Love-in-a-mist is more than just a beautiful name, it has beautiful flowers and fruits too! Find out more about this ornamental, culinary and medicinal plant below.
There is a lot to know about the flowering annual, love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena). This article will guide you through the plant’s many names and uses as well as how to sow and care for Nigella damascena.
Love-in-a-mist: origin and characteristics
Love-in-a-mist is a herbaceous annual that grows naturally in the Mediterranean. It belongs to the genus Nigella which is a part of the Ranuncalaceae or crowfoot family. Love-in-a-mist is only one of many names for this plant including:
- Bird’s nest
- Blue spiderflower
- Devil in the bush
- Blue crown
- Ragged lady
But where do all these names come from? Most nicknames for Nigella damascena refer to the way it looks; blue flowers that are enclosed by finely split bracts that almost resemble hairs or a spider’s web.
The question remains: When do the iconic love-in-a-mist flowers bloom? Nigella damascena’s natural flowering period is from June to September, when the love-in-a-mist blossoms are bound to attract plenty of bees and other helpful pollinators. Fortunately, however, the plants are usually overlooked by the common garden pest, the snail. During its flowering period, love-in-a-mist will also fruit with tiny fruit capsules that release seeds to regrow next year. Nigella damascena usually grows up to 45cm tall, but sometimes reaches around 70cm in height.
What is the difference between love-in-a-mist and black cumin? Love-in-a-mist and black cumin both belong to the same genus, Nigella. However, it is easy to tell them apart by their leaves. True black cumin (Nigella sativa) has no hair-like bracts and looks altogether less delicate. Thanks to its spicy flavour, true black cumin is also used in the kitchen more often and in different ways than love-in-mist seeds.
The best love-in-a-mist varieties
As a popular garden plant, love-in-a-mist comes in lots of different varieties. Flower colour and growth height are the main distinguishing features between each variety.
- Nigella damascena ‘Moody Blues’: This variety mix has comparatively taller flowers and the plant itself grows up to 80cm high. As the name implies, the ‘Moody Blues’ variety is found solely in shades of blue: from whitish-blue to violet-blue.
- Nigella damascena ‘Persian Rose’: As the name suggests, this love-in-a-mist flowers in pink instead of blue. At around 50cm tall, it is an average size for Nigella damascena.
- Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’: This variety produces feathery, semi-double flowers in a sky blue colour. Despite their elegant appearance, however, the shape of the semi-double flowers make it trickier for bees to collect their nectar. The variety grows about 45cm high.
- Nigella damascena ‘Alba’: This love-in-a-mist variety blooms in a brilliant white. It reaches a height of 50cm.
Planting love-in-a-mist: tips and method
Love-in-a-mist plants thrive with plenty of sun and fresh, loose soil that is moderately rich in nutrients. In less suitable locations like in partial shade or in dry, nutrient-poor soils, the plant will remain small and produce fewer flowers. To establish love-in-a-mist plants by sowing, follow these steps:
- Improve very nutrient-poor and dry soil with a high-quality potting soil, like our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. Quality potting soil not only contains a good balance of nutrients for a successful start to the season but also supports healthy soil life.
- Love-in-a-mist seeds can be sown directly outside from March onward. Sow the seeds about 1 cm deep in the soil with a plant spacing of 20 cm. Alternatively, you can start your seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings in the first two weeks after germination.
- The first seedlings will appear after two to three weeks.
- For a long flowering period until November, sow new seeds every fortnight.
- Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
- For strong & healthy plants as well as an active soil life
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Cultivating love-in-a-mist in a pot
Love-in-a-mist can easily be grown in a pot. When cultivating it in containers, make sure there is both a drainage hole and a drainage layer of coarse material such as stones to avoid waterlogging. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost is also an excellent soil for potted love-in-a-mist.
Caring for love-in-a-mist
Despite its hardy and adaptable nature, love-in-a-mist plants, especially potted ones, do need a bit of TLC.
Nigella damascena only needs to be watered in prolonged periods of heat. The plant copes quite well with drought and does not require daily watering. If growing your love-in-a-mist plant in a pot, check it regularly with a finger test to judge when you need to water. If the top few centimetres of the soil are dry, it is time to water again.
Tip: A layer of mulch, such as pine bark, reduces water loss from the soil through evaporation and suppresses weeds that could smother Nigella damascena plants.
Fertilising is also usually only necessary for potted love-in-a-mist plants. To provide the ideal supply of nutrients, give the plant a weak dose of fertiliser every 14 days during the flowering period, for example with our Plantura Liquid Flower Food.
Nigella damascena is an annual, which means it will die out at the end of the season. That being said, love-in-a-mist are prolific self-seeders that produce lots of seeds to regrow the following year. To prevent love-in-mist from self-seeding and spreading uncontrollably, cut back the plants before the seeds ripen late in the summer.
After flowering, love-in-a-mist plants will develop seed pods. Nigella damascena seeds look extremely decorative and are often used for dried bouquets. To do this, cut the stems of the plant at the base and hang them upside down with string to dry.
To harvest edible love-in-a-mist seeds, wait until the capsules on the plants start to turn brown. Afterward, harvest and dry them in a shallow dish on kitchen paper until they are papery. At this stage, the capsules should be starting to crack at the top. Now shake the seeds onto clean paper, remove any foreign bodies, such as seed pests, and then store the seeds in a cool, dark and dry place.
Is love-in-a-mist poisonous or edible?
Most members of the buttercup family, including love-in-a-mist, are poisonous. That being said, Nigella damascena are considered only slightly poisonous. Nonetheless, you should never consume the whole plant. A little caution is advised, especially with children and pets: do not allow them to nibble on the plant or put it in their mouths.
On the other hand, love-in-the-mist seeds are edible and taste intense, nutmeg-like flavour when finely ground. This spicy flavour is delicious in condiments and sweets. However, only ever eat the seeds in small quantities, as they contain the toxic alkaloid damascenin.
Love-in-a-mist seeds are said to have an expectorant effect in small doses (which is used to treat coughs), but the healing effect has not been clinically proven. For this reason, to be on the safe side, consumption is not advisable.
Another fascinating medicinal and culinary herb is sweet fennel. Read our article to discover how to grow it in your own garden and how to overwinter the herb.