moves in the sky.
Because of its striking beauty and alluring scent, the heliotrope plant has found its way into myth and storytelling. One of the best known stories is of Clytie, a water nymph, who was deeply in love with the sun god Helios – or, in some versions, Apollo. This god, however, had his eye on the princess Leukothoe, and one day abandoned Clytie for her. Finding that she had been forsaken, she spent the rest of her days pining away. Upon her death Helios, taking pity on the forlorn nymph whom he had slighted, turned her body into the heliotrope plant. Ever faithful to her beloved, the plant dutifully followed the sun every day. Other tales tell of this plant having a prophetic effect on sleep; dreaming of the plant itself is said to represent unrequited love, while heliotrope oils are thought to bring about prognostic dreams. Other folkloric tales show this plant’s place in rituals. For instance, if you pick a heliotrope blossom in the month of August and use it for good, then good things will come back to you; if, on the other hand, you use it with bad intentions, the wickedness will be turned around on you ten-fold. In addition to having a varied history in folklore, the heliotrope plant is also considered very useful in alternative medicine and cosmetics. The essential oils are used to help fight fatigue, and are also placed in many perfumes and lotions; while tinctures are made from this plant to help cure viral infections, cleanse the blood, and clear out congested lymphatic systems.
This plant was once referred to as the herb of love, which is not surprising as, in general, they are thought to symbolize devotion. In addition to being a romantic emblem, heliotropes are also thought to have a religious bearing; representing a hope for salvation – or “turning towards” God. As a gift, these lovely plants are often given in decorative pots or within small container gardens.