The Celts were an ancient population of cultures whose clans spanned much of Europe from the Iron Age until Medieval times. Though Celtic tribes formed the basis of Germanic culture, their main influence now connotes the people of Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Varieties of Narcissus, including daffodils are native to the woodlands of the Celts. As such, they figured prominently in the folk medicine and mystical traditions of Celtic cultures.
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The ancient Celts were nonliterate; oral histories, Roman reports, and archaeological records surmise what is known. Much of original Celtic culture was lost when Rome invaded these lands, and later as Anglo-Saxon forces brought Christianity and government to the places which had been ruled by local clans. It is difficult to know exactly which plants may have been used to treat ailments in ancient times, but later historical records indicate Celtic peoples enjoyed relatively good health and were treated with botanical folk remedies made from native plants, such as the daffodil.
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Daffodils in Celtic Medicine
Records for Celtic folk medicine appear by the 1600s. The Young People's Trust for the Environment cites, "In the 17th century daffodil bulbs were used as a medicine for various ailments. Ground-up bulb mixed with barley meal was used to aid the healing of wounds." These remedies were likely topical, as ingesting the bulbs is toxic. According to Danielle Ragole of Radford University, daffodil compounds may have been used as anti-cancer medicines as well in Europe during the Middle Ages.
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Significance of Daffodils
Folk remedies make use of native plants, and daffodils grew prolifically throughout the woodlands of Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in ancient times. In fact, the daffodil is a national symbol of Wales, representing St. David and rebirth.
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Modern Medicine and Daffodils
Galantamine is a drug sourced from some cultivars of the daffodil and snowdrops, and clinical trials are currently underway in Wales to determine whether this modern medicine can help to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
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Daffodil bulbs are toxic and will induce nausea and vomiting soon after ingestion due to the chemical lycorine. Flowers, leaves and stems may produce contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Wear gloves when handling the bulbs, and be sure to keep pets away from them as well. Daffodil bulbs are no longer considered a suitable home remedy.