Throughout the centuries, herbs have provided many practical uses. Their aromatic leaves have been used for cooking, decorating, and medicinal purposes. Many myths and legends have also become associated with herbs. With their healing properties as well as being tasty, fragrant, and attractive, people throughout the ages believed that the plants possessed magical qualities and attributed some interesting myths to them. Here are just a few of the many rich tales associated with our common herbs:
Bay Leaf: 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 honour. In the 17th century it was believed that bay leaves repelled witchcraft. Pots of bay were placed in front of doorways in order to thwart evil spells and curses. It was also believed that bay would prevent one’s house from being struck by lightning.
Chamomile: 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; gamblers soak their hands in a chamomile infusion in order to increase their chances of winning.
Cinnamon: 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.
Cloves: 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 freshen their breath and it was said that in ancient China if anyone wanted to speak to the emperor, they were required to have a clove in their mouth.
Dill: 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 that a witch had cast a spell on them. People also wore charms made from dill leaves to protect themselves from evil spells.
Fennel: 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. In 470 b.c. 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.
Lavender: 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 it was believed that couples who place lavender flowers between their bedsheets would never fight.
Mint: According to myth, Hades had developed a lust for a nymph named Minthe. Hade’s wife Persephone found out and angrily transformed Minthe into a plant to be trampled on. Hades could not undo the spell, but he was able to ease it by giving Minthe a wonderfully sweet fragrance which would be released whenever her leaves were trampled on.
Oregano: The ancient Greeks believed that Aphrodite created oregano. They believed 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.
Rose: 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. 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 Christian lore the red colour of roses comes from the blood of Christ.
Rosemary: 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 help their memory. The ancient Greeks burned rosemary in order to repel evil spirits and illness. In some parts of Europe, it was believed that if an unmarried woman placed rosemary under her pillow, her future husband would be revealed to her in her dream.
Sage: The Romans believed that sage was a sacred herb that gave immortality. Up until the 18th century, it was believed that sage increased fertility. It was also believed that sage strengthened the mind.
Thyme: During the Middle Ages it was believed that the scent of thyme inspired bravery. Knights wore scarves with thyme leaves sewn on them during tournaments. In English lore, if a person collected thyme flowers from hillsides where fairies lived, and rubbed the flowers on their eyelids, they would be able to see the fairies.