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The History of Herbal Supplements


Herbs and plants have been used for millenia to improve health. Plants that have demonstrated beneficial effects include herbs, roots, cacti, mushrooms, trees, succulents, seeds, flowers and mosses. Herbal ingredients are used in nutritional supplements, Chinese medicine, cosmetics, perfumes, herbal remedies and in many health foods and beverages. Throughout the years, herbs have often been misunderstood. Some were thought to have magical properties. Later these superstitions were proven to be false. Other herbs were ignored as being useless, and now modern medical science is finding that these compounds really do have effects on the body.


Prehistoric Era

The oldest herb in history may be ginkgo biloba. Fossils from the Paleozoic era tell us that the ginkgo biloba tree has been on earth for millions of years. Prehistoric tribes of hunter-gatherers would include in their diet any berries, leaves, roots, mushrooms, cacti, seeds, herbs or any parts of any plants that were found to be edible. Over many millennia, various herbs and plants were chewed, made into teas, pounded into pastes, made into oils, gargles and snuffs, and added to various foods and drinks. Before the invention of writing, knowledge was passed from word of mouth. Often a wise woman or medicine man would act as a tribe’s prehistoric equivalent of a doctor. Over the eons of time, effects of herbs were learned by trial and error. Some plants, such as the hemlock tree, were found to be poison. Herbs such as valerian roots were found to make a person drowsy, while other herbs such as tea, contained caffeine and would help people to feel more awake. Somewhere along the way in history, white willow bark was boiled in water and made into a tea that somehow helped relieve aches and pains and lower fevers. In recent times it was discovered that this tree bark contained salicin, which was later synthesized into acetesalicylic acid, better known as aspirin. Today aspirin has become the number one selling over the counter remedy around the world.


Medicine in ancient Mesopotamia

Historical Background

The name Mesopotamia (meaning "the land between the rivers") refers to the geographic region which lies near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and not to any particular civilization. In fact, over the course of several millennia, many civilizations developed, collapsed, and were replaced in this fertile region. The land of Mesopotamia is made fertile by the irregular and often violent flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While these floods aided agricultural endeavors by adding rich silt to the soil every year, it took a tremendous amount of human labor to successfully irrigate the land and to protect the young plants from the surging flood waters. Given the combination of fertile soil and the need for organized human labor, perhaps it is not surprising that the first civilization developed in Mesopotamia. The origins of civilization can be traced to a group of people living in southern Mesopotamia called the Sumerians. By c.3500 BCE, the Sumerians had developed many of the features that characterized subsequent civilizations. Towns grew to be cities, an early form of pictographic writing was used, metal working had begun, and temples were built on a monumental scale. Generally speaking, however, true civilization is said to have begun around 3100 BCE with the development of cuneiform writing. Cuneiform was a system of writing established by the Sumerians which required the use of a stylus in order to make wedge-shaped marks on wet clay tablets, once the tablets were dry they could by stored, transported, etc. After its development, cuneiform became the dominant system of writing in Mesopotamia for over 2000 years. Even after Sumerian became extinct as a spoken language, many other Near Eastern cultures continued to write using cuneiform. As a result of its extensive use of several centuries, many cuneiform tablets have survived. These tablets provide historians with the opportunity to glimpse the culture of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.

Mesopotamian Medical Practitioners

By examining the surviving medical tablets it is clear that there were two distinct types of professional medical practitioners in ancient Mesopotamia. The first type of practitioner was the ashipu, in older accounts of Mesopotamian medicine often called a "sorcerer." One of the most important roles of the ashipu was to diagnose the ailment. In the case of internal diseases, this most often meant that the ashipu determined which god or demon was causing the illness. The ashipu also attempted to determine if the disease was the result of some error or sin on the part of the patient. The phrase, "the Hand of..." was used to indicate the divine entity responsible for the ailment in question, who could then be propitiated by the patient. The ashipu could also attempt to cure the patient by means of charms and spells that were designed to entice away or drive out the spirit causing the disease. The ashipu could also refer the patient to a different type of healer called an asu. He was a specialist in herbal remedies, and in older treatments of Mesopotamian medicine was frequently called "physician" because he dealt in what were often classifiable as empirical applications of medication. For example, when treating wounds the asu generally relied on three fundamental techniques: washing, bandaging, and making plasters. All three of these techniques of the asu appear in the world's oldest known medical document (c. 2100 BCE).

The knowledge of the asu in making plasters is of particular interest. Many of the ancient plasters (a mixture of medicinal ingredients applied to a wound often held on by a bandage) seem to have had some helpful benefits. For instance, some of the more complicated plasters called for the heating of plant resin or animal fat with alkali. This particular mixture when heated yields soap which would have helped to ward off bacterial infection. While the relationship between the ashipu and the asu is not entirely clear, the two kinds of healers seemed to have worked together in order to obtain cures. The wealthiest patients probably sought medical attention from both an ashipu and an asu in order to cure an illness. It seems that the ashipu and the asu often worked in cooperation with each other in order to treat certain ailments. Beyond sharing patients, there seems to have been some overlap between the skills of the two types of healers: an asu might occasionally cast a spell and an ashipu might prescribe drugs. Evidence for this crossing of supposed occupational lines has been found in the library of an ashipu that contained pharmaceutical recipes. Another textual source of evidence concerning the skills of Mesopotamian physicians comes from the Law Code of Hammurabi. This collection was not found written on a tablet, but was discovered on a large block of polished diorite. It was not a code of law in the modern sense, but probably a collection of legal decisions made by Hammurabi (c. 1700 BCE) in the course of his activities as a judge and published to advertise his justice. Several similar collections are known from other areas and periods, and Hammurabi's cannot be taken as representative of all Mesopotamian justice -- in fact, it is outstanding for its application of the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, while other "codes" allow monetary penalties. Among Hammurabi's laws were several that pertained to the liability of physicians who performed surgery. These laws state that a doctor was to be held responsible for surgical errors and failures. Since the laws only mention liability in connection with "the use of a knife," it can be assumed that doctors in Hammurabi's kingdom were not liable for any non-surgical mistakes or failed attempts to cure an ailment. It is also interesting to note that according to these laws, both the successful surgeon's compensation and the failed surgeon's liability were determined by the status of his patient. Therefore, if a surgeon operated and saved the life of a person of high status, the patient was to pay ten shekels of silver. If the surgeon saved the life of a slave, he only received two shekels. However, if a person of high status died as a result of surgery, the surgeon risked having his hand cut off. While if a slave died from receiving surgical treatment, the surgeon only had to pay to replace the slave. This use of status to evaluate misdeeds does not seem to appear in other, similar "codes" however.

Regardless of the risks associated with performing surgery, at least four clay tablets have survived that describe a specific surgical procedure. Unfortunately, one of the four tablets is too fragmentary to be deciphered. Of the remaining three, one seems to describe a procedure in which the asu cuts into the chest of the patient in order to drain pus from the pleura. The other two surgical texts belong to the collection of tablets entitled "Prescriptions for Diseases of the Head." One of these texts mentions the knife of the asu scraping the skull of the patient. The final surgical tablet mentions the postoperative care of a surgical wound. This tablet recommends the application of a dressing consisting mainly of sesame oil, which acted as an anti-bacterial agent.

Another important consideration for the study of ancient Mesopotamian medicine is the identification of the various drugs mentioned in the tablets. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are difficult or impossible to identify with any degree of certainty. Often the asu used metaphorical names for common drugs, such as "lion's fat" (much as we use the terms "tiger lilly" or "baby's breath"). Of the drugs that have been identified, most were plant extracts, resins, or spices. Many of the plants incorporated into the asu medicinal repertoire had antibiotic properties, while several resins and many spices have some antiseptic value, and would mask the smell of a malodorous wound. Beyond these benefits, it is important to keep in mind that both the pharmaceuticals and the actions of the ancient physicians must have carried a strong placebo effect. Patients undoubtedly believed that the doctors were capable of healing them. Therefore, at the very least, visiting the doctor psychologically reinforced the notion of health and wellness.

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The Egyptians believed that disease and death were caused by a god, a spirit, or some other supernatural force. They had shaman-physicians, who would discover the particular entity causing the disease and then drive it out with magic rituals or talismans, as well as medicines. The duties of Egyptian physicians included creating medications, providing magic spells and prayers to provide healing, mending broken bones, dentistry, embalming, surgery, and autopsy. Physicians were often very specialized. “From the tombstone of Iry, chief physician to a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, we learn that he was also "palace eye physician" and "palace stomach bowel physician" and bore the titles "one understanding the internal fluids" and "guardian of the anus."

A common diseases among the Egyptians was the parasitic disease Schistosomiasis, an infection by the larval worm of a snail. Humans are infected when they come into contact with the free swimming worm, which is released by the snail into water. The worm burrows into the skin and enters the veins of the human host and causes anemia, loss of appetite, urinary infection, and loss of resistance to other diseases.

The commoners also suffered from the injuries and deformities caused by hard labor. They suffered from insect born diseases such as malaria and trachoma, an eye disease, small pox, measles, tuberculosis, and cholera. It is believed that there were occasional outbreaks of the bubonic plague spread along trade routes from the east. They contracted diseases such as trichinae, parasitic worms, and tuberculosis from their livestock. Leprosy, which had originated in Egypt, was relatively rare, possibly because of the immunity that tuberculosis sufferers have. Silicosis of the lungs, caused by breathing in sand particles was a common cause of pneumonia for the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians also suffered from diet-related ailments such as malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, dental abrasion, and ailments normal to all humans such as arthritis.

A great deal of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian medicine comes from the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Ebers Papyrus and the Kahun Papyrus. The Edwin Smith Papyrus and the Ebers Papyrus date from the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC. These manuscripts are believed to be derived from earlier sources. They contain recipes and spells for the treatment of a great variety of diseases or symptoms. They discuss the diagnosis of diseases and provide information of an anatomy. They detail the ancient Egyptian concept of medicine, anatomy, and physiology. The Kahun Papyrus is a gynecological text that deals with topics such as the reproductive organs, conception, testing for pregnancy, birth, and contraception. Among those materials prescribed for contraception are crocodile dung, honey, and sour milk.

Please do check the MEDICAL page for remedies and usages of plants by the ancient Egyptians

China

Chinese medicine is famous for its extensive use of herbs and plants. For over five thousand years, Chinese herbalists have used ginkgo biloba tree leaves, ginseng roots, Cordyceps mushrooms, teas and many other herbs and health tonics to support good health.
China has the longest history of continuous use and learning about medicinal herbs. The first recorded Chinese herbal study, called Ben Cao, is believed to have been written around 2000 B.C. by Emperor Shen Nong. The Emperor studied and wrote about over 300 plants and herbal remedies.
In Chinese medicine, doctors are oftentimes only paid for successfully helping people to maintain good health, not for trying to fix their problems after they are ill. Their philosophy is to focus on the yin and the yang balance of the entire body, rather than only treat an individual body part.
In Asia, thousands of pharmacists and doctors prescribe herbal remedies every day. Herbal supplements have been an accepted way of life for all of the know history in this part of the world.

India

In early times, herbs and spices were so valuable that their trade was one of the first forms of organized commerce. India played an important part in the herb and spice trade.
In India, the study of medicinal herbs has been ongoing since around 2000 B.C. and is known as Ayurveda which means the “science of life”.
The herb Gotu kola has been used to help memory throughout the history of India. Gymnema sylvestre leaves have been used to help diabetics and dieters overcome sugar cravings.

Greece

In the first century AD, the Greek physician Dioscorides made a thorough record of the medicinal uses of over 500 herbs and plants. This record, named De Materia Medica, informed and influenced herbalists for centuries afterward.
The famous Greek physician Hypocrites is considered the forefather of medicine. Hypocrites said “Let your food be your medicine” and his treatments often included herbs.

Rome

Herbal remedies were widely used in the Roman Empire, including crushed mint leaves, basil, oregano and mandrake herb. Other early uses of plants in Rome were for the poisoning of political opponents, and for antidotes to poisons.
The Roman emperor Nero created a kind of cure-all potion which remained in use for over 2000 years and may have been the first “patent medicine.”
Much of the Roman knowledge was lost when libraries and schools were destroyed by warfare. Many years later, Italy would be home to the first standardized dosage of ingredients. A pharmacopoeia called the Nuovo Receptario was published around 1500 and became a standard for pharmacists of the time.

The Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, during the “dark ages,” much of the learning and culture of European civilizations was lost. While barbarians ravaged the continent, monks and scribes in Ireland and Spain hand-copied books and written works.
Most monasteries also had gardens where Monks grew medicinal herbs. The liquor named Benedictine contains 27 herbs, plants & spices and was thought to be a health elixir. It is named after the religious Benedictine monks that invented it.

The Americas

Native North Americans used black cohosh for women’s symptoms of menstruation, and now modern scientists have found it to offer an estrogen-like effect upon hormones.
In Peru, the bark of the cinchona tree proved useful against malaria and later became the source of quinine sulfate. The two French pharmacists who worked to isolate this much needed remedy could have patented it and enjoyed a millionaire monopoly. Instead they released their findings freely to the world in the name of good medicine. These young, unsung heroes whose work has saved untold numbers of lives from disease were named Joseph-Bienaime Caventou and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier.



Trees in Mythology

Forests play a prominent role in many folktales and legends. In these dark, mysterious places, heroes can lose their way, face unexpected challenges, and stumble on hidden secrets. Part of the age-old magic of forests lies in the ideas that people have had about trees. In myths and legends from around the world, trees appear as ladders between worlds, as sources of life and wisdom, and as the physical forms of supernatural beings.


The World Tree of Norse mythology, Yggdrasill

World Trees

With its roots buried deep in the earth, its trunk above ground, and its branches stretching toward the sky, a tree serves as a symbolic, living link between this world and those of supernatural beings. In many myths, a tree is a vital part of the structure of the universe. Gods and their messengers travel from world to world by climbing up or down the tree. The Norse believed that a tree runs like an axis, or pole, through this world and the realms above and below it. They called their World Tree Yggdrasill. It was a great ash tree that nourished gods, humans, and animals, connecting all living things and all phases of existence.

In traditional societies of Latvia, Lithuania, and northern Germany, the world tree was thought to be a distant oak, birch, or apple tree with iron roots, copper branches, and silver leaves. The spirits of the dead lived in this tree. Greek folktales tell of goblins in the underworld who try to cut the roots of the tree that is holding up the earth and the sky. Norse legends contain a similar image with an evil serpent forever gnawing at Yggdrasill's roots.

The mythology of early India, preserved in texts called the Upanishads, includes a cosmic tree called Asvattha. It is the living universe, an aspect of Brahman, the world spirit. This cosmic tree reverses the usual order. Its roots are in the sky, and its branches grow downward to cover the earth.

Trees of Life and Knowledge

Providers of shade and bearers of fruit, trees have long been associated with life and fertility. Evergreen trees, which remain green all year, became symbols of undying life. Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the winter and produce new ones in the spring, symbolized renewal, rebirth after death, or immortality.
Many creation myths draw on trees as symbols of life. In some versions of the Persian creation story a huge tree grew from the rotting corpse of the first human. The trunk separated into a man and a woman, Mashya and Mashyane, and the fruit of the tree became the various races of humankind. Norse mythology says that the first man and woman were an ash and an elm tree given life by the gods. The same theme appears in myths of the Algonquian-speaking people of North America, which tell that the creator and culture hero Gluskap fashioned man from an ash tree.


The tree of life, with sacred animals
feeding on its fruit-bearing branches

The tree of life, with sacred animals feeding on fruit-bearing branches, is a common image in the art of the ancient Near East. The tree was associated with palaces and kingship because the king was seen as the link between the earthly and divine realms. Through him, the gods blessed the earth with fertility.

Traditional Persian and Slavic myths both told of a tree of life that bore the seeds of all the world's plants. This tree, which looked like an ordinary tree, was guarded by an invisible dragon that the Persians called Simarghu and the Slavs called Simorg. For fear of cutting down the tree of life by accident, Slavic peoples performed sacred ceremonies before taking down a tree. The Persians cut no trees but waited for them to fall naturally. In the mythology of the Yoruba people of West Africa, a palm tree planted by the god Obatala was the first piece of vegetation on earth.

Trees—or the fruit they bore—also came to be associated with wisdom, knowledge, or hidden secrets. This meaning may have come from the symbolic connection between trees and worlds above and below human experience. The tree is a symbol of wisdom in stories about the life of Buddha, who was said to have gained spiritual enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree, a type of fig.

Two sacred trees—the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—appear in the Near Eastern story of the Garden of Eden, told in the book of Genesis of the Bible. God ordered Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, not to eat the fruit of either tree. Disobeying, they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware of guilt, shame, and sin. God cast them out of the garden before they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal. Thereafter, they and their descendants had to live in a world that included sin and death.

A traditional Micronesian myth from the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean is similar to the biblical account of the fall from Eden. In the beginning of the world was a garden where two trees grew, guarded by an original being called Na Kaa. Men lived under one tree and gathered its fruit, while women lived apart from the men under the other tree. One day when Na Kaa was away on a trip, the men and women mingled together under one of the trees. Upon his return, Na Kaa told them that they had chosen the Tree of Death, not the Tree of Life, and from that time all people would be mortal.

Tree Gods and Spirits

Another belief about trees sees them as embodying deities, spirits, or simply humans changed into trees by a special fate. Some Celtic and other European peoples worshiped groves of trees as well as particular trees. In the religion of the Druids, oaks were sacred. The ancient Romans associated oak trees with their sky god, Jupiter.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Dryads (also called Hamadryads) were nymphs who lived in trees and perished when their trees died or were cut down. A similar myth from Japan tells of a man who cherished a willow tree. One day he met a girl under the tree and married her, although her past was a mystery. When the emperor ordered the willow tree cut down to build a temple, the man's wife told him that she was the spirit of the tree, and she died as the tree fell to the ground.

Some myths tell of supernatural beings or humans who were changed into trees. In Greek mythology, the nymph Daphne turned into a laurel tree when fleeing through the forest to escape the advances of Apollo. Lotis, another nymph who fled from unwanted advances, became the lotus tree. Other transformations symbolized eternal love. In a Greek myth, the gods turned Baucis and Philemon, a devoted old couple, into an oak and a linden tree when they died. The trees grew close together. In Japan, two pine trees growing close together were said to be faithful lovers. Tales from many cultures speak of the dead being reincarnated, or reborn, as trees, and legends and songs often tell of two trees, their branches linked or intertwined, that grow from the graves of lovers.

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Plants in Mythology

In many cases, human life ends with death and burial in the ground. Plants are just the opposite. They emerge from the earth and draw nourishment from it. For this reason, many mythological traditions associate plants with birth or rebirth and with the eternal cycle of life springing forth from death.
The magical plant or herb of immortality sought by Gilgamesh, the hero of ancient Mesopotamian mythology, provides one example of how myths use plants as symbols of life and of the healing power of nature. However, because some plants yield poisons and some die in winter, plants can also represent death and decay.
Various trees, shrubs, herbs, grains, flowers, and fruit appear in myths and legends as general symbols of rebirth, decay, and immortality. Some plants have acquired much more specific meaning in folklore.


The acanthus plant in a mosaic from A.D. 200

Acanthus

The acanthus plant grows throughout much of the Mediterranean region. Its large leaves appear in many ancient sculptures, especially on top of columns in the Greek style called Corinthian. Legends says that after a young girl's death, her nurse placed her possessions in a basket near her tomb. An acanthus plant grew around the basket and enclosed it. One day the sculptor Callimachus noticed this arrangement and was inspired to design the column ornament.

Bamboo

The jointed, canelike bamboo plant plays a role in Asian folklore. Because bamboo is sturdy and always green, the Chinese regard it as a symbol of long life. In the creation story of the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean, the first man is born inside a large stalk of bamboo. Philippine Islanders traditionally believed that bamboo crosses in their fields would bring good crops.


Bamboo appears in many Chinese stones
as a symbol of long life

Beans

Beans have been an important food source for many cultures, except for the ancient Egyptians, who thought beans were too sacred to eat. Many Native Americans—from the Iroquois of the Northeast to the Hopi of the Southwest—hold festivals in honor of the bean. Europeans traditionally baked bean cakes for a feast on the Christian holiday of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. Some ancient lore linked beans with the dead. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras thought that the souls of the dead resided within beans, while the Romans dreaded the lemures—the evil spirits of the dead—who brought misfortune on a home by pelting it with beans at night.

Cereal Grains

Grain-bearing cereal grasses, "the bread of life," are basic to the diets of most cultures. Rice is the staple grain throughout much of southern Asia. In many Asian cultures, people perform rituals to honor the rice spirit or a deity of rice, usually a female. Some peoples, such as the Lamet of northern Laos, believe in a special energy or life force shared only by human beings and rice.
Although maize, a grain native to the Americas, is now called corn, many Europeans traditionally used the word corn to refer to such grains as barley, wheat, and oats. Europeans often spoke of female corn spirits, either maidens, mothers, or grandmothers. Grain waving in the wind, for example, was said to mark the path of the Corn Mother. Such sayings may have come from ancient beliefs that grains were sacred to harvest goddesses such as Greek Demeter and Roman Ceres.
In Central America, the Maya believed that human beings were made from maize. After attempts with other materials failed, the gods succeeded in creating people by using ground maize mixed with water.

Clover

The Druids of the British Isles regarded clover as sacred, with both good and evil meanings. According to legend, however, St. Patrick later converted the pagan Irish to Christianity by using the three-part clover leaf as an example of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one. Clover came to represent fertility and prosperity in English folklore, and dreaming of clover foretold a happy marriage.

Coffee

Legends from various parts of the world tell how people learned of the stimulating properties of caffeine, contained in the beans of the coffee bush. An Ethiopian story says that a goatherd noticed that the beans from a particular bush made his goats unusually alert and frisky. People sampled the beans and determined that they might be useful for keeping people awake during evening religious ceremonies. Similar tales from Europe and South America also relate that people discovered the effects of caffeine in coffee by observing animals.

Ginseng

The ginseng root has long been prized in Asia for its medicinal properties. It was also thought to provide strength and sexual energy. A Korean legend says that a poor boy caring for his dying father prayed to the mountain spirit, who appeared to him in a dream and showed him where to find ginseng. A drink made from the root cured the father. Another legend tells of a man who found ginseng and tried to sell it at a high price. When his greed led to his arrest, he ate the root, which made him so strong that he overpowered his guards and escaped.

Ivy

The leaves and vine of the ivy, which remain green year round, often symbolize immortality The plant was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (Roman Bacchus), who wore a crown of ivy and carried a staff encircled with the vine.

Laurel

The evergreen laurel tree or shrub occurs in many varieties, including cinnamon and sassafras. Greek mythology says that Daphne, a nymph who rejected the love of Apollo, was turned into a laurel tree. The laurel was sacred to Apollo, whose priestesses were said to chew its leaves in order to become oracles. The Greeks also crowned some of their champions with laurel wreaths. According to English mythology, if two lovers take a laurel stick, break it in half, and keep the pieces, they will always remain faithful to each other.

Leek

The leek—a vegetable with a stalk of leaves layered like the skins of an onion—is the national emblem of Wales. According to legend, St. David, the patron saint of Wales, ordered a troop of Welsh soldiers to put leeks in their caps to identify each other during a battle. When the Welsh side won, the soldiers thanked the saint—and the leek—for the victory.

Mandrake

The mandrake plant has properties that bring on sleep or reduce pain. Many folklore traditions link the plant with sexual behavior. In the biblical book of Genesis, for example, Jacob's wife, Leah, obtains mandrake root to become pregnant. The Arabs called the plant devil's apples because they considered the arousal of sexual desire to be evil. Medieval Christians associated the mandrake with devil worship, and witches were believed to make images of their victims from mandrake root. According to one European tradition, a mandrake root cries out when pulled from the ground.

Mistletoe

The mistletoe plant, which grows in trees, appears in European legends as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, perhaps because it remains green all winter. Unlike most plants, mistletoe thrives without being rooted in soil. This may explain why many cultures have believed it to be heavenly or supernatural. Mistletoe has also been said to offer protection from sorcery and evil spells. The Druids believed that mistletoe had great healing properties, especially if it was gathered without the use of a knife and never allowed to touch the ground. Some Africans compare the mistletoe on a tree to the soul in the body, and they believe that mistletoe in a house brings good luck. In Norse mythology, mistletoe was sacred to the beloved god Balder, but the evil god Loki used trickery to kill Balder with a stalk of mistletoe fashioned into a dart.

Myrtle

An evergreen shrub, myrtle is associated with birth and rebirth in European mythology. The ancient Greeks carried myrtle with them when they colonized new lands to symbolize the beginning of a new life. The Greeks also associated myrtle with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Parsley

The Greeks believed that the herb parsley grew from the blood of a hero named Achemorus who was killed by a serpent. At games held in his honor, they crowned the winners with parsley wreaths. Both the Greeks and the Romans regarded parsley as a symbol of death and rebirth. They often put parsley on tombs, and someone "in need of parsley" was on the verge of death.

Thistle

A Scottish legend tells how the thistle, a plant with purple blooms and prickly stems and leaves, became a national emblem. Around A.D. 950, Norse raiders invaded Scotland. As they crept toward a Scottish camp after dark, one of them stepped on a thistle. The resulting cry of pain awoke the Scots, who drove the invaders away and saved Scotland.

Tobacco

The tobacco plant originated in the Americas, and smoking dried tobacco leaves was part of many Native American rituals. Native Americans of different regions developed various myths about tobacco. In the Southwest and Central America, tobacco is associated with rainfall because tobacco smoke resembles clouds that bring rain. A story from southeastern North America says that ,b>tobacco's origin was related to sex. A young man and woman who were traveling left the path to make love. They married soon afterward. Later the man passed the place again and found a sweet-smelling plant growing there. His people decided to dry it, smoke it, and call it "Where We Came Together." The couple's life together was happy and peaceful, so the flower produced by their love—tobacco—was smoked at meetings intended to bring peace.

Yam

In a myth from the African country of Kenya, the creator god Ruwa made humans immortal and gave them a paradise to live in but ordered them not to eat one plant growing there—the edible root known as the yam. One day Death told the people to cook the yam for him. When Ruwa learned what the people had done, he took away their immortality.

Sourced from www.mythencyclopedia.com



 

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