Victorian Tussie Mussie


| April/May 1996



tussie mussie 1

Every sprig and blossom in each little nosegay conveys a “meaning” in the old-time language of flowers.


“Tussie-mussie” is a quaint, endearing term from the early 1400s for small, round bouquets of herbs and flowers with ­symbolic meanings. The word coaxes smiles from audiences I ­address around the country, and many people are delighted to discover this archaic custom. What application can tussie-mussies possibly have in today’s world, where women and men carrying briefcases and cellular phones have neither free hands to carry a tussie-mussie nor spare minutes to invest in antiquated customs?

DIY:  No-Muss Tussie-Mussies  

Glossary:  Herbal Sentiments  

I’ve come to understand that people today treasure the notion of tussie-mussies because each one is personal and unique; every sprig and blossom in each little nosegay conveys a “meaning” in the old-time language of flowers. Depending on which herbs are included, a wide variety of personal messages can be sent. This silent language of flowers allows a blasé generation to express poignant and touching sentiments without having to come right out and say them in words. The flowers say them for us.

A case in point: When a dear friend of mine had a miscarriage, I couldn’t really find the words to tell her how I felt, nor did I think that either of us would be comfortable if I tried. Instead, I gave her a pretty little tussie-mussie made of grass (which alludes to the fleeting quality of life), a white rosebud (a heart untouched by love), wood ­sorrel (maternal love), elderberry (sympathy), goldenrod (encouragement), and flowering reed (confidence in heaven), with a card explaining this symbolism. This fragrant and visual ­expression of grief comforted us both.

Another time, a chum­ gathered a group of friends to take me out to lunch for an “important” birthday. Imagine my chagrin later when I realized that I’d totally forgotten her birthday. To make amends, I gave her a tussie-mussie that included opium poppy (forgetfulness), sweet marjoram (blushes), brambles (remorse), rosemary (remembrance), Japanese rose (never too late to make amends), and coltsfoot (justice shall be done you). We both got a chuckle out of that one, and we’re still good friends.





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