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Herbs in Myth and Legend

Updated on January 15, 2013

The Myths and Legends of Herbs and Plants

Throughout history herbs have had many practical uses; their leaves have been used for cooking, fragrance, decorating, and for healing purposes. Eventually many magical qualities, myths and legends came to be associated with these natural gifts harvested from nature.

Bay Leaf

From the bay laurel tree

1.Bay Leaf. According to myth, the beautiful Daphne was changed into a bay leaf after she escaped the clutches of Apollo. Apollo was then said to have made his crown out of bay leaves and branches to remember her forever.

Ancient Greeks and Romans crowned victors with wreaths of laurel, otherwise known as bay leaf. The term "baccalaureate," means laurel berry, and refers to the ancient practice of honoring scholars and poets with garlands from the bay laurel tree.

In the 17th century it was believed that bay leaves repelled witchcraft. Pots of bay were placed in front of doorways in order to ward off evil spells and curses.

It was also believed that bay would prevent one's house from being struck by lightning.


2.Cinnamon was first used by the Egyptians and Europeans around 500 BC..

The Egyptians used it in the mummification process.

It was applied as a holy anointing oil in ancient Hebrew rituals.

The Romans believed cinnamon to be sacred, and the emperor Nero burned a year's supply of it as a sacrifice at his wife's funeral.

In mythology, the Phoenix was reborn in a magic fire consisting of myrrh, spikenard and cinnamon.

Cinnamon was also sacred to Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy.

In the ninth century AD cinnamon was used in mulled wine and love potions, and was routinely given to women during labor to increase contractions.

In the Middle Ages, cinnamon represented wealth and power. At large banquets, hosts served cinnamon in order to impress the guests.


3.Romans thought dill was an effective stimulant for gladiators. Dill also represented wealth to the ancient Greeks.

During the Middle Ages, dill was believed to possess magical powers and could destroy evil spells. In fact, the name is derived from the old Norse word "dilla" meaning "to lull" because it was used to lull babies to sleep, and as an antidote to witchcraft and sorcery. A drink made from dill leaves was the remedy for anyone who believed that a witch had cast a spell on them.

People also wore charms made from dill leaves to protect themselves from evil spells.


4.Fennel. The name comes from the Greek word for "marathon" because the famous battle at Marathon (490 BC) against the Persians was fought on a field of Fennel.

Because the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon it was believed that fennel inspired courage and strength. Greek and Roman soldiers chewed fennel seeds before entering battle.

During the Middle Ages, fennel was hung above doorways and on rafters in order to ward off the devil. Fennel seeds were also placed inside keyholes in order to prevent ghosts from entering the house.


5.The name Lavender comes from the Latin word 'lavare', which means to wash. The Romans used lavender water to bathe in.

One legend says that the pleasant smell of lavender comes from the baby Jesus. After washing his swaddling clothes, Mary hung them to dry on a lavender bush. Thus, the plant was given the "smell of heaven".

In the Middle Ages, lavender was burned to keep away witches and brides were told to bring it into the house to protect against cruelty. It was also believed that couples who placed lavender flowers between their bedsheets would never fight.


6.Mint. According to myth, Hades once lusted after a water nymph named Minthe.

When Hade's wife Persephone found out about Minthe she turned her into a low ground covering forest plant that would be walked upon by all. Hades was unable to reverse the spell, but blessed his beloved Minthe with a wonderfully sweet fragrance that was released whenever her leaves were trampled on.

Oregano (Marjoram)

7.Oregano. The ancient Greeks believed that Aphrodite created oregano. They thought that if it grew around a grave, the deceased would have eternal happiness.

In Germany, oregano was hung over doorways to protect against evil spells.

In the Middle Ages, oregano symbolized happiness and love.


8.Rose. For the ancient Romans, and Greeks, the Rose was a symbol of beauty, and the flower of the goddess Venus (Aphrodite).

According to myth, the first roses did not have thorns.

While Venus' son Cupid was smelling a rose, a bee came out and stung him on the lip. Venus then strung his bow with bees. She removed their stingers and placed them on the stems of the roses.

Greek Myth also says that all roses were originally white until Venus tore her foot on a briar and all the roses were dyed red with her blood. In Roman myth, the first red roses are said to have grown from the blood of Adonis for the love of Aphrodite; thus, they have become symbolic of love, and often eternal life.

In Christian legend, the red color of roses comes from the blood of Christ.


9.Rosemary.The Latin name, 'Rosmarinus' means "dew of the sea". It was so called because it grew around the Mediterranean Sea and became associated in ancient Rome with Venus, the Goddess of Love, who was supposed to have sprung from the sea's foam.

Because of its association with the goddess of love, rosemary became the symbol of faithfulness and was used at weddings.

At funerals it was thrown into coffins so that the dead person would be remembered.

From the times of ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, it was believed that rosemary strengthened the brain and memory. When they needed to take exams, students braided rosemary into their hair in order to retain knowledge.

The ancient Greeks burned rosemary in order to drive away evil spirits and disease.

In some parts of Europe, it was believed that if an unmarried woman placed a sprig of rosemary underneath her pillow, her future husband would be shown to her in a dream.


10.Thyme. Ancient Greeks considered Thyme a symbol of courage and sacrifice.

Some Christian legends say that Thyme was found in the straw beds of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.

During the Middle Ages it was believed that the scent of thyme inspired bravery and during jousting matches knights wore scarves with thyme leaves sewn on them.

According to English lore, if a person collected thyme flowers from the hillside homes of fairies and rubbed them on their eyelids, they could see the fairies.

Backyard Herb Garden

Your Backyard Herb Garden: A Gardener's Guide to Growing, Using and Enjoying Herbs Organically
Your Backyard Herb Garden: A Gardener's Guide to Growing, Using and Enjoying Herbs Organically

"A skilled gardener and teacher, Miranda Smith knows her subject well, writes about it easily, and obviously enjoys the special charms of herbs. She conveys all this in Your Backyard Herb Garden. Her no-nonsense advice on soil building, fertilizing, pest control, and watering is pure gold. She also covers harvesting and using herbs in teas, vinegars, cosmetics, potpourris, crafts, and more. Do try Miranda's rose geranium jelly!"-Bertha Reppert, author of Growing Your Herb Business and Herbs with Confidence, and herbarist in residence at The Rosemary House, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

- Review


Your Thoughts and Favorite Herb?

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    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      7 years ago

      Great information!

    • MSBeltran1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Such a wonderful lens; beautiful work and fascinating info. I have lensrolled this to my herb gardening lens, I was very excited to find it. Awesome.

    • surfer1969 lm profile image

      surfer1969 lm 

      8 years ago

      A lot of herbs can cure different sicknesses too.

    • reflectionhaiku profile image


      8 years ago

      Beautiful and useful lens as always! Thanks for sharing -

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      8 years ago

      Great lens - I'll need to be back to see more of your other rather fascinating-looking lenses. Thanks for the visit to my lens

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens! Keep up the good work.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi Michelle,

      I'm writing some lenses about Herbalism. My background is as a Biologist and historical re-enactor, so I've got interests in herbs as medicine, food, magic and anything else that people have been using them for over the last few hundred years.

      This range of topics is obviously too much to get into one lens, so I've made a set of related ones.

      The central one is at Herbalist Lens. Or if you don't allow HTML on your guestbook.

      Since you have a lens that includes herbs as myth / magic I've included a link to it. I hope you will take the time to have a look at my work and perhaps join the group (with a small g) or give a backlink for mutual benefit.

      Comments are welcome, either at the Herbalist Forum, someone has to be first, or direct to me.

      Best wishes,

      Ian. aka Pan_narrans

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This was fascinating. I had no idea that there were so many myths and legends pertaining to herbs. Thanks for the information.

    • papawu profile image


      10 years ago

      Being an avid student of history, I am reluctant to admit complete ignorance of the information contained herein. I knew absolutely nothing about the history of these herbs, but now I do. Fabulous lens.

    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image


      10 years ago

      Love this lens, very well laid out and informative 5* and a sprinkling of Angel Dust

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I love lavender. I defuse lavender essential oil in my bedroom every night, never tried adding it to food yet, though. Mint tea is great, and I like adding rosemary and thyme to my cooking. Cinnamon is probably the ultimate. I love it in many foods, mainly deserts. My dad has always added it to coffee before brewing, and I use toothpaste and mouthwash with cinnamon.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image


      10 years ago

      I am such a fan of yours!! Thank you for adding this to the Kitchen!!!!

    • religions7 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens - blessing your lenses is becoming a regular thing :) but you might want to add that these are the herbs of the Gods in the Western European (probably mostly UK) tradition.


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