Tag Archive | christian mythology

Virgins and Whores: Rosemary’s Herbal History

Rosemary has always had a but of a dual nature. In cooking is is noted for imparting it’s aromatic, slightly spicy tang to meats and veggies but can also be substituted for mint in sweet recipes. In aromatherapy is is suggested for use both as a calming scent and an invigorating one. And in the 17th century, Robert Herrick wrote this one sentence poem titled “The Rosemarie Branch”:

Grow for two ends, it matters not at all
Be’t for my Bridall, or my Buriall (Herrick 1876)

Rosemary in Flower photographed by Sarah Sexy Plants

Rosemary in Flower photographed by Sarah Sexy Plants

This poem, of course, alludes to the dual decorative purposes of rosemary at the time, both in wedding garlands and dressing the deceased at funerals. So it’s no wonder that Rosemary would be the first herb I’ve come across in my research with it’s own Virgin/Whore history.  Continue reading

Just mad about Saffron

Saffron has been known for centuries. As a dye it yields a deeply hued yellow color, prized by the fashionable Minoan women of Ancient Crete (2700 – 1450 BCE) (Willetts 1976) and later Egypt (Willard 2001). A fresco depicting saffron was found at the site of Akrotiri, a Greek city destroyed (and preserved) by volcanic ash in 1627 BCE. In the work, two finely dressed women are in a field of flowers, gathering the valuable parts that constitute saffron.

The Saffron Gatherers

Fresco of saffron gatherers from the bronze age excavations in Akrotiri on the greek island of Santorini, Greece.

To some, the robes and jewelry the women are wearing show that this painting was representative of a harvest festival. Others hypothesize that the saffron was an offering to the goddess Eileithyia, whom Homer referred to as “Mogostokos” – the goddess of the birth pains. Regardless, by the time of ancient Greece, saffron was well known and, judging by the fields depicted in the fresco, cultivated. But saffron isn’t celebrated for its longevity, nor for its ties to pregnancy (even though I think that’s worth exploring and will do so later on in this post). No, to most, saffron is known as a potent aphrodisiac. Continue reading

The Rose

Rosa gallica photographed by Radim Holiš

Rosa gallica photographed by Radim Holiš

No matter how you try to spin it, you cannot separate Valentine’s Day from the red rose.  It has been associated with love and beauty  in almost every culture for thousands of years. In classic Greek mythology the rose was stained red by the blood of the love goddess Aphrodite, herself. The ancient Romans cultivated Rosa gallica and featured its blooms in the wedding ritual both by decorating the bridal couple and decorating the centerpieces of the wedding feast.  In North America the native tribes gathered wild roses for courtship as well as medicinal use. A ghazal written by a Persian mystic Hafez tells it is the beauty of the rose that causes the nightingale to sing. By the medieval period, the rose was associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary in Christian mythology.

In the colonial period, William Penn brought English roses back to the Americas in 1699 and John Adams planted the first rosebush at the famed White House garden. This doesn’t relate so much to the history of the rose as a token of love, but I think it’s a cool fact. Continue reading

One Wise(man) Gift: Frankincense

As my family collapsed in the living room last night, stuffed and exhausted from a day of visiting and eating and eating and presents and more eating my father asked me a trivia question (which is how my family celebrates every and all holidays and gatherings): “Hey Sarah, what is another name for Boswellia?”

I was stumped. “I’ll give you a hint,” he told me, “it’s an herb…” And still, I had nothing.

So then he retreats to the kitchen and comes back with his bottle of Boswellia serrata – Frankincense. Who knew? Of course it was Christmas themed plant trivia.

Boswellia sacra

Boswellia sacra

Continue reading

Passionflower

passiflora incarnata

Is there a more exotic and coveted flower that can be grown outside of the tropics? I think not. The Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a well loved garden specimen that provides the necessary food for many different butterfly larva and the fruit is enjoyed by wildlife as well as people. But if I asked you how it relates to human sexuality could you guess? Most likely you would deduce that it has been used as an aphrodisiac and you would be right, but not for the reasons you think…

The “passion” in passionflower doesn’t stand for any sort of amorous feelings at all. Instead, it is referring to the Passion of Jesus (passion literally translated from the Greek means “to suffer”) and the story surrounding the events of the crucifixion. Missionaries, attempting to convert the peoples of South America, discovered the passionflower and saw in it the symbols of the Passion: the leaves look like the lance that stabbed Jesus’s side, the tendrils were the whips, the five petals and five sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (no Judas or Peter), the ring of colored filaments represents the crown of thorns, and the three stigmas represent the three nails, etc etc etc. I think it might be a case of reading into things a bit too much, buy hey, the missionaries thought the presence of this flower was a sign from god to continue to convert the natives by any means necessary so… I don’t exactly trust their judgement, anyway. Continue reading