August 30, 2011

Herbs of the Ancients

Yesterday evening Rob and I visited Cornell's Botanical Garden. The visitor's center had already closed and except for the occasional jogger we were basically the only two people there. I spent some time doing my usual photography experiments--this time tending to be most fascinated by the broad-leaved tropical plants adorning the walkway to the visitor's center...

One of the main attractions of the garden is its vast collection of herbs. Within a well-kept enclosure the plants are arranged according to use or significance in human history: bee herbs, culinary herbs, dye herbs, economic herbs, fragrant herbs, herbs in literature, medicinal herbs, herbs of native Americans, ornamental herbs, sacred herbs, tea herbs, savory seed herbs, salad and potherbs, edible flowers, and--my favorite--Herbs of the Ancients.

There were far too many in the latter category for me to share them all, but here are three that caught my particular attention...

Dittany of Crete*

"Ancient Greeks believed eating the leaves of this wooly oregano helped to expel arrow tips."

*I've since looked into this one a bit further and it looks like this plant was probably mislabeled. I believe this is actually a variety of nightshade--a highly toxic herb that has had a variety of sinister, medicinal, and even cosmetic uses throughout history. The variety of nightshade called "Belladonna" was used for a time by women to dilate their pupils--a feature once considered attractive.

When I looked up Dittany of Crete, here's a picture of what actually came up...sorry for the misinformation...

Greater Periwinkle

"Prescribed by Dioscorides to treat flux, it was also used against snakes, wild beasts, poison, envy, and terror."

Pink-Flowered Garden Sage

"In Italian Folklore, each leaf was believed to hide a toad."

No toads here--at least not that I could find--though when you get a good look at the rough and warty texture of the leaves it's easy to see how such a tale might have come about.

1 comment:

  1. If you ever find out what the actual name of that lovely herb is I'l like to know. I'm sure that it's pretty flower has significance in addition to the green stuff.