The Edelweiss Flower
If you’ve ever watched “The Sound of Music”, you’ve heard the catchy song “Edelweiss”. But today we’re going to learn more about the edelweiss flower. It’s quite an interesting little plant with a long history of symbolic meaning. How much do you know about the Edelweiss?
What is the Edelweiss?
The Edelweiss is a silvery white flower that only grows high up in the mountains at elevations above 5900 feet. It’s the national flower of Austria.
Let’s get the pronunciation correct first, though. It’s a German word so the “w” is pronounced like a “v”. The German spelling is “Edelweiß“, which is a compound of edel “noble” and weiß “white”, so it means “noble white” (flower). Here’s the correct way to pronounce it:
They are found in mountains in Asia and in the Alps, especially the Swiss Alps. They are mainly found in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
There are nearly 40 varieties, though. The most popular species are Leontopodium nivale and Leontopodium alpinum. Leontopodium means “Lion’s Paw”, referring to the shape of its flower.
The latter, Leontopodium alpinum, is widely considered to be the most beautiful and most sought-after flower in the world.
They are very short-lived, though. They typically flower from July through September, and they’re a perennial. However, they only live for 2-7 years. After that time, they often disappear from a certain spot. If you pick the flowers from the same plant for a couple years, the plant will no longer be able to propagate through seeding, and it will disappear.
They have a circle of up to 6 yellow flowers in the center that are surrounded by white petals. The white petals make it appear star-like.
Edelweiss as Medicine
The Edelweiss has been used as a medicine for centuries. Here are some of its medicinal uses:
The Edelweiss has flavonoids and phenolic acids which protect it from the sun’s UV radiation, so it is used in skin creams and sunscreens (usually just a 3-5% composition) to block UV rays.
It has antioxidants that are twice as powerful as the antioxidants in Vitamin C, so for that reason, it is added to cosmetics and sunscreens as an anti-aging ingredient.
It has anti-inflammatory effects, as well. Edelweiss extracts have been used to successfully treat dermatitis and fluid retention. Studies have shown that the active anti-inflammatory chemical components are sesquiterpenes and bisabolene.
It has antibacterial components and has been used as a remedy for bronchitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, and ear infections. It’s been shown to be effective against Streptococcus and E. coli bacteria, among others.
Edelweiss has been traditionally used as a digestive aid. Locals have mixed it with milk and honey to improve digestion, relieve diarrhea, and take away heartburn.
It should be noted, however, that Edelweiss is NOT edible. When it has been used for medicinal purposes, edelweiss EXTRACTS or INFUSIONS were used. You don’t just go eat the plant or flower.
Edelweiss has a long, colorful history.
Edelweiss traditionally grows on rocky cliffs and is very hard to get to. So, men would often make dangerous treks to collect the precious flowers. Many died from falls while trying to get the flowers. The flower became a symbol that a man was brave, hearty, and healthy, and it was often worn as a type of medal of honor.
Emperors and Kings throughout European history have increased the flower’s popularity by decorating their palaces with edelweiss-shaped items. Austrian emperor Franz Josef (1864 to 1916) and German Kaiser Wilhelm I were also big fans. So was King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1864 to 1886).
Over 100 years ago, only the highest-ranking Swiss soldiers earned badges that were shaped like edelweiss flowers. Lower-ranking soldiers only got star-shaped badges.
The Edelweiss was reported to be Adolf Hitler’s favorite flower.
The Edelweiss flower is a common symbol worn by today’s United States Army’s 1st Battalion 10th Special Forces Group Airborne Soldiers.
It’s depicted on Austria’s 2-cent coin and Romania’s fifty-lei note.
There’s an airline company in Switzerland named after the flower. It’s called Edelweiss Air.
A professional ice hockey team in Poland (i.e., Podhale Nowy Targ) uses the Edelweiss as their team emblem.
Giving edelweiss to someone is considered a sign of love and devotion (as well as purity).
At the end of WWII, a German anti-Nazi group called the “Edelweiss Pirates” used the flower as a symbol of their resistance against the Nazi regime.
You’re Not Allowed to Pick Edelweiss Flowers
In 1898, at the International Conference of Alpine Clubs in Obwalden, Switzerland, the governments of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy banned people from picking edelweiss flowers in the European Alps.
Want Some Edelweiss?
You can’t go on an excursion through Europe and pick Edelweiss, but you can grow it to have some of your very own. Edelweissperennials.com ships edelweiss plants throughout the U.S. only.
You could grow some from seeds, as well.
If you’re interested in its anti-aging components, you can also try some anti-aging serum made from edelweiss plant stem cells.