The name Plantagenet came from Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, who was reputed to wear a sprig of the yellow ‘planta genista’ (also known as the Broom plant) in his hat. However, the Encyclopedia Britannica has speculated that the Plantagenet name ‘more likely’ arose because Geoffrey supposedly planted broom to improve his hunting covers.
He married Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England and they had three children, including Henry, who succeeded to the English throne, founding the Plantagenet dynasty, as Henry II.
Geoffrey was described as handsome and red headed, jovial and a great warrior. He was born on 24th August 1113 and died after a sudden fever on 7th September 1152, aged 38, in Le Mans, where he was buried.
But what of the plant which gave him his nickname and the dynastic name of the Plantagenets?
There are many species of broom, but the particular one which Geoffrey wore is the Genista scoparius aka the Cytisus scoparius. It is a tough shrub with dense, slender green stems and very small leaves, which are adaptations to dry growing conditions. It still grows in the dry areas around Anjou and is common all over Western Europe. The flowers are small and yellow and bloom in spring and summer, preferring dry, sandy soil. The Genista scoparius is the Common broom and the most hardy, surviving temperatures as low as -25 degrees. It grows to an average of 1 -3 metres, occasionally 4 metres, high.
Its tough branches were ideal to use as a besom broom which is where its common name arises, but it was thought to be unlucky to use them for menial purposes when in full bloom.
Apparently, an old Suffolk tradition states:
‘If you sweep the house with blossomed Broom in May
You are sure to sweep the head of the house away.’
It seems to have been used in a medicinal or herbal way as a decoction or tincture and was thought to cure kidney problems, gout, sciatica and joint and hip pain. If you would like to learn more about its medicinal and other qualities her is a very interesting link to a Modern Herbal: