Trading with Flowers

Trading with flower - for parfums, drugs, as a gift

In ancient times, flowers were prized less for their beauty than for their utility – as pigments, as the source of pleasing scents, as medicine.

Saffron Crocus
The first commercial flower gardens were likely grown to supply the dyers’ trade. Saffron, a species of crocus, has been cultivated for over three thousand years in India where it was traditionally employed both as a dye and a culinary ingredient – uses that continue to this day. Saffron was so highly valued that its trade routes extended all the way to the Mediterranean where records of saffron trafficking have been found in the ruins of Crete’s Minos palace complex.

The perfume industry arose in the Middle East. By the sixth century AD, it was so well established that the prophet Muhammad, exhorting male Muslims to bath weekly, added the codicil, “…and use perfume if it’s available.”

Arabs used distillation technology to extract the essences of such flowers as jasmine and citrus blossoms for use in these scents, and in doing so, established the foundations of modern chemistry. The Moorish foothold in Spain brought perfume and the cultivation of flowers for that purpose to the Iberian peninsula; while crusaders, returning from Jerusalem, brought scents from the Middle East. In colder climes, of course, hardier blossoms had to be relied upon as essence sources – thus the rise of the rose.

But no single flower’s history is more intertwined with our own that the poppy, the most famous of all medicinal plants, whose pods contain the analgesic, opium. Traces of poppy cultivation have been discovered in archeological finds from Neolithic settlements throughout northern Europe to Babylon and Egypt. Arab traders likely introduced the poppy to China and the West in the early middle ages, and today poppies are the second biggest flower crop (after sunflowers.)

Today flowers still have industrial uses, but they’re equally prized for their ability to beautify surroundings, commemorate important occasions, and express feelings that are too ethereal to put into mere words.