The nigella flower – sometimes referred to by its common name, love in a mist, or its full scientific name, nigella damascena – is one of only 14 species within its small genus. It is a member of the ranunculaceae family, and is native to areas of southwest Asia, southern Europe and north Africa. These plants are annually growing, and bear threaded, alternating pinnate leaves that develop like a collar around the flower head. The flower itself can be up to 2 inches around, and consist of either a single or double head which blooms from a plant that can reach between 15 and 30 inches in height. They may contain from 5 to 25 sepals, which are generally light blue in shade, but may also appear in pale hues of pink, purple and white.
The nigella flower has been an exceptionally popular garden bloom since the Elizabethan era. This is namely due to the general loveliness of the flower, and it’s uniquely shaped foliage. However, gardens are not the only medium in which this plant has exhibited its special charms. Over time, these blossoms have become a large part of myth and magic. Although most people think that the name “love in a mist” came about purely for the nigella’s frothy appearance, some legends tell a different story. One such tale tells of Frederick I Barbarossa – the holy Roman Emperor – who, in fact, drowned in the Saleph River while leading a Crusade through Turkey. During this Crusade, it is said that a spirit of the water seduced the Emperor, leading him into the shallow river which ultimately led to his demise. On the shore, a delicate nigella flower blossomed, and is thought to represent his own departed spirit – which is now enmeshed with that of water. In magic, the nigella flower is considered a Venus herb. Unlike most Venus herbs, though, these plants are not only used to attract love, but to represent the strong feminine power of an alluring woman. As well as being used in love charms, these plants are also applied to spells that can bring about glamour and the binding of a person’s spirit.
The magical associations with the nigella flower carry over into its symbolism. These blooms are often said to represent the chains that bind people together – usually in love, but sometimes in bitterness. They are also said to express perplexity and intrigue, and are often given as gifts to tell the recipient that the giver is fascinated, or simply has a crush.