Throughout the centuries, herbs, spices, and plants 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 therapeutic fragrances and
healing properties, people throughout the ages believed they the plants
possessed magical qualities and attributed some interesting myths to
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 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 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
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
Oregano (Marjoram): 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
color 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
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.
by Tina Columbus