The Language of Flowers and Herbs: 71 Plants and Their Meanings

People have long used specific flora to convey secret messages, here's how they let nature do their bidding.

Flower shop
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Now we have Hallmark and emoji, but there was a time when people borrowed from the plant world to express themselves. While using flowers to convey one's feelings was long used in Persia and the Middle East, the practice really came to fruition during the Victorian era. And is it any wonder? Those chaste Victorians weren't the most flirtatious bunch, so why not say it with flowers? And beyond bashful courting, there was an appreciation of botany that western culture seems to be lacking in now. We order a dozen red roses for our sweetheart because it's the thing to do; but how lovely was the intention of stringing together a missive with flowers and herbs—an ode to love created by things that sprout from the earth.


Known as floriography, flowers were sent to reveal secret sentiments of love and affection—but flowers meant to pitch woo could be arranged differently to impart a negative message instead. Just as the 19th century brought about complicated social customs, so was the language of flowers. So complex, in fact, that entire dictionaries were devoted to decoding the delicate disclosures.

Floriography entered the European imagination as early as 1809 with the publication of Joseph Hammer-Pugstall's list, "Dictionnaire du language des fleurs." The first mainstream dictionary of floriography, "La Langage des Fleurs," was published in 1819 by Louise Cortambert (under the pen name Madame Charlotte de la Tour). Following that, the 19th century saw a flood of similar publications of which symbolic definitions were often dissimilar. By some accounts, as floriography spread to the United States and beyond, hundreds of different "language of flowers" dictionaries were published.

Given that there were so many interpretations, it can be tricky to know exactly what was supposed to mean what. With that in mind, we look to The Old Farmer's Almanac for our list here. Because if you can't trust America's oldest continuously published periodical, who can you trust? And if you're looking to resume the lost art of floriography, you certainly wouldn't want to send your sweetheart, say, lemon balm for sympathy when what you really meant was heliotrope for true love ...

Create Your Own Coded Bouquet

Aloe: Healing, protection, affection
Angelica: Inspiration
Arborvitae: Unchanging friendship
Bachelor's button: Single blessedness
Basil: Good wishes
Bay: Glory
Black-eyed Susan: Justice
Carnation: Alas for my poor heart
Chamomile: Patience
Chives: Usefulness
Chrysanthemum: Cheerfulness
Clover, white: Think of me
Coriander: Hidden worth
Cumin: Fidelity
Crocus, spring: Youthful gladness
Daffodil: Regard
Daisy: Innocence, hope
Dill: Powerful against evil
Edelweiss: Courage, devotion
Fennel: Flattery
Fern: Sincerity
Forget-me-not: Forget-me-not
Geranium, oak-leaved: True friendship
Goldenrod: Encouragement
Heliotrope: Eternal love
Holly: Hope
Hollyhock: Ambition
Honeysuckle: Bonds of love
Horehound: Health
Hyacinth: Constancy of love, fertility
Hyssop: Sacrifice, cleanliness
Iris: A message
Ivy: Friendship, continuity
Jasmine, white: Sweet love
Lady's-mantle: Comfort
Lavender: Devotion, virtue
Lemon balm: Sympathy
Lilac: Joy of youth
Lily-of-the-valley: Sweetness
Marjoram: Joy and happiness
Mint: Virtue
Morning glory: Affection
Myrtle: The emblem of marriage, true love
Nasturtium: Patriotism
Oak: Strength
Oregano: Substance
Pansy: Thoughts
Parsley: Festivity
Pine: Humility
Poppy, red: Consolation
Rose, red: Love, desire
Rosemary: Remembrance
Rue: Grace, clear vision
Sage: Wisdom, immortality
Salvia, blue: I think of you
Salvia, red: Forever mine
Savory: Spice, interest
Sorrel: Affection
Southernwood: Constancy, jest
Sweet pea: Pleasures
Sweet William: Gallantry
Sweet woodruff: Humility
Tansy: Hostile thoughts
Tarragon: Lasting interest
Thyme: Courage, strength
Tulip, red: Declaration of love
Valerian: Readiness
Violet: Loyalty, devotion, faithfulness
Willow: Sadness
Yarrow: Everlasting love
Zinnia: Thoughts of absent friends