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The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Columbine: Aquilegia

Aquilegia canadensis [ Plantae: Magnoliophyta: Magnoliopsida: Eudicots: Ranunculales: Aquilegia: Aquilegia canadensis ]

Common Names:

Northern Hemisphere. It is native to the Alps. Common throughout Eastern North America as well as Utah, California, and Alaska.

There are about 60-70 species of Columbine.

Columbines are an perennial airy plant with attractive foliage that will come in diverse colors that some describe to look like jester’s caps and some of the plants are bi-colored ranging from reds, yellows, whites, blues, pinks, and purple blossoms. The plant in its infancy is clover-like but grows upwards of 2 feet in height during full bloom which occurs in late spring to early summer. It produces a follicle fruit.

Columbine is a self-seeding plant so requires little for spreading it. It likes partial shade in meadows, woodlands, and footpaths with well-drained soils. It often is found on rocky ledges in the wild. The plants are drought tolerant. It is propogated by its seed.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:
Native Americans used Colombine leaves as a condiment with other fresh greens which adds sweetness to the dish and is safe in small quantities.

Medicinal Uses:
Columbines produce cardiogenic toxins. While the leaves are safe in small quantities, the seeds and roots are highly poisonous which cause severe gastroenteritis and heart palpiations. Native Americans utilized small amounts of the root to treat ulcers. However due to its toxicity, its highly recommended to avoid use internally. Early doctors powdered dried columbine flowers to make an antitoxin drink. Native Americans used small amounts of crushed seeds to cure headaches and improve a person’s love life.

Magical Uses:
It is symbollic of Venus, the Goddess of Love. Native Americans made a paste from crushed seeds or dried flowers to make a love potion.

Folklore and History:
The name comes from the Latin “Columba” which refers to doves as some believe there is a resemblance in the inverted columbine flower to five doves nested together. “Aquilegia” comes from the Latin word “aquila” for “eagle” because the shape of he flower petals resemble an eagle’s claw.