Muscari is the genus name for a flowering perennial that is also called the grape hyacinth. Some botanists prefer to use a synonymous genus name, Muscarimia. There are approximately 30 different species in this genus, most of which are native to the Mediterranean and southwestern Asia. These bulbous perennials are often planted in gardens, usually along the garden borders.
Depending on the species, the leaves of the plants in the genus Muscari can be linear, lance-shaped, or spoon-shaped. In addition, the leaves can be green, blue-green, or gray-green in color. The leaves of some species can reach lengths of 10 to 12 inches (about 25.4 to 30.5 cm), while in other species the leaves may be much shorter.
The flowers of the genus Muscari are usually bell-shaped with closed mouths. They typically grow in stalk-like clusters called racemes. When the flowers in the clusters are particularly tight-mouthed, they look similar to clusters of grapes. The flowers are usually various shades of blue, with some species having white along the mouth of the flower. Although the individual flowers are normally quite small, the racemes can grow to 5 inches (about 12.7 cm) in length.
Cultivation is easy with most species of Muscari. Since they grow from bulbs, it is usually sufficient to plant the bulbs during the fall months. Generally, the bulbs should be planted under about 4 inches (10.2 cm) of moderately fertile soil. In addition, the plants prefer full sunlight and moist soil that drains well.
Muscari bulbs tend to expand in number and become overly congested under the soil. As a result, the offshoots can be separated from the original bulb during the late summer months. They can then be re-planted to give them more room. This process of dividing and replanting the bulbs can also help them maintain their vitality.
At least one species of Muscari, M. comosum, has an edible bulb. This species, also called tassel grape hyacinth, cipollini, or edible muscari, is native to the Mediterranean area. Its bulb has flavors similar to garlic, leek, or onion, making it a popular addition to Mediterranean cooking. In addition, the flowers are often used by perfume manufacturers because they smell sweet.
As for the medicinal properties, a few species of Muscari flowers, including M. comosum, can be used to make wine that is high in antioxidants and vitamin C. In addition, some homeopathic remedy practitioners crush the bulbs to create a form of poultice for irritated or red skin. Other practitioners also boil the bulbs to make a diuretic tea.