Dicentra Spectabilis, more aptly known as Bleeding Heart, is a perfect example of how the Doctrine of Signatures works.
What is the Doctrine of Signatures?
This was a theory, developed in the middle ages, that when a flower or plant resembles a part of the human body it would have healing properties for that organ. We must not forget that in those days there was no Google to give us instant answers and books were a luxury for the rich, religious and highly educated. Knowledge was passed on by word of mouth. In the case of plants, herbalists also formed a connection with the flowers themselves. Meanings were perceived through contemplation. People would observe the plants and discern their uses by observing their shapes, colours, textures, scents and places they grow. For instance, it was believed that walnuts could help problems with the brain, lungwort was good for pulmonary difficulties and eyebright would aid with conjunctivitis.
Researching Herbal Remedies
I love to collect books about flowers and folklore old and new, some even out of print now. Yet there is scarcely a mention of Bleeding Heart in any of them. If we were to follow the theory of Doctrine of Signatures we could assume that it was medicine for the heart. I would be most concerned if someone were to give a patient a medication for heart problems as all components of the plant are poisonous! This method of treating a patient’s ailments according to the shape of the flower seems very primitive to us now. Yet I believe that, even in our modern, science-based lives, we have something to learn from the method. It requires that we slow down and take time to really look at the flower.
Dicentra is commonly known as Bleeding Heart
Today this is a really popular, early-flowering perennial. People are entranced by the array of hearts that are like pendants along the bowing stalk. They find them romantic. It was introduced to Europe in the 1800s and can be found around the world, probably because of its easy-going nature. It likes well drained, fertile soil. In cold conditions Dicentra enjoys direct sunlight and in warmer climates it can live in partial shade. It is not the ease with which it grows that attracts the customers at our nursery though. They simply enjoy the fact that the petals resemble pink hearts. The name ‘Bleeding Heart’ is due to the white droplet that appears to be falling from the base of each flower. Since their introduction all sorts of hybrids have been grown including white flowers, low growing habits and dissected leaves. Yet the original remains the favourite because of the very clear message of love that emanates from them.
What does Bleeding Heart mean Spiritually?
If we were to observe the flower, in the same way that an herbalist would have done in the middle ages, we would not just be concerned with the heart shaped flower. We would be most interested in the drop of white petal that falls from it. While the first impression is of love, the second is of pain or sorrow, perhaps a sense of loss. We might also take note of how the stems arch over, perhaps reaching out to others. We might consider how the underground rhizomes spread and connect. I would feel that the message from this flower in one of compassion for others. It is a plant that reminds us how we can be sensitive and emotional about the world, people and experiences around us.
The Healing Message of Bleeding Heart
I would describe this as a plant for someone who has suffered and needs love. Perhaps it is a plant that reminds us how important compassion and empathy is? Having said that, it might also be a flower that reminds us not to give too freely of our emotions. Sometimes it is good to be sensitive about other people’s feelings but if that sensitivity affects how we feel and live our lives it can cripple us. I would suggest that it is a plant to remind you to save your affections for someone who really appreciates you.
Doctrine of Signatures – Fact or Fiction?
You may find these words hard to believe or understand. However, can you explain the relief you feel when you see the first snowdrop, the joy of a bluebell wood or the love of a rose? There is no denying that each of us feels a connection with flowers in one way or another. If you want to explore why and how to connect to flowers then I am currently working on an E-book. It will be available later in March from this website. I hope you will enjoy it!
The Flower Writer