Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) is a small, white-flowered alpine plant that is native to mountainous European locations including the Pyrenees, Alps and Carpathians. It is part of the large daisy (Compositae or Asteraceae) family. It has long been popular in Europe and acquired symbolic, historic and other meanings. In North America, alpine plant enthusiasts sometimes grow edelweiss in rock gardens or containers.
Edelweiss, a tenacious mountain plant, is the national flower of Austria and adorns the Euro currency issued by that country. It is known there as the "Queen of Flowers." It is also the national flower of Switzerland, where it is strictly protected in the wild, as it is in Austria, Germany and Italy.
Meaning of the Name
"Edelweiss" comes from two German words. "Edel" means "nobility" and "weiss" is the German word for "white." The meaning of the name is probably what gave rise to edelweiss' traditional meaning in the Language of Flowers. The small white blossoms represent daring or noble courage. The association with courage may also have to do with the fact that obtaining edelweiss from mountain crags for a bouquet took skill and courage on the part of the flower gatherer.
Many people know about the edelweiss flower because of the song, "Edelweiss," written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical "The Sound of Music," which had its Broadway premier in 1959. The song, sung by Captain von Trapp as well as by the von Trapp family singers, symbolizes the spirit of Austrian patriotism in the face of the 1939 Nazi invasion.
The simplicity of the flower contrasts with the importance of some of its most ardent admirers. Among those are Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, who ruled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his wife, the fashionable Empress Elizabeth. Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany loved edelweiss, as did another notable 19th-century monarch, "Mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria.
Medicines and Flavorings
Edelweiss infusions have traditionally been used to cure various ailments including diphtheria and tuberculosis. Extracts and dried plant parts have been used in soaps and anti-aging skin creams. Plant parts may have been used historically to ward off evil and encourage love. Edelweiss has also been used to flavor beer and wine.