Turning Point by Beth Irvine: Golden Bells

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On my childhood street, thickets of forsythia sprang up every spring. We wormed our way inside, breaking grey branches away to make way for “doors”. We stamped the tips of longer branches into the ground. These arched over our heads, making a ceiling in each “room”.  Walls and ceiling received the same decorator treatment—sky blue flocked with hundreds of glowing, four-petaled flowers. As the blossoms fell away, we gathered them to garnish our mud-pies or filled a container with “flower stew”, and the ceilings and walls redecorated themselves with leafy green. Even as the heat of summer pressed down on a blazing afternoon, our “rooms” were shady and hushed, a quiet green world in which to pass a sunny afternoon. By the time we had grown too tall for such games, a mansion of many rooms had spread over the yard.

Between the first crocus and the coming of waves of apple blossom, clouds of yellow stars floated in every yard on my street. Slim, supple wands, clothed with blossoms the colour of the sun, frolicked in the spring breezes, showing off their petticoats of new green leaves. They chased away the taupes and unyielding frost of winter. We filled our eyes with their brightness and movement. So why isn’t there some lovely, lilting tune celebrating the joys of forsythia?

Forsythia: so common and easy to grow “in any soil” it hardly rates a mention in Marjorie Willison’s The Complete Gardner’s Almanac. Yet who doesn’t cherish some memory where the bright forsythia gestures ahead to warm weather? 

While the virtues of the woody shrub are many, some find the ease with which it adapts itself to any situation, the way in which even the unintentional attentions of children can make it spread, unappealing. It has much in common with that other yellow spring flower, the dandelion, which is truly maligned. A true gardener is not challenged by its hardihood nor is yellow considered the colour of first choice.

Forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) was named after William Forsyth (1737-1804) who brought the forsythia to England from China.* Forsythe was a Scottish botanist who was royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. 

It seems that another variety, Forsythia suspensa, may already have been known in Europe. It, too, originated in China and belongs to the olive family. In China, the “golden bells” are considered is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbology. Traditional Chinese medicine concludes that it is bitter in flavor and slightly cold in properties and it covers three meridians – namely, lung, heart and gall bladder. It seems it is usually used in combination with other herbs. As with so many of these remedies, western medical research has little to add to the discussion.

It does seem to me, though, that the forsythia has a definite place in medicine for a winter-weary soul and brings healing, with both memories and whispers of a warmer season to come.


* http://www.ediblewildfood.com/blog/2012/04 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsythia

Organizations: Royal Horticultural Society

Geographic location: China, England, Europe.It

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