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The ragged robin (scientific name Silene flos-cuculi) is a species of flowering plant in the Caryophyllaceae family and is well known for its distinctive pink flowers.
There are many fascinating things to learn about this humble flower, such as how it got its name, its meaning in various cultures around the world, and how it has been traditionally used throughout history.
It was formerly thought to be native to the UK, but it really originated from Eastern Europe, where there are many named regional varieties, such as lychnis flos-cuculi and Silene flos-cuculi var. atrosanguinea.
Ragged robins typically contain five rose-like petals (or sometimes with four lobes) that appear to have been crumpled and twisted after drying. However, each petal is actually quite delicate and soft to the touch. In fact, unlike other flowers whose petals are stiffened by minerals such as calcium or iron, the ragged robin’s petals are strengthened by water and mucilage (cellular slime).
Where Does It Grow?
Previously abundant in the UK, it is now less visible due to modern farming techniques. However, this tough yet behaved perennial isn’t as rare as you think.
It is often found in a bog garden, near ponds, or grown in garden borders for its flowers which bloom from May until July. They can be grown easily in most soils with full sun or partial shade. The plants may also be grown indoors in a pot or in a sunny windowsill if given enough water and fertilizer and allowed to remain outdoors during winter months when not threatened by frost.
In the wild, ragged robin is typically found in wet meadows and wet lands such as marshy areas and takes up to three years before it blooms. You’ll no doubt find these in a damp wildflower meadow, where they serve as an important source of nectar for long-tongued bees and butterflies. The seeds are dispersed by the wind and grow into small plants that flower in early summer.
What’s In The Name?
The ragged robin plant owes its common name to its ragged, fringed petals, which are reminiscent of a simple garment from medieval times called a ragged robin. Hence, ragged robin.
Global Recognition and Meaning
Now that we know a little about ragged robin, let’s explore the different meanings this humble flower has around the world.
The first is in Ireland and Scotland, where it was referred to as “Cairdin Rígh”, which translates to King’s Counsel. This flower was believed to have magical powers and was a symbol of knowledge, truth and honour. The Celts believed if you drank or bathed in water into which this flower had been placed, it would increase your knowledge and make you eloquent in both word and deed.
The second meaning of ragged robin, which is the one we’ll focus on today, is in Native American medicine. The Navajo people used to boil ragged robin leaves in water and use it as a wash for their skin. This wash was known as Áháshkéédí (meaning “cottony-heart-dandelion”) and was believed to have healing powers both inside and out.
The Navajo also used this dandelion to wash wounds and help heal broken bones. They used the same properties to treat sores and ulcers caused by exposure to the sun, boils, severe burns or injuries caused by animal bites or insect stings. The flowers were also used to stop bleeding and help heal nosebleeds.
The Cherokee Nation used flos cuculi (ragged robin) in a tea made from the roots of the plant as a remedy for lung and throat infections such as whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. In fact, you can also use this tea for kidney stones or inflammation of the kidneys due to infection.
Some people have also been known to use the water from ragged robin plant as an eyewash. The Okanagan Nation of Canada used this same tea as a means of healing chest colds and heart problems, while the Lumbee Native Americans used a concoction of ragged robin mixed with cornmeal to treat diarrhoea and stomach ulcers.