A Bit of Herbal Mythology - Part I
All through the ages, herbs have been used for many different things. Not only have they been incorporated into cooking, but also used for decoration and medicinal purposes as well. Their healing properties as well as being tasty, fragrant, and attractive, resulted in people throughout the ages believing the plants possessed magical qualities and attributed some interesting myths to them:
• According to myth, the beautiful Daphne was changed into a bay as she escaped the clutches of Apollo. Thus, Apollo made a crown out of bay leaves and branches and wore it in her honor.
• 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.
• The Anglo-Saxons believed chamomile was one of the sacred herbs given to the earth by the god Woden.
• In Victorian times, chamomile symbolized patience in adversity.
• Chamomile is believed by some to possess the power to attract money; therefore gamblers may be found soaking their hands in a chamomile infusion in order to increase their chances of winning.
• The Romans believed cinnamon to be sacred, and the emperor Nero burned bunches of it as a sacrifice at his wife's funeral.
• In the Middle Ages, cinnamon represented wealth and power. At large banquets, hosts served cinnamon in order to impress the guests.
• When the fragrant clove forests were discovered in Indonesia, it was said that they must always be planted around water in order to flourish.
• For over 4,000 years, people chewed whole cloves in order to refresh their breath (ok, this has some merit so technically it isn't a myth).
• It was also said in ancient China if anyone wanted to speak to the emperor, they were required to have a clove in their mouth.
• Dill represented wealth to the ancient Greeks.
• During the Middle Ages, dill was believed to possess magical powers and could destroy evil spells.
• A drink made from dill leaves was the remedy for anyone who believed a witch had cast a spell on them.
• People also wore charms made from dill leaves to protect themselves from any evil spells.
• 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 a house.
• In 470 BC the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon. They fought on a field of fennel, and this led to the belief that fennel inspired courage and strength.
• Greek and Roman soldiers chewed fennel seeds before entering battle.
Fortunately as the years have gone by, these myths and legends have been replaced with the more realistic culinary benefits of herbs. For example, bay leaf is often used in Italian sauces or stews. Chamomile is used in many teas helping to relax the muscles which is why it is often consumed prior to going to bed. Dill is used to season fish, and fennel is used to aid digestion.
This concludes part one of two for Herbal Mythology.
This post was contributed by Elizabeth Krause publisher of cooking website, SimpleItalianCooking.com. To visit her website, click
here and make sure to subscribe to her weekly newsletter featuring Italian recipes for easy and quick lunches or dinners.