The daisy was once an emblem of fidelity and innocence. The Celts believed daisies were the spirits of children who died at birth. In some areas, stepping on a daisy or uprooting a plant would prevent a child from flourishing. Still others believed putting daisy roots under your pillow would either bring on dreams or bring back an absent lover.
In Elizabethan times, the daisy was a used as a remedy for gout, rheumatism, and migraine. Poets love the daisy for its tradition of modesty and sweetness, while farmers curse it because the roots give off toxic substances that damage crops. Cattle avoid the daisy because of its bitter flavor. It’s curious that I have run across both culinary and medicinal uses while researching for this post, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume that all parts could be poisonous.
The daisies we know today, the oxeye daisy, or margarite, and the shasta daisy got their name from the Old English daeges-eaye, or “day’s eye”, referring to the way the flower opens and closes with the sun (except on cloudy days).
The oxeye daisy (Chrysthanthemum leucanthemum) was brought to America by the colonists. It is an easy plant, needing little care once established. It grows approximately 2″ high and about a foot wide. It has bright green foliage, clean white petals and a yellow center.
The Shasta daisy (Chrysthanthemum maximum, C. superbum) was created by Luther Burbank when he crossed an oxeye daisy with a Japanese “daisy”. He named them after the snow-capped Mt Shasta he lived near. (Luther Burbank has no connection with the naming of the city of Burbank in southern California.) There are several varieties available, including some that grow smaller than the oxeye, some that grow larger, some with a more yellowish flower and some with shaggy flowers.
The Country Diary of Garden Lore by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer (1989)
100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells (1997)
Sunset’s Western Garden Book (1997)