GILLYFLOWER, a popular name applied to various flowers, but principally to the clove, Dianthus Caryophyllus, of which the carnation is a cultivated variety, and to the stock, Matthiola incana, a well-known garden favourite. The word is sometimes written gilliflower or gilloflower, and is reputedly a corruption of July-flower, " so called from the month they blow in." Henry Phillips (1775-1838), in his Flora historica, remarks that Turner (1568) " calls it gelouer, to which he adds the word stock, as we would say gelouers that grow on a stem or stock, to distinguish them from the clove-gelouers and the wall-gelouers. Gerard, who succeeded Turner, and after him Parkinson, calls it gilloflower, and thus it travelled from its original orthography until it was called July-flower by those who knew not whence it was derived." Dr Prior, in his useful volume on the Popular Names of British Plants, very distinctly shows the origin of the name. He remarks that it was " formerly spelt gyllofer and gilofre with the o long, from the French giroflee, Italian garofalo (M. Lat. gar iofilum), corrupted from the Latin Caryophyllum, and referring to the spicy odour of the flower, which seems to have been used in flavouring wine and other liquors to replace the more costly clove of India. The name was originally given in Italy to plants of the pink tribe, especially the carnation, but has in England been transferred of late years to several cruciferous plants." The gillyflower of Chaucer and Spenser and Shakespeare was, as in Italy, Dianthus Caryophyllus; that of later writers and of gardeners, Matthiola. Much of the confusion in the names of plants has doubtless arisen from the vague use of the French terms giroflee, (Billet and violetle, which were all applied to flowers of the pink tribe, but in England were subsequently extended and finally restricted to very different plants. The use made of the flowers to impart a spicy flavour to ale and wine is alluded to by Chaucer, who writes:
" And many a clove gilofre To put in ale "; also by Spenser, who refers to them by the name of sops in wine, which was applied in consequence of their being steeped in the liquor. In both these cases, however, it is the clove-gillyflower which is intended, as it is also in the passage from Gerard, in which he states that the conserve made of the flowers with sugar " is exceeding cordiall, and wonderfully above measure doth comfort the heart, being eaten now and then." The principal other plants which bear the name are the wallflower, Cheiranthus Cheiri, called wall-gillyflower in old books; the dame's violet, Hesperis matronalis, called variously the queen's, the rogue's and the winter gillyflower; the ragged-robin, Lychnis Flos-cuculi, called marsh-gillyflower and cuckoo-gillyflower; the waterviolet, Hottonia palustris, called water-gillyflower; and the thrift, Armeria vulgaris, called sea-gillyflower. As a separate designation it is nowadays usually applied to the wallflower.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)