The Violet Gazette

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© 2001 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 2, Number 1
Spring 2001
On line Version


Book Review

Geraldine Adamich Laufer - Tussie-Mussies:  The Language of Flowers
Workman Publishing Co. (November 1993)
ISBN: 1563051060

Reviewed by Mary Ann Perry

"Love's language may be talked with these;
To work out choicest sentences
No blossoms can be meeter;
And, such being used in Eastern bowers,
Young maids may wonder if the flowers
Or meanings be the sweeter. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Picture of Book and Link to

            This is one of my favorite books! The first one third of the book is a well referenced, comprehensive history of tussie-mussies or 'talking bouquets' or 'word poesies' going back to the ancients and their origins in myth and everyday life and death. The language of flowers spans the ancient world from Greece, Egypt, and Turkey to the Aztecs of South and Central America. Celtic lore is rampant with the symbolism of herbs and rituals. Flower languages evolved from pagan symbolism and rituals to Christian symbols. Today we are fortunate, having an understanding of both and the ability to trace their origins through time.

            European references to the language of flowers and herbs go back to the fourteen and fifteen hundreds of England, France and Germany. Shakespeare carried the language of flowers to a fine science in his writings and presentations of his work had much meaning to those who understood and thrived on herbal symbolism of the day. But, it wasn't until Queen Victoria's time that the language of flowers reached its prime. Every noble and wealthy young lady of the time learned the symbolism of flowers and how to make tussie-mussies and nosegays for all occasions. Gentleman communicated feelings for a lady by sending private and intimate messages by means of a special bouquet. The young lady might spend hours researching the identification of the flower or herb and then the meaning of the message. Her suitor might not know that his expressions of love were reciprocal until he saw her wearing the tussie over her heart.

            During Victoria's time the study of botany and the discovery of new plants from all over the world brought new and exciting ideas to the game of flower language. It was a diversion and a game but tussie-mussies had real use too. Any proper person would carry a sweet smelling bouquet to ward off the stench coming from the streets, unwashed bodies, sickness, and decay after death. The favored bouquet was one of sweet smelling violets and they were so popular that street vendors sold them everywhere. Some felt that certain combinations of scents would ward off illness and even the deadly plague.

            Although the word 'tuzzy mussy' is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "a bunch or spray of flowers, a nosegay, a garland of flowers," the root word thus suggests a relationship to tussock, while mussie, a rhyme on tussie, refers to the damp moss pressed around the stems to keep them fresh.

            Most modern books of this nature are simply plagiarisms of the Flora's Dictionary by Mrs. Elizabeth Gambel Wirt (1829) and I have many of them in my reference library. Geraldine Laufer did much of her research funded by a generous grant from the Herb Society of America, which lends credibility to this work.

            The author revives the idea of herbal symbology in a modern way showing you how to make a tussie-mussie using modern florist supplies and with herbs and flowers readily available at florist supply and florists in most locations or fresh from your garden. The book is beautifully illustrated and organized with photos and herbal poetry expressing everything from Holidays and Festive Occasions, Good Health and Recovery, Friendship and Romance, Celebrating Special People, to New Beginnings and Congratulations.

            The back of the book has an alphabetical listing of the flowers with their symbolisms and then a reverse listing with the sentiments with their symbolic flower. I highly recommend this book. All you need is the desire; this book leads you to a new way of expression using the language of flowers. Your friends and those you care about will be overwhelmed with the personal and intimate touch you place on your gift giving when you make your own tussie-mussies and give them from the heart.

© Mary Ann Perry 2001

Mary Ann Perry is Editor of The Chamomile Times & Herbal News, a weekly, electronic herbal newsletter at  and also the owner of Sayit-n-Herbs, an herbal theme gift shop with products linked to the language of herbs at .


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