The term “bleeding heart” has become quite a derogatory term in our culture and refers to one who feels “too much”. Dictionary.com says it means “a person who makes an ostentatious or excessive display of pity or concern for others”, and it has even become a political term. Most people want to be known to have generous hearts, but not bleeding hearts. Sadly, “feeling too much” is something women have often been shamed for, and in men it is practically forbidden. I have found that the flower Bleeding Heart has much to share with us about the right balance for our feeling hearts. In traditional flower lore, Bleeding Heart is a symbol for speaking freely about your feelings.
This unique plant was brought from China in 1846 by a man named Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, who, working for the British East India Company, disguised himself as a Chinese merchant and illegally brought this plant out of China, along with tea plants and many others. But that is another story of empire in and of itself, for another day.
At home in cool temperate climates, and earlier than most plants, Bleeding Heart emerges from the dirt barely thawed from the dark of winter, with seemingly delicate fronds that quickly push up to the pale spring light and soon the buds of her first blooms appear. Like a young maiden naively sure of the beauty of the world, she has no fear of the frost. She loves the early light of the sun that is not strong yet, that teases her out of the ground with promise. Like the ancient virgins she is sure and strong, sensuous, and regal.
The original meaning of the word virgin was simply young woman, not married, and hence whole unto herself, and this plant holds that essence as she appears early in the spring. And she brings us hearts. Her heart. Our Earth Mother’s heart. Lots and lots of hearts, that pop up right out of the earth, naked, not in a body, but visible for all to see, hanging in a row on display. These bright, beautiful pink and white hearts lead the way into spring for others to follow. Just like Joan of Arc, it takes a huge heart to lead and give others the courage to follow.
Courage is a word so closely tied to the heart… The root of the word, “cor” is the Latin word for heart. Courage originally meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart”, and perhaps this is what Bleeding Heart leads us to do. To be both strong and vulnerable enough to share OUR heart first, to seek and know our heart’s desire before we “bleed” and worry about others. To ferret out and follow our hearts desire takes courage indeed!
Upon closer inspection, the most immature flowers at the tip of the graceful arm they hang from, are small hearts with a larger arrow shaped structure that hangs down from them. As they mature, the arrow shaped structure splits in two, opens as if it is pulling up its skirts, and pulls its heart open to expose the delicate inner blood drop bleeding from the tip of the heart. And then that tip expands by growing wings as it fully matures. It is like the hearts know when they need to protect themselves, when they are ready and strong enough to open, and when they are secure enough to pour their love out into the world. Rather than protecting their hearts from fear (of the spring frost), these hearts are bursting with love and gratitude and seeds ready to be shared with the world, with the force of their joy and exuberance naturally protecting their hearts, firmly grounded in the dirt and life force of the Mother Earth.
Bleeding Heart nudged me to make a flower essence from it on a recent sunny day, the first flower that called to me this year, and I was honored. The process of making a flower essence captures the energetic essence of the flower with sunlight in water, and the essence is preserved with a bit of brandy. Flower essences effects are very subtle, and I like to sit with the essence to see what the flower has to say to me. This is a process my thinking mind always questions and doubts, but every time, a message comes from the flower that is unique and quite powerful.
Bleeding Heart brought to me an image of May Day and Beltane dancing. Festive girls and women with garlands of flowers in their hair, lifting their skirts, dancing barefoot in meadows and gardens, full of the confidence of youth, with cheeks blushing, the excitement of spring, sensual flirtation with all of creation, and the scent of desire in the air.
I heard Bleeding Heart say: “Let your passion and exuberance overcome your fears of sharing your heart. Your very life force will protect you from giving away your essence unintentionally or unconsciously. Bleeding heart says it is time to dance with all the power of the life force of Mama Earth. Pull up your skirts and show the world your passion! Be full of courage!”
And don’t waste any time starting your dance, because Bleeding Heart is an ephemeral… a magical sounding word that means short-lived, transitory, fleeting; and in the plant world this means that it dies back in the heat of the summer. The passion of this plant is only for the bright new light of spring and its cooler days and nights. Its faint delicate fragrance is equally fleeting, only shared if you put your nose right next to the flowering hearts. It steps aside in late spring for the bolder stronger plants that draw their primary strength from the summer sun, while Bleeding Heart draws hers from the dirt of her mother’s womb – The Earth. And then she returns to that dirt for the next 9 months to nurture the hearts she will bring into the world the next year.
I recently learned that in French these flowers are called ‘Les Coeurs de Marie”- the Hearts of Mary. Of course, they are – our Mother’s hearts indeed. Given freely to us to remind us to have the courage to speak our mind by telling all of our heart.