(Image credit: Gardening Know How, via Nikki Tiley)

With a common name like love-in-a-mist, you might guess that Nigella damascena would have some romantic back story. In truth, though, this annual is simply called love-in-a-most because of its bright blue flowers that seem to float in a mist of fine, feathery light green foliage. A few other names for the plant include wild fennel, kalonji, black cumin, black caraway, devil-in-the-bush, fitch, fennel flower, gith, roman coriander, schwarzkummel and faux cumin.

Love-in-a-Mist Plant History

Love-in-a-mist is an early summer blooming annual in the buttercup family. It prefers full sun and can grow up to 2 feet tall and 1 ½ feet wide. Love-in-a-mist has bright light blue flowers that seem to float amongst misty, dill-like foliage. The flowers are followed by green seed pods that have purple-brown stripes on them. The flowers, foliage and seedpods are often used in floral arrangements. Some hybrids are available with white, pink or lavender flowers. Inside the seedpods are black seeds from which the name Nigella and many of its folk names derive. Love-in-a-mist is native to Europe and Northern Africa. Its seeds were ground and used as a spice for foods before black pepper became widely available. The ground seed is said to have a flavor like peppery oregano. The ground seed was also used as a snuff and as an expectorant. The Roman physician, Dioscorides used love-in-a-mist seeds to cure headaches, treat nasal congestion and toothaches, as well as utilizing them as a natural insect repellent and to treat intestinal worms. It was very popular in Arabic and Turkish countries as a food that fattened up women. The prophet Muhammad recommended nigella as a cure-all herb. Recent studies in South Carolina showed nigella seed extract had some effect on diminishing cancer cells.

Growing Love-in-a-Mist Flowers

For best results when growing love-in-a-mist flowers, sow the seeds directly in the garden in spring. They can also be started indoors 4-6 weeks before the last date of frost, but nigella does not always transplant well. Once established, love-in-a-mist with self-sow if flowers are allowed to set seed. Deadhead as needed throughout the blooming period to encourage additional flowering. One of the best uses for love-in-a-mist is planting it around spring bulbs to hide them as their foliage dies back in early summer.

Darcy Larum