Convallaria majalis

May-bells, Our Lady’s tears, Mary’s tears, Jacob’s ladder, glovewort: I have lots of names!

In Dutch I’m usually called Lelietje-van-dalen.

That’s a translation of my Latin name, Convallaria majalis.

Convallaria means ‘of the valley’, and majalis comes from maius, the month of May. I used to grow mostly in cool valleys, woods, and other well-shaded places, and bloom in May, which explains my other name, May-bells.

‘Lily’ points to the whiteness of my flowers.

It comes from the Latin word lilium (white) or, – opinions vary, – from leiron or lirion, the Greek names for this flower.

Anyway, as early as 1618 the Dutch botanist Rembert Dodoens wrote of me in his Cruydeboeck.

‘in our times she is known everywhere by the name Lilium convallium, that is, lily of the valleys or little lily of the valley’

In southern Dutch dialects I’m also known as snuivertje or snuifbloemetje – you could translate this to little sniffer.

That is because my flowers smell so nice that they used to be dried, ground into a powder, and mixed with snuff tobacco, which was sniffed straight into the nose.

The bout of sneezing that always followed, gave me my oldest German name, ‘niesekraut’.