a letter can change the whole story

“And in thy leaves ’twas said there dwelt some power

to soothe the maddened soul. A blessed dower”

Margarite Ann Logan

It is amazing how one can play with the words and the letters! A small letter can change the whole story and the meaning of one thing. Sweet-alyssum (lobularia maritima) is a small flowering plant that grows in mediterranean countries, like Greece, Italy, etc. It has narrow small fragrant flowers and narrow leaves. We usually find it in white, purple and rose colors. Lobularia maritima is common in coastal sandy places; that’s why it called maritima; the adjective maritimus means of the sea. But, its other name, “sweet-alyssum”, has an ambiguous story.

In many dictionaries, one can find that this word comes from the Greek word alyssos, which means “curing insanity” (the privative prefix a + lyssa). In Greek, lyssa is the rabies disease and metaphorically is referred to madness and martial rage. Poems and novels had been written using this idea. However, other dictionaries of the ancient Greek language have a different meaning and etymology. The adjective “alyssos” comes from the verb lyzo, which means to have hiccups. One letter, z instead of double s, changes the whole meaning. Old botanical books about folk medicine mention both healing capacities, but not for all the species of alyssum. The yellow alyssum (alyssum alyssoides, alyssum idaeum, aurinia saxtalis), also called madwort, was considered an antidote.

Leaving aside all these peculiar and doubtful guesses, sweet-alyssum is an easy-growth plant that can bloom almost everywhere. It is ideal for any kind of garden and container and in places with mediterranean climate it can bloom during all the year. Its beauty and its hidden qualities has inspired many artists.



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