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
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 →
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.
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 little Viola tricolor has had quite a life. It’s a little wildflower, native to Europe and introduced in North America where it has spread and naturalized in our open fields and transitional woodlands. It is one of the most well known wildflowers and yet it goes by a multitude of names: Johnny-Jump-Up (or the creepier Johnny Jump Up and Kiss Me), Love-Lies-Bleeding, Heartsease, Love-In-Idleness, Tickle-My-Fancy, Come-and-Cuddle-Me, Meet Me In the Entry, Kiss-her-in-the-Buttery or the somewhat less lusty Three Faces in a Hood or Wild Pansy.
It has been the topic of great literature and mythology. Roman myth states that one time Cupid missed his mark and instead the arrow landed on the wild pansy. It imbued the flower with powers of love and desire and has symbolized faithfulness in love since ancient times.
Did you know that once upon a time, before cotton, before tobacco, the largest export out of the new word was the Sassafras Tree (Sassafras albidum)? Considered a “prime commodity” the sassafras tree was so highly regarded that it was the reason the first two settlements were established on the coast of Massachusetts. It was worth so much money in the London market that the cost of the transatlantic voyage to harvest sassafras and bring it back to England was not only worth it, it was profitable! And the reason? It was considered a cure for syphilis!
The Great Blue Lobelia is a native plant with an interesting past. It grows in wet open meadows throughout the eastern US and Canada and has been utilized by native people for a variety of ailments: it was known as “pukeweed” for its ability to cause vomiting almost immediately after consuming a pod or two, as a relaxing tea following childbirth, and as a restorative tonic after a bout of the flu.
Blue Lobelia by Sarah Sexy Plants
In the 1700s the term “pox” was still generally used to refer to syphilitic sores and while there is some debate surrounding the origins of the infection (it is generally thought to have originated in the Americas) it is a fact that the colonists had quite a problem with the disease (both Philadelphia and Boston had a known prostitution trade which lead to the quick and effective spread of the disease). The Iroquois used the plant to treat syphilis and relied on it for that purpose so much that the superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1756 to 1774 sent samples of lobelia to Europe for study as “the Indian’s secret cure for syphilis.” European doctors, however, were unable to find any medicinal uses and quickly gave up research on the herb.However, the scientific name Lobelia siphilitica gives away the reason we are interested in Blue Lobelia here at the Sarah Sexy Pants blog: it has been used as a treatment for syphilis (Spoiler Alert: it does not actually work).
Famed botanist, zoologist, and all around scientist Carl Linnaeus, best known for popularizing the naming system of binomial nomenclature, assigned the specific epithet “siphilitica” to the Blue Lobelia due to its reputed uses and, although the science didn’t pan out, the name has survived.