Iris is a genus of 260–300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers. It takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, which is also the name for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris. Some authors state that the name refers to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species.
Rhizomes of the German Iris (I. germanica) and Sweet Iris (I. pallida) are traded as orris root and are used in perfume and medicine, though more common in ancient times than today. Today Iris essential oil (absolute) from flowers are sometimes used in aromatherapy as sedative medicines. The dried rhizomes are also given whole to babies to help in teething. Gin brands such as Bombay Sapphire and Magellan Gin use orris root and sometimes iris flowers for flavor and color.
For orris root production, iris rhizomes are harvested, dried, and aged for up to 5 years. In this time, the fats and oils inside the roots undergo degradation and oxidation, which produces many fragrant compounds that are valuable in perfumery. The scent is said to be similar to violets. The aged rhizomes are steam-distilled which produces a thick oily compound, known in the perfume industry as “iris butter” or orris oil.
The Iris is one of the flowers listed as birth flower for February. In Christianity, the iris represents Our Lady of Sorrows as its sharp leaves are like swords.