As gifts, these flowers are given to represent remembrance, and are sometimes presented to recipients who have lost a dear friend or family member. On a lighter side, they are also meant to express the idea of someone’s heart being “pierced” with love, and are frequently traded between new and old lovers alike. Some even prefer to give these blossoms on romantic occasions, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day in place of the more classic flowers.
Because of the shape of the leaf, this plant has also been called sword lily, and in Rome it was considered the flower of the gladiators. The name gladiolus is from a Latin word meaning “sword.” Roman warriors believed that if you hung the corms around your neck like an amulet, the magical properties of gladiolus would bring you luck by helping you to win a duel and you would be protected from death. The stem base (corms) of the gladiolus were made into a poultice for thorns and splinters and used for it’s healing properties.
Gladiolus were recognized over 2000 years ago in Asia Minor, where they grew wild in the fields and were called corn-flag or corn iris, a name that refers to the fact that they are unwelcome pests. Gladiolus is thought to be the 'lilies of the field' that Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount, for these grew quite wild and abundantly in the Holy Land and in the waste lands along the Mediterranean coast of Africa. Wild, natural gladiolus range in size from 1 to 8 inches. The luscious ruffly blooms we know today are the result of hundreds of years of hybridization and breeding programs. It was not until the 1800's that they were used as cut flowers.
In China, the gladiolus flower is frequently used in funeral ceremonies. These flowers are thought to help the deceased find their way into heaven. Both men and woman like to use these flowers in body art. This is due to their beautiful appearance, and the depth of their symbolism. Its symbolism is unisex in that it embodies features of character that can be appreciated in either gender, such as inner strength, loyalty and honor.
Myths and Stories:
A Greek legend tells of two brothers who fell in love with the same young woman. Neither would concede to the other. Their brotherly love gave way to intense hatred until it reached a point where they vowed to fight each other to the death. Both were fatally wounded in the battle. In the final moments, they plunged their swords into the ground. According to the legend, from that very spot grew the first two gladiolus plants, with leaves like little swords and blood red flowers marked in their hearts with white splashes from the girl's tears.
An alternative version of this story is an old Roman story of two dear friends who were forced to battle each other. Instead of doing so, though, the two pierced the ground with their swords and embraced. The crowd was displeased with this move, and the friends were executed. When their blood seeped into the earth that was pierced by the swords, two bright gladioli sprung from the ground.
From the Mayfield Florist we have the story of a prince named Iolus. He was a kind and just ruler of his kingdom and was beloved by all. Unfortunately he could not find true love in his kingdom. He heard of a beautiful girl named Glad who was being held captive in the neighboring kingdom by an evil wizard who was forcing her to marry him. Iolus went in search of the beautiful maiden. He came upon the castle of the evil wizard and asked him to teach his magic. The wizard accepted. When the wizard was away Iolus found the maiden and they fell in love at first sight. Holding hands they ran away from the castle. Glad and Iolus were far away when the wizard caught up with them They were turned into a long slender flower with beautiful, delicate, buds. Later people called the flower Gladiolus in honor of the strong love of two hearts who will never be apart.
Recorded Medicinal uses:
Gladiolus is an African medicinal plant recorded in the human pharmacopoeia. Gladiolus is recorded (under several of its synonyms) as being used in southern Africa in treating a variety of ailments, including diarrhoea and colds. It is a common component of the African herbalist's medicine horn, the "lenaka".
Many African herbalists consider the Gladiolus to be a magical medicinal plant as it is capable of treating dysentery, constipation and diarrhoea simultaneously. Ethno-botanical information has also noted that the gladiolus is widely used throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the best natural human system regulators known to man. Patients feel well when taking Gladiolus, and it is often prescribed as a booster for patients with low energy levels and for hypochondriacs. An added benefit:- regular bowel movements.
In parts of West Africa, Gladiolus is used in preparations to cure both constipation and severe dysentery. At least in West Africa there are records that G. dalenii is cultivated on farms in the forest, where it was introduced from the savannah country to the north.
Corms (bulblike underground stem) of G. dalenii are also used as food in southern Congo (Zaire). The starchy corms are boiled and then leached in water before consumption.
The corm of Gladiolus edulis Burch. is edible. The Tswana eat the corm and small animals are recorded as eating it as well. The baboon being one of the animals that often dig the corm and eat it.
The southern Sotho use Gladiolus Dieterlenii Phillips with other plants as an enema as a remedy for lumbago and headaches. A decoction of the corn of Gladiolus ecklonii Lehm. is taken for the relief of rheumatic pains.
The Zulu make a medicine, to facilitate the birth of the placenta, from the corm of Gladiolus ludwigii Pappe and administer a decoction of the corm as an enema to relieve dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation). The corm is used in southern Africa as a remedy for impotency.
The Swati use a decoction of the corm of Gladiolus multiflorus Bak. for dysentery.
The cooked corm of Gladiolus saundersii Hook. f. is eaten along with food by the southern Sotho for the relief of diarrhoea. A decoction of the corm of Gladiolus psittacinus Hook. is a remedy for colds and dysentery.
The Shangaan use Gladiolus in conjunction with other medicinal plants and ingredients for a variety of ailments including hemorrhoids.
Note: Gladiolus medicinal properties change according to the environment in which it is found. Climate and soil play an important role in the concentration of its active ingredients and medicinal properties.
A word of caution- some parts of gladiolus are poisonous if eaten (including by dogs, cats, or horses) and some people experience skin irritations or an allergic reaction after handling glads. Most of the bad-juju chemicals are in the corms. I've seen them rated as a 1 on a scale to 1 to 10, with 10 being deadly, and I suppose if you eat enough of anything it can make you ill. The effects are generally gastro-intestinal in nature. I personally have never had skin reactions to handling the corms, plants, or juicy stuff. But still, it's best to be aware that some folks get skin irritations.
Sources: Herbal Africa, Butterfly Jungle, and Flower Info