Tag Archive | female sexuality

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

Pomegranate: The hidden meaning in Greek Myth

Pomegranate as photographed by Augustus Binu

Pomegranate as photographed by Augustus Binu

I generally consider myself a pretty intuitive person. I’m  pretty good at connecting dots, reading subtext, noticing the little things. Especially when those things are nature related. So I have to admit, I felt a little something inside of me die when I realized I missed the whole implication of the Persephone in the Underworld myth (and by realized, I mean, I read the explanation and smacked myself upside the head).

In case you need an 8th grade world studies refresher:

Persephone is the goddess of the underworld in Greek mythology. She is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Persephone was such a beautiful young woman that everyone loved her, even Hades wanted her for himself. One day, when she was collecting flowers on the plain of Enna, the earth suddenly opened and Hades rose up from the gap and abducted her. None but Zeus, and the all-seeing sun, Helios, had noticed it.

Broken-hearted, Demeter wandered the earth, looking for her daughter until Helios revealed what had happened. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and the earth ceased to be fertile. Knowing this could not continue much longer, Zeus sent Hermes down to Hades to make him release Persephone. Hades grudgingly agreed, but before she went back he gave Persephone a pomegranate (or the seeds of a pomegranate, according to some sources). When she later ate of it, it bound her to underworld forever and she had to stay there one-third of the year. The other months she stayed with her mother. When Persephone was in Hades, Demeter refused to let anything grow and winter began. This myth is a symbol of the budding and dying of nature (Lindemans  1997).

This story was celebrated each year through the rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the most important rituals in all of Greece. Though initiates were sworn to secrecy (and therefore much of the practice of the rites have been lost) there are some details that have been preserved:

The ceremony began in Athens, and all those participating purified themselves by bathing in the sea, they also sacrificed a piglet…  As the procession proceeded on route to Eleusis the participants would, at a certain place, shout obscenities. This was a re-enactment of an old mythical woman called “Iambe” who was said to have made Demeter smile, at a time when she was full of sorrow for the loss of her daughter Persephone…

When the procession reached Eleusis they would rest and make ready for the next day, which was a day of fasting (Demeter did this when in mourning for Persephone). Once this part of the ceremony was over, the initiates drank a special brew of barley water mixed with penny-royal called, kykeon (Leadbetter 1999).

Remember this from school? But I bet you never considered the implications of human sexuality embedded in the myth. I didn’t, and I’m obsessed with this stuff. According to John M. Riddle in his book Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance and expanded upon in his follow up Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West the meaning of the Persephone myth was a way to impart the knowledge of family planning in the ancient world; the seeds that Persephone consumed in the Underworld corresponded with the “pause in fertility” experienced on Earth in the form of Winter. Since she ate the pomegranate (Punica granatum) seeds, the fertility of the earth was literally suspended. The specified drink that included pennyroyal is another clue that human fertility is highlighted here, as the herb was widely known as a remedy for unintended pregnancy.  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

Peony: the queen of flowers and PMS

Paeonia lactiflora photographed by Ulf Eliasson

Paeonia lactiflora photographed by Ulf Eliasson

Based on my time working in for a florist there is but one flower that can rival the almighty Rose as the favored token of love: the Peony. Interestingly, peonies are the most requested flower for weddings and are a symbol of fertility in western mythology and wealth and good fortune in the east. However in the Victorian language of flowers the peony says that the sender is too bashful (or ashamed) to admit their amorous feelings.

There are many different species of peony within the genus Paeonia but it is the Chinese (or White) Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) that is most commonly used medicinally. Traditionally, the root is prescribed for dysmennorhea (often in combination with licorice) and PCOS as well as premenstrual syndrome. It works by preventing prostaglandin F2 alpha production. Prostaglandin F2 alpha is a lipid compound that is created by the uterus that stops progesterone production when there was no implantation during the menstrual cycle. When prostaglandin F2 alpha binds to its receptors in the body it stimulates uterine contractions and menstruation begins. In some women, an excess of prostaglandin F2 alpha is made which creates more contractions of the uterus causing the pain associated with dysmennorhea and PMS cramping.

Of course those uterine contractions can be taken one step further: white peony root has been used as an abortificient in both eastern and western medicine.

So this Valentine’s Day, if you want something instead of roses for your beloved, consider the peony bouquet and you Brides to Be take note: nothing says love and romance like the contractions of the uterus.

 

A tipitiwitchet of one’s own

What if I told you there was a plant, beloved the world over, that only grows in a small sliver of the United States? And I mean small: this plant’s range only extends 100 miles from the southern bit of North Carolina to the northern tip of  South Carolina. Of course that is it’s natural range. Now this plant can be seen the world over growing in botanic gardens or cultivated by collectors. And all because it eats a little meat…

339px-Drawing_of_Venus_FlytrapOf course I am talking about the famous Venus Flytrap. Discovered in the 18th century, the plant became a instant treasure of the colonies, beguiling curious collectors of all types: from the farmers of the new world all the way to the Queen of England. It was first described by Governor of North Carolina Author Dobbs in a letter to English botanist Peter Collinson dated April 2, 1759. In it, he commented that:

We have a kind of Catch Fly Sensitive which closes upon any thing that touches it. It grows in Latitude 34 but not in 35. I will try to save the seed here.

Dobbs then welcomed Philadelphia plant collector William Bartram to his home to examine this new curious plant. William brought specimens home to his father, the famous botanist (and fellow friend of Peter Collinson) John Bartram. The Batrams were immediately smitten with the plant. They were the first to successfully cultivate the plant outside of its native range in their greenhouses along the Schuylkill River. John is credited with sending the first herbarium specimens of the plant to Peter Collinson for study. Collinson, in turn, provided the specimens to fellow botanists including John Ellis and later, Linnaeus.

But no one at this point had been able to collect seeds to send to Collinson in England. Remember this fact, it will become important later.

Ok, now it’s time to get down to the really raunchy stuff! Continue reading