Meet Herb

Thyme and Fennel, two exceedingly mighty ones,

These herbs the wise Lord made Holy in the Heavens; He let them down, Placed them, and sent them into seven worlds As a cure for all, the poor and the rich.

Passed down by oral tradition. Date and author unknown.

Many of the herbs we grow and use today on a daily basis have been endowed with magical, mystical properties. They've been used as charms, protections and potions over the years, associated with various gods and goddesses and have been integral parts of many rites of passage such as birth, marriage and death. Some have even been deigned to be sacred, direct gifts from the gods, like Angelica in Scandinavia and Mint in France and Spain. In some cases, these "holy" plants were ascribed to a particular god or goddess, while in others they were just considered "special". The Anglo-Saxons held nine plants to be sacred: Fennel, Mugwort, Plantain, Chamomile, Watercress, Nettle, Chervil, Crab apple and Atterlothe; the last one which has never been identified in modern times.

Generally, the harder to grow or longer it takes to germinate, the more lore is attached to the herb. Parsley is very slow to grow and its legend deals with it visiting the devil seven to nine times before it sprouts. In some places it's always planted on Good Friday to ward off the devil's involvement and to ensure good luck and happiness throughout the year. In some countries they consider it bad luck to sow Parsley "across" the garden, saying it should be planted "along" instead. "It takes an honest man to grow Parsley well" and "Parsley only grows where the missus is master" are two well-known old wives tales concerning Parsley. In some of the southern states, it's considered bad luck to bring Parsley plants to the garden of a new house.

Since early times, people have hung bunches of herbs on doors, over beds, and in other parts of their houses to ward off evil spirits and demons, nightmares, diseases and witchcraft. Basil was hung in Hindu homes to safeguard the spirit of the family. Rosemary was popular in Spain and Italy to ward of evil, Spanish travellers even wore it in their hats to ward off evil when away from home. Placing Rosemary under your pillow was thought to fend off nightmares. In Britain, Vervain, Dill and St John's Wort were thought to deter witches, but they were also used in spells and incantations. Lovage was worn around the neck in a fabric bag to attract a sweetheart.

The Greeks had many sacred plants. Bay was dedicated to Apollo and his son Asclepius, the god of medicine. Daphne is said to have been transformed into a Bay tree to save her from Apollo's pursuit. Legend has it that Menthe was a nymph that Persephone transformed to a plant out of jealousy that Hades the Lord of the Underworld was in love with her. (Persephone was Hades' wife.)

Rosemary has many legends based in Christianity to its credit. A sprig of Rosemary is said to speed the spirit on its way to rest at funerals and burials. In Spain they revere it as one of the bushes that gave shelter to the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt. The flowers reportedly changed colour from white to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak from its branches. It is said to grow to the same height as Christ and after 33 years (Christ's age when he died) the bush stops gaining height and increases in width only. Fennel and Wild Thyme were also associated with the Virgin and were used together in many charms.

While the Hindus held Basil in high regard, the Greeks associated it with poverty and misfortune. Fennel has been a symbol of flattery and honour; Marigolds have at different times stood for jealousy, constancy, and obedience; Sage is symbolic of insults; Chamomile a sign of humility; and Rosemary symbolized the fidelity of lovers. Fennel, Thyme and Borage have been symbols of courage through the ages. Roman soldiers and gladiators ate Fennel seeds for bravery and ladies in England embroidered a bee hovering over Wild Thyme on the scarves they gave their knights before going into battle in the 15th century.

Many herbs have been used in love charms and aphrodisiacs, and carried or strewn at weddings to bring good luck and encourage fertility. Basil has long been associated with love, in Crete it was called "love washed with tears", and in Moldavia legend had it that a young man would fall in love with any young lady from whom he accepted a sprig of Basil. Cilantro mixed with Valerian and Violets was a favourite aphrodisiac. Lovage, Savoury, Dill and Tarragon have all been ingredients in love potions and Bridal posies have included Dill for luck, Marigolds for constancy and Rosemary for remembrance and fidelity.

The Chinese thought that eating Cilantro would make you immortal while others were happy enough simply believing it prolonged life. To the French, Rosemary rekindled lost energy. In Lapland they chewed and even smoked Angelica like tobacco in their belief in its powers to enhance and prolong life.

Food for thought.

Think I'll go out and pick some Lovage, maybe even a mixture of Cilantro, Valerian and Violets. I'll report on the results next time, maybe. Also next month we'll be talking about growing herbs; planning, planting and maintaining your herb garden for the maximum in harvest and enjoyment.

Until then, have a great time.