Herbs in Myth and Legend
The Myths and Legends of Herbs and Plants
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.
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.
Herbs in Art
Backyard Herb Garden
"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