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What did superstitious Italians believe basil could do?
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They concocted stories to hide the source of the cinnamon to justify its scarcity and cost. The mythical cinnamologus bird originated from this practice. Obtaining the cinnamon required dislodging the birds from their perilous, cliff-hanging nests by various heroic means. At the start of the Middle Ages, Pliny the Elder wrote that grams of cinnamon were worth 5, grams of silver. Only the wealthy and powerful had access to the spice.

In 65 A. Cinnamon was once used to help preserve meat, and to mask the odor of its aging.

Cinnamon, along with grape vines and ivy, is a sacred plant of Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy. The Phoenix, the bird that rises from its ashes in mythology, uses cinnamon, myrrh and spikenard to build the magic fire in which it is reborn. It has had its uses in love potions as well. The variety grown in India is less pungent, so beware if following an Indian recipe; less dill is needed.

Dill water made from steeping the seeds was used to ease colic in babies, as it has anti-gas properties, as well as being a mild sedative.

In ancient Greek and Roman cultures, dill was thought to be a sign of wealth, as well as being known for its healing properties. Burnt dill seeds were applied to the wounds of soldiers to foster healing, as it is an antiseptic, inhibiting bacterial growth. Dill fronds may have been placed over the eyes at night to help one sleep. Talmudic records show that dill was valuable enough to be tithed. In medieval times, dill was both used in witchcraft, notably by burning it to clear clouds and thunderstorms. A charm made from dill leaves or bunches of dill hung by the door was the remedy.

Dill was brought by the colonists to the New World. They used dill water as a folkloric remedy for colic, cough, indigestion, gas, stomachache and insomnia, as well as jaundice, hemorrhoids, scurvy and hiccups. Although marjoram is a specific type of oregano, it is milder. It develops its best aroma in warm climates.

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If marjoram grew on a gravesite, it was thought the spirit of the deceased was peaceful and happy. To learn the identity of your future spouse, you could sleep in the presence of the herb, and you would dream of your as-yet-unknown love. Wreaths of marjoram were used to crown newly married couples in ancient Greece and Rome to bring them love, honor and happiness.

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It was similarly used in the Middle Ages, carried at weddings or displayed in bouquets. As it was also thought to have antiseptic qualities, it was used in the rooms of the sick, and sometimes scattered over the floor at funerals. It has been used for bathing and in the purification of temples in biblical times. Marjoram was another witchcraft antidote as well. It has been seen as helpful to ensure a long life. They turned blue after the Virgin Mary laid her blue cloak over a rosemary shrub while fleeing from Herod. It was also once thought that the long-lived shrub never grew over six feet tall, no matter how old, because it refused to grow to be taller than Christ.

One old belief is that rosemary would only grow in the garden of a righteous person; another that if rosemary grew with vigor in a yard, the woman of the household may be stronger than the man.

The Legend and Lore of Herbs

Rosemary is the herb of fidelity and remembrance. Dried rosemary could also be used in the bedding to promote fidelity. As an added bonus, a sprig of rosemary under a pillow was also thought to ward off not only bad dreams, but demons. Sprigs have been tossed into caskets as a promise to remember the deceased. Further illustrating the belief in its powers of memory enhancement, Greek students weaved rosemary into their hair to help them when taking exams. It was also prescribed for relief from mental disorders in ancient Greece.

Rosemary also was considered a disinfectant, especially when burned. Church flocks were purified by burning rosemary, and ancient Greeks burned it to dispel evil spirits and sickness.

A Herb for Lovers

The French burned rosemary and juniper in hospitals during the Middle Ages to clean the air. Historically, rosemary has been used at various times to treat nervous disorders, melancholy and depression, headaches, dizziness, epilepsy or other trembling disorders, arthritis, gout, baldness and even to reduce varicose veins. Other Herb and Spice Myths and Legends Obviously, there is much, much more to the folklore, myths and legends of herbs and spices than can be addressed here. It sifts through a wide library of sources, among them the Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore by the British folklorist Roy Vickery, who made great use of the 20 tons of archives in the department of Irish folklore at UCD.

I have great respect for folklore, both for what it says about human relationships with nature and as a prompt to the modern creative imagination. The project brought home the dramatic punctuation of Irish rural culture that arrived with television one frosty night in , as if the little people in the box in the corner had suddenly taken over the provision of drama, intrigue and amusement.

Even today, I see final flashes of a rural culture that once abounded in inventiveness and eccentric supposition. The spiralling surrealisms improvised on the spot by neighbours bantering at a haymaking or silage meitheal showed a liveliness of mind that TV has largely anaesthetised.

Moly (herb) - Wikipedia

This cultural gulf makes it hard to begin to imagine the context in which the beliefs assembled, plant by plant, in Niall Mac Coitir's book took shape, or how common any practical trust in them really was. Amulets against evil, love charms and religious appeasements have now lost all their resonance. At this month's big science festival in Britain, a professor suggested that human brains are "hard-wired" to seek reasons for events and will settle for the supernatural in lieu of a better alternative: perhaps this is the kind of psychological perspective we expect from such books now.

As for herbal medicine, the second major thread in Irish Wild Plants, today's interest in alternative medicine should help to guarantee its welcome. But while it's interesting to know that St John's Wort, the herbalist's antidepressant, "was St Colmcille's favourite plant and is a great protector against evil and melancholia. The mere gathering of notions of what a plant was believed to be "good for" can have some bizarre results. Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris or mongach meisce for example, is a nondescript wayside plant in the same family as wormwood and "known since ancient times for its ability to restore menstrual flow, ease delivery and cleanse the womb, which earned it its name as the mother of herbs".

But it was "also said to protect the traveller against tiredness, sunstroke, wild animal and evil spirits", not to mention "lightning, plague and carbuncles", and "was still occasionally used in Ireland as a cure for epilepsy up until recent times". References to sources notwithstanding, one can end up feeling, if not out of sorts, then not all that enlightened. But perhaps I am being too exacting in looking for science and analysis in what is primarily a celebration of a lost experience of nature and certainly a labour of love.

With reference to Eye on Nature, September 2nd, both oak bush and speckled bush crickets are widespread though local in Ireland. There are also three other species: dark bush cricket, Roesel's bush cricket and short-winged conehead. There are two theories: firstly, that they are the result of recent introductions and, secondly, that they are under-recorded, but localised due to the intensification of agriculture.

On August 25th a flock of more than swallows filled the sky, roosting in a hawthorn bush and on power lines in the Glens of Antrim.

The Origins and History of Sage - Herb Facts #4

By the 30th not a single swallow was to be seen. Swallows start leaving in August, but mainly in September. Your flock may have moved further south to join up with others. I watched three pigeons for several minutes recently engage in what seemed to be synchronised courtship behaviour: facing each other, beaks no more than about two inches apart, bowing and circling.