The first words of Snape to Harry were:

"Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

I have come across its meaning being about an apology to Harry for Lily from Snape. It uses the Victorian Flower Language.

So what is this language, what was the motivation for Rowling to use it, and how were the words transformed to an apology?

And lastly, what would we really get after performing the procedure Snape literally asked? What can the resulting mixture/compound/whatever be used for, of course in the world of wizardry ?

Here is the link:

  • 17
    Ask Hermione, she knows. The hands up girl sitting beside the Chosen One! Commented May 31, 2014 at 13:56
  • 2
    I usually filter out [harry-potter], but this one really surprised me. I actually think I believe the conspiracy theory for once.
    – Ryan Reich
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 0:16
  • The link you provided says how the words were transformed into apology >_>
    – Doc
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 5:08
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    Also worth noting is that this is the potion that slughorn asks them to brew when harry finds snapes book in the half blood prince. We already know that lily was slughorns favourite student so it just seems like another subtle nod to the regretting lilys death theory.
    – user47842
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 2:52
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    See also later duplicate at literature.stackexchange.com/q/1962/139 "Does Snape talk in code?"
    – b_jonas
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


The Language of Flowers is a means of communication where each flower has a meaning (or several), and the way they are arranged forms a message. It was a bit of a fad in the 1800s but is now mostly unknown except by artists who use it to hide messages in their works.

There are a lot of different messages you can get from the combination of asphodel (a type of lily) and wormwood (a genus of bitter and often toxic plants), but common readings include some combination of "death" and "sorrow/regret". This blog post summarizes. Note that it is pure speculation that Snape is using the Language of Flowers at all; JKR has never said.

As for what you'd get if you made this mixture in real life, the exact effects would depend on what kind of wormwood you used, but it's safe to say that it would taste revolting. In the book, it creates the "Draught of Living Death", a potion that brings on a deep, deathlike sleep that can last indefinitely.

  • I edited the question. I meant, by the use of the final mixture, in the world of wizardry actually.
    – MycrofD
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 13:48
  • Updated the answer accordingly.
    – ToxicFrog
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:25
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    My guess would be that, if intentional, it was a private easter egg from Rowling to the reader rather than an in-universe apology from Snape -- it would be quite in character for Rowling, and considerably less so for Snape. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 19:48
  • At least in more recent times though, Pottermore has brought this up (I cannot for the life of me remember markdown syntax so perhaps this won't show right): pottermore.com/features/…
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 1:36

I think it is up to you to tell us what the Victorian Flower Language is, as you are the one who has stated this is the language Snape is using. Do you have a link to an essay or anything? I have never heard it postulated that Snape was using the Victorian Flower Language when he first spoke to Harry and, while interesting, the onus is on you to provide the source of this theory.

Since you have not in any way proven the existence of the Victorian Flower Language, I will err on the side of taking J.K. Rowling's words at face value:

‘For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite.’

Philosopher's Stone - page 103 - Bloomsbury - chapter eight, The Potions Master

Here's what I think is ultimately most important: Dumbledore said to Snape in Deathly Hallows, which is revealed in Snape's memories, "I shall promise never to reveal the best of you, Severus." I'm paraphrasing. Anyhow, Dumbledore's telling us that he will never reveal Snape's love for Lily because it was so deeply personal and painful to Snape, even though it was love. This calls into question whether, in any language, Snape would openly reference his love for Lily to anyone, much less Harry Potter, the son of James Potter, Snape's hated enemy and the boy Lily chose over Snape.

I don't agree with your theory. Even a cursory review of Snape's characterization just doesn't allow for that kind of sentimentality. I definitely err on the side of J.K. Rowling rather than Edith Wharton when it comes to Harry Potter (and believe me, I love the Edwardian/Victorian eras!)

  • Asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. When Snape first asks it to Harry it could be taken as a first hint that there was more to the relationship between himself and Harry's mother, Lily, as appears on the surface. Asphodel, a plant from the Lily Family, is associated in mythology with regret and the dead. Wormwood is a plant known for its bitterness. Therefore Snape is telling us that he regrets Lily's death, and the bitterness of the knowledge that he holds himself responsible for it has made his life akin to a living death. Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:03
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    Then I guess the Quoran-s know more than StackExcanger-s unless I get someone who knows ;) Never mind though. Well here is the link. Perhaps I should post the link in my answer. potterisms.quora.com/…
    – MycrofD
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:04
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    For now I am sceptical a word of god answer would be amazing. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 11:15
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    @MycrofD -- I'm actually glad that you didn't crosspost between Quora and Stack Exchange -- I think that shows integrity. Not that you need this stranger's approval, of course, but it's still good form. There's a healthy bunch of us Potter fans here. You are gracious about the whole LMGTFY thing -- IMO, it was still unwelcoming and snarky. ANYway, I'm going to edit my answer a bit, even though you've chosen an answer. I think the first part can come out. :) And if anyone hasn't said so yet, welcome aboard. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 21:45
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    @Slytherincess I was in-fact pointing out that Wiki's post. A proof to your aversion! Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 5:46

In translation of the Victorian flower language, Snape technically says that he 'bitterly regrets Lily's death' Asphodel is a type of Lily and Wormwood is a genus for bitterness and a toxic plant. Snape is therefore telling Harry that he knew off Lily, and under extension, he loved her.

  • 3
    While that may be true, this answer is essentially the same as the answer above (but with less useful info).
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 5:56

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