The star of Bethlehem flower – which is sometimes know by its scientific name, ornithogalum – is a genus of aggressively-growing perennial plants that belong to the hyacinthaceae family. These plants are native to regions of Africa and Europe, but some species may also be seen blossoming in the Caucasus. These flowers bloom from stalks that develop within a rosette of curving basal leaves. The stalks are smooth and hairless, can reach heights of 6 to 9 inches in height and end in a raceme. The flower itself consists of six thick tepals that surround a single pistil, and six yellow or light brown stamens. These blooms come almost exclusively in a shade of bright white; however, they also carry a very recognizable stripe of green along the outer sides of each tepal.
In addition to being called the star of Bethlehem flower, these plants are also known as the Arabian and wonder flower, as well as ‘the florist’s nightmare.’ The latter title is due to the fact that these plants are not only vigorous in their growth habits, but they also have an exceptionally long shelf life – lasting at least two weeks, sometimes longer. The star of Bethlehem flower is best known for its biblical associations. Because of its pure white, star-like shape, it was named after the star that rose over Bethlehem to reveal the birth of the baby Jesus. However, these plants are not only fantastic in name, but fantastic in function. Although it is not widely known, these flowers have many uses in both the culinary world, and the world of folk medicine. Although star of Bethlehems are considered highly toxic to animals, most species are thought to be perfectly safe for human consumption, and the bulbs are frequently dried and ground. The flowers themselves are occasionally baked into uniquely-flavored breads. The bulbs of this plant are also used to treat some forms of cancer; while the essences created from the flower are used in aromatherapy. In fact, Dr. Edward Bach prescribed this flower’s essence for those suffering from shock.
The star of Bethlehem flower is, of course, most frequently associated with the symbol of purity. However, these blossoms are sometimes used in weddings, and given as gifts for special romantic occasions, as they are also representative of hope – a hope for a new life, or the continuation of happiness and love. In addition to purity and hope, these flowers are thought to be an expression of atonement and reconciliation, and are sometimes given as a gift to say, “I’m sorry.”