Archive for Herbal History

When herbs went out of style.

“A sick man thinks himself effectually tended if he chance to make out that his doses contain Taraxacum, Belladonna, Aconite, Hyoscyamus, or Arneca, or if he be refreshed with Ammonia; but he smiles contemptuously at the herb woman who administers dent de lion, nightshade, wolfsbane, henbane, elecampane, or who burns horn in the sick chamber.”
—Oswald Cockayne, 1864 in Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England.

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Heart shaped seeds and herbal birth control.

Silphion seed on a Cyrene coin

Valentine’s day quiz: What is the symbol on this ancient Cyrenian coin?

Answer: It’s the seed of the silphion plant—a classical birth control remedy.

Looks like a heart, you say? Well, I think so too. And some people think that this is where the heart shape came from.

(Silphion—silphium to the Romans—was probably a species of giant fennel (Ferula) native to the North African coast. Pliny declared it extinct from overharvesting, but not all the ancient writers agreed on that point. Some people think it may have been giant Tangier fennel (Ferula tingitana), which is not extinct.)

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