What do daffodils symbolize?

What daffodils symbolize depends on when you live and how many daffodils you’re looking at. Today, people associate daffodils with springtime, rebirth, renewal, and good fortune to come. However, in ancient times, people believed daffodils were food for the dead. And, if you give a single daffodil as a gift, you’ll be handing bad luck to the receiver.

In fact, daffodils can symbolize so many different things, we had to make a video to explain it all.

It’s a spring thing

Daffodils poke their bright blooms out of the late snow, heralding the end of winter and the start of spring. In most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, daffodils appear around the spring equinox alongside the holidays of Easter, Purim, Passover, Holi, and Ostara. Personally, we don’t really like this time of year because we’re morbid ladies and prefer holidays with darker meanings, but we actually kind of dig the daffodil because it’s not as lighthearted as you might think.

composite image of two baby chicks in grass next to a bunny in a rusty watering can and 4 Easter eggs
This time of year brings associations of chicks, bunnies, dyed eggs and other atrocities that make our dark raincloud hearts lurch.

Ostara, the Germanic goddess associated with the holiday of the same name (or similar name, depending on the region), will grant you good fortune for the coming season if you make a point not to trample daffodils. Considering most daffodils are deliberately planted in your neighbor’s yard, this is just good manners anyway. (If you must trample your neighbor’s flowers because you’ve got your own vendetta against them, choose another bloom to torment.)

What daffodils symbolize for food and medicine

Don’t eat daffodils. Their beautiful coloring is there as a warning, not an invitation. Handling daffodils for extended periods of time can cause a rash. Because these wily little flowers have calcium oxalate crystals—a lovely substance full of tiny crystal needles—in their sap. When the plant senses moisture from your hands or your mouth or whatever other body part you’re touching it with, the daffodil ejects these crystals and they go into you. Fun times. Instant pain.

If daffodils do that to you for touching them, imagine the damage they bring if you try to eat them. Usually you’ll just get pretty sick from ingesting daffodils, but in excess you could die. Unfortunately, daffodil bulbs look a lot like wild onions or even fennel, so mistakes are made.

Traditionally, however, daffodils existed in a lot of old medicinal practices. As you can imagine, small amounts of daffodil extracts can cause hallucinations and/or numbness, so applying daffodil-sourced salves on wounds can ease pain. Currently, researchers are looking at whether daffodils can be used to treat Alzeimer’s.

The Daffodil’s Origin Story

Daffodils as a species originate in the Mediterranean (you know, that place where all those Greek and Roman myths come from). The daffodil is also known as narcissus, and if you know the story of Narcissus you already know the story of the daffodil. But for those of you who don’t know the story….

Narcissus was a beautiful man, spawned from a god and a nymph. And he knew he was gorgeous. In fact, the gods warned Narcissus to never look in a mirror. If he did, he’d become so consumed by his own beauty that he could never look away.

So Narcissus wanders the countryside, looking all gorgeous and getting whatever he wants. Enter Echo, a young woman who falls in love with Narcissus and follows him everywhere. Narcissus can’t be bothered by Echo, though. He only thinks of himself.

After years of pining after a man who won’t give her the time of day, Echo wanders into a cave and wastes away to nothing until all that’s left is her voice, echoing through the rocks.

The goddess Nemesis takes pity on Echo and leads Narcissus to a still pool of water. Caught by his own beauty, Narcissus stares at his reflection until he falls into the pool and drowns. Daffodils sprout up where he stood.

What does the story of Narcissus symbolize for the daffodil? I have no idea, but you can make your own meaning from that. Maybe your neighbor growing all those daffodils you long to trample is self-absorbed?

You can come to your own conclusions on that one. Regardless, you’re bound to have a spooky day.