While the bridal bouquet isn’t exactly a wedding necessity—the show could technically go on without it—it’s still a pretty integral part of the ceremony. To put this in perspective, just imagine how odd it would seem for a bride to walk down the aisle empty-handed.
So where did the tradition come from? Though some have suggested wedding flowers were originally used to mask body odor before frequent bathing became the norm, that’s a misconception. In fact, the earliest bridal bouquets didn’t contain very many flowers, if any—instead, they mostly comprised herbs. According to Reader’s Digest, ancient Romans were the first to adopt the practice of sending their brides down the aisle with bundles of herbs, which symbolized things like fidelity and fertility.
Dill, already a known aphrodisiac at the time, was especially common in those bouquets, and it was also often served at wedding receptions to help the bride and groom prepare to consummate their bond. Garlic was sometimes used in the bouquets, too, since it was thought to protect the bride from bad luck or evil spirits.
Over the following centuries, people started to introduce other flora into their wedding bouquets, flowers included. As Snopes reports, marigolds gained popularity in 16th-century England as a symbol of faithfulness and endless love, because marigolds are so faithful to the Sun—blooming in daylight and closing their petals at night. And, like dill, they were considered an aphrodisiac.
Then, during the Victorian era, floriography (the language of flowers) became a prevalent fad, and people began to send each other carefully-assembled bouquets of flowers with specific meanings, which your handy floral dictionary could help you decipher. According to Atlas Obscura, pennyroyal meant “You must leave,” for example, while a pineapple would clearly convey to your lover that you think they’re perfect.
Secret flower messages fell out of fashion as the world shifted focus to World War I, but bridal bouquets never did—though you might want to make sure yours doesn’t contain any pennyroyal, just in case your soon-to-be spouse happens to be a closet floriographer.
[h/t Reader’s Digest]