The bearded iris grows wild in stony places and on old walls throughout Europe but was originally an ornamental plant that was apparently a hybrid because it never bears fruit. A medicinal plant in ancient times but its usage has been forgotten. Its leaves are very high in vitamin C and flavonoids. Its rhizome contains traces of essential oil, glycosides and myristic acid, the derivatives of which smell of violet when the plant is dry, hence its use in perfumery. It was used as a purgative. When mixed with copper acetate, its flowers and leaves produce a green pigment much appreciated in Renaissance painting. It has always been used in traditional gardening as an ornamental plant for its hardiness and resistance to cold, heat and drought. Dioscorides dedicated his very first chapter to this plant, saying that “the best iris grows in Slavonia and Macedonia.” It was also an ingredient of iris ointment. Mattioli adds a very long comment about this species, a very important medicinal plant in ancient times. Amongst other things, he says that chewing the root conceals bad breath.
Ramón Morales Valverde
Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid
(Extract from the commentary volume of Mattioli's Dioscorides illustrated by Cibo)