An Herb Language Guide to April Foolishness
“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
During years of research into the symbolism, folklore, origins of and mystical and magical side of herbs, I’ve discovered herbs whose symbol is silly, whimsical or foolish. Sending an April fool’s message to friends and relatives using herbal meanings is a great way to celebrate the occasion. Take note, the symbolism of negative emotions associated with herbs is not intended to prompt hate gifts or promote bad feelings for anyone. So, think twice before using them as herbal messages. Many herbs messages have bad connotations as well as good. My mother used to say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.”
But on All Fools Day how could one resist, in the spirit of good fun, sending an herbal message to someone. The message combinations are endless. You could send Pomegranates and saffron crocus (laughter and mirth) to someone in celebration of foolishness. Give columbine; it’s the symbol of folly because of the similarity of the shape of the flower to the court jester’s cap and bells. Write a poem, all in jest or banter (southernwood), showing your target how witty (cuckoo flower) yet ill timed your wit can be (sorrel). Fill the poem with silliness (cockscomb) and cheer (chrysanthemum). Maybe your poem will be immortalized, such as “April showers bring May flowers.” or “When April blows his horn, ‘tis good for both hay and corn.” Send hyacinth, the spirit of April Folly, as it symbolizes sport, game, or play. “Let the Games Begin.”
The name April comes from the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, who is identified with the Roman, Venus. Aphrodite was once called Marianna meaning “the Ocean”. She was called virginal, meaning she remained independent. She was portrayed as beautiful, and voluptuous (tuberose), with blue eyes and light hair. (Sounds just like me; I ’m independent, beautiful, and voluptuous, have blue eyes, light hair and my name is Mary Ann. April Fool!) The Roman’s consecrated the first day of April, to Venus, the goddess of beauty and the queen of laughter. The Anemone (love forsaken, expectation, or anticipation), poppy (fantastic extravagance) and violet (love) were dedicated to Venus.
In addition to formal calendars using certain herbs, superstitions and folklore about them abound for each month of the year. These are the ones specifically associated with the month of April. The cherry blossom is the Chinese symbol of feminine principal and also symbolizes love in the language of herbs. The Japanese floral calendar acknowledges wisteria, which promotes mental clarity and improves retention. The English celebrate the daisy, which symbolizes innocence and youth. More herbs associated with the month of April are basil (good and best wishes), chives (“Make yourself useful.”), geranium (virgin pride), sweet-pea (“Wear sweet-peas and attract friends.”), pine (immortality and life), bay (glory), hazel (peace), thistle (sternness). The thistle must bristle on April Fool’s Day. Magical ink is made from dragon’s blood for writing a vow or as incense during rituals of death or dying. I wouldn’t believe a vow written on All Fools Day, written with magical ink or not.
Many countries celebrated April Fool’s Day on other days than the first of April. In ancient Rome it was celebrated on March 25th. In India they observe the 31st of March. The foolish tradition is celebrated in Mexico, too, but on a different day and for different reasons. El Dia de los Inocentes, December 28th, was set aside as a day for Christians to mourn Herod’s slaughter of innocent children. Over time, the tone of that unluckiest of days evolved from sadness to good-natured trickery. Even the media join the fun, often running bogus news stories and radio reports.
April Fool’s Day may have begun in many parts of the world in celebration of the spring or vernal equinox. The weather fools all mankind. April Fool’s Day may have derived from the old Teutonic Feast of Fools ruled by Loki, the trickster god. One theory is that the custom is based on the festival of Cerelia. This was an ancient Roman feast, which celebrated the story of Proserpina. The narcissus (selfishness or self-love) and maidenhair fern (discretion) are dedicated to Prosperpine. According to the legend, Pluto, the Roman God, abducted Proserpina while she was gathering lilies (splendor and majesty) in the valley. Proserpina’s mother, Ceres, was so distressed on hearing of the abduction that she made a futile search for her daughter. Because of the hopelessness of Ceres mission, her quest is known as the fool’s errand. The willow is dedicated to Ceres. William Shakespeare might not have been writing about Ceres in his Othello, but could not have said it better. “The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree, sing all a green willow. Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee, sing willow, willow, willow.”
During the Middle Ages, the French celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25th. Festivals were held each day culminating on April 1st when people exchanged gifts and went to parties. In 1582, King Charles IX decreed that France would adopt a new calendar developed by Pope Gregory XIII, thereby, changing New Year’s Day to January 1st. The Gregorian Calendar is still in use today. It replaced the Julian Calendar, which was introduced in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. People who forgot that New Year’s Day had been changed were considered April Fools. They became the target of the practical jokers that would send them foolish gifts and invitations to parties that didn’t exist. Another story from France says the young fish that were spawned each April were easily caught. Soon any person who was easily fooled was called a poisson d’Avril, which means April fish.
April fooling became popular in England and Scotland during the 1700s. In England the beginning of the year didn’t shift until England went to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. This led to some amusing events like Shakespeare and Cervantes dying on the same date, eleven days apart. In Scotland favorite jokes were sending someone on a cuckoo hunt or looking for hen’s teeth or pigeon’s milk. Another popular prank involved sending an unsuspecting “fool” to a faraway farm on April 1st with a message that read,“Hunt the gowk another mile.” When the messenger arrived, he/she was sent to yet another faraway house or a nonexistent address. Upon wearily returning to town, the people all turned out laughing and making fun of the silly “gowk”. The word gowk is derived from the word geck, which means someone who is easily imposed upon. In Scotland April Fool’s Day is 48 hours long. The second day is called Taily Day and is dedicated to pranks involving the buttocks. Taily Day’s gift to posterior posterity is the still humorous “Kick Me.” sign.
The English, Scots and French introduced the April Fool custom to the American colonies. One of our forefathers’ favorite jokes was sending someone on a fool’s errand. For example, one might be asked to obtain a copy of “The History of Adam’s Grandfather” or bring back “sweet vinegar”.
Thinking of April fooling? Herb language is powerful and very subtle. Beware (Oleander) of floral or herbal gifts during April; you can never look at them the same again. April Fool!