Nigella (Nigella damascena)

Nigella (aka ‘love-in-a-mist’) are part of the Ranunculaceae family of plants and are native to Europe and North Africa.

The long popularity of nigella with gardeners is indicated by the number of other common names for this pretty annual in Great Britain.  The RHS lists the following common names for Nigella: bird’s nest; blue crown; blue spider flower; chase-the-devil; devil in a bush; devil in the bush; garden fennel; Jack in prison; Jack in the green; Katherine’s flower; kiss-me-twice-before-I-rise; lady in the bower; love-in-a-puzzle; love-in-a-tangle and St Catherine’s flower.

These lovely annual flowering plants self-seed on the allotment plot and at one time covered much of what is now the strawberry beds.

They are prolific self-seeders and are perfect for self-maintaining flower meadows.  This can be a nuisance in gardens, but thankfully they are easy to weed out when necessary.

Nigella also benefit from being drought tolerant – making them great additions to gardens with limited access to regular watering.

Grow in well drained soil in full sun.  Generally speaking these cheerful annuals are problem-free, the only problem for gardeners being that they self-seed so abundantly.  At the allotment we’ve left some in the side paths to self-seed, but I’ve started to weed them out of the actual growing beds.

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Nigella in flower – loved by bees! (29 May 2020) (Photo by G.)

One flower that our gardens would be the poorer without and which arrived here [in Britain] in 1570, again from the Mediterranean, is the wonderfully named Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena – Nigella from its black seeds and damascena because it was thought to have first arrived from Damascus.  Although no one seems to know where or when that English name first occurred, the plant has a [p.160] string of other names including Devil-in-the-Bush, Love-in-a-Puzzle and Jack-in-Prison, all presumably because the delicate fern-like leaves encase the pretty pale blue flower.  (The Origin of Plants, pp.159-160)

The seeds of N. damascena are aromatic and are apparently slightly narcotic…  It was first grown in the gardens of Son House on the banks of the Thaes in west London and is sometimes called Nutmeg Flower or Black Cumin.  It can be sprinkled on bread and cakes (much favoured in Egypt). In France the seeds were crushed with cinnamon, coffee and chocolate and used to flavour cream.” (The Origin of Plants, p.160.

Maggie Campbell-Culver also notes that a recipe in England dated to 1561 lists burning nigella seeds to ash, to be mixed with grease and then used to wash through one’s hair to get rid of lice and nits.  (The Origin of Plants, p.160)

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