Tussy Mussies, Nosegays and the Victorian Language of Flowers

white rose tussy mussy in a Victorian silver tussy mussy holder

white rose tussy mussy in a Victorian silver tussy mussy holder

Tussy mussy.

I’ve always thought it was very camp but until now I don’t think I ever had the proper understanding of what it really was. I thought that herbs and flowers were gathered in posies and carried by ladies in the 16 and 1700’s to drown out the stench of sewerage, rotting rats and other smelly things. It was also before daily bathing was common and I suppose the tussy mussy would have come in handy regularly. I’ve imagined lavender, rosemary, thyme and all things herbal, dotted with sweet smelling flowers where possible. These were called originally called “nosegays”, and if that isn’t camp – what is?

herb tussy mussy

herb tussy mussy/nosegay

Upon further research it seems they were around in the 1500’s too for the same reasons. It isn’t quite clear if the word “tus” refers to a cluster of flowers or comes from a similar word meaning tuft or clump.

So I’m right.

But it’s more than that!

Gentlemen callers sent posies to the one they admired whereby the flowers chosen had secret meanings! How devilish and exciting.

And….. there are special tussy mussy holders made from gold, silver and even glass that hold the posy in place as you gad about the town – taking whiffs whenever needed. You could then rest the posie on your table when finally at home.

Victorian tussy mussy holders

Victorian tussy mussy holders

I imagine beautiful violets in a traditional tussy mussy. I wonder what that means? Here are a few from about.com/gardening

Strands of ivy signified fidelity and friendship, gardenias conveyed a secret love, forsythia… anticipation. Shakespeare used them to enhance the story, as in Hamlet, when poor Ophelia laments “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”

Baby’s Breath: Everlasting Love

Calla Lily: Magnificent Beauty

Camellia: Perfected Loveliness

Daffodil: Unrequited Love

Daisy: Innocence

Forget-me-not: Memories

Gardenia: Secret Love

Gladioli: Sincerity

Jasmine: Cheerful & Graceful

Lilac: First sign of love

Lily: Purity of Heart

Orange Blossom: Marriage and Fruitfulness

Orchid: Beauty

Red Rose: Passionate Rose

Sweet Pea: Good by

Violet: Modesty

My client and amazing angel lady Doreen Virtue has written a book with an Australian Naturopath, Robert Reeves, about the language of flowers.  It’s a beautiful book and of course differs from the list above. It’s worth a read if you LOVE flowers and the healing energy of mother nature. Check it out “Flower Therapy: Welcome the Angels of Nature into Your Life”.

red roses

red roses

Today I think it’s pretty simple. Flowers are always a beautiful gift and if you send red roses it probably does still signify love and passion. If you send anything else, it’s simply stunning. How could a flower have a negative connotation? And of course my choice would be scented flowers. Especially roses. I think if you are sending roses, ask for scented stems.

So next time you are on the holo-deck having a virtual Victorian experience, remember your nosegay or tussy mussy to get you through.


copyright suzannerbanks 2013

8 thoughts on “Tussy Mussies, Nosegays and the Victorian Language of Flowers

  1. Every time I am on your blog I learn something new…thank you, my friend! And I wonder what it means that I adore orange blossoms? (might explain why an only child had three children and wanted even more 😀 ???)

      • you are too kind…my mum on the other hand interprets my choice of three as I lost my marbles :D!!! wouldn’t dream of my life any different!

      • No way! 3 is the perfect number for you. Portia has been raving about how wonderful you are and I believe everything he’s saying. Keep up the great work x

      • Portia is equally as wonderful in many ways…and one of them is bringing me to you and your blog 🙂 !! Enjoy the day/evening, Suzanne!

  2. I am wondering if you every buy antique nosegay holders. My mother and I’v been a florist for 37 years and she has collected them over the years. She’s getting up in years now, and it is time to liquidate some of her special things. thanks, let me know and I can send pictures.

    • Becky hi! So sorry its taken me a few days to return your comment. No I don’t buy or collect them but I remember when I wrote this article I did come across a few sites who were selling vintage tussy-mussies. Can’t remember what they were sorry. Keep searching. Maybe you could sell them on ebay but I know that can be a bit of a hassle. Best wishes Hey why don’t you email some pics and we can write a blog article together about your mum. Would you be interested in doing that?

  3. I Dear Ms. Banks, Hello, I came across your blog because I am nearing the end of quite a fabulous novel, a historical drama set in NYC in 1895. The book is called, “The Church of Marvels” by Leslie Parry, her debut novel. And after reading your blog about nosegay’s, I felt compelled to write to you. And at the very least implore you to read her book. I can only describe it as an intriguing Spencerian like hideaway, characters you want to know or know of. It brings you to a place where one can lovingly be lost in these characters life’s. The author creates & defines with each chapter. I believe you would enjoy reading this, I certainly have. It is such a captivating book you’ll feel your hands are drawn quickly to turn the page, though as you find yourself forever getting closer to the end, you may force yourself to slow your pace (I am there now!). Not wanting this to end. It is not overly descriptive, though it does reach the rafters. However Ms Parry is ever so diligent to gently ease her characters into positions, so much so as you may find yourself thinking, their must be a follow-up book, part 2 or believing you could literally see these pages on the big screen & start thinking of who you would cast! It’s The kind of book that is difficult to put down and go to sleep or to put down and eat. And her mention of a nosegay brought me to your site and I enjoyed your description very very much! Your style appealed to me tremendously! Thank you for writing it. I wish you all the best Ms Banks. Sincerely, Kt

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