“Not even the woods and the wilder faces of Nature are without medicine; there is no place the Holy Mother of all things did not distribute healing remedies.”

So the Greek Pliny (23-79 CE) observed in his Natural History, though we seem to have forgotten this truth.


The ancient Egyptian medical papyri record 94 herbs, predating the pharaohs, for cosmetics, medicines, food, and decoration. Among them garlic and onion were prized, as were cucumber, cumin, caraway, elderberry, castor beans, and spices. One formula in the papyri calls for frankincense to remove facial wrinkles. (Herbalists today also recommend a little frankincense oil in a facial steam.)

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Herbs were also a potent ally in the religious rites of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and countless others throughout the world. The Greeks described their gods as “sweet-smelling, emanating the scents of herbs and flowers.” Prometheus stole fire in a holy fennel stalk to give to human beings. In modern rural Greece, charcoal is transported in the stalks of giant fennel.

In almost every lore, herbs enchant, charm, work miracles, and are spiritual vessels, each with alchemical and astrological meanings, each with its own association to the gods. As plants have spirits and souls, and act as metaphors for human feeling and behavior, they also have the power to transform attitudes or situations when consumed or employed in specific ways.

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To the ancient Greeks, the ingestion of thyme brought bravery and gave life energy (what the Chinese call chi).


Borage gave courage, its name derived from the Celtic word for courage, borrach. (And bees love it.)

yucca padilla

According to some Native American traditions, yucca — shaped into a hoop or a hat — can render the wearer invisible.

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Burdock (also used in Japan as food), sorrel, and chamomile are among the throngs of plants that will attract money. An astonishing number of plants can be used to attract love — proof that love is fundamental to our lives and fertility rites of all kinds are essential to our individual and collective well-being and our symbiosis with the Earth.


The Ancient Herbs catalogue from the J. Paul Getty Museum, gives the recipe for a delicately herbed leek, onion, and split-pea dish called Pisa farsilis, enjoyed by the Roman emperor Nero, who believed that leeks improved his voice and thus ate them before giving oratories. (After he kicked his wife Poppaea to death, he depleted Rome’s supply of cinnamon with which to bury her.)

In Medieval Europe, leeks were worn as protective amulets. When bitten, leeks break hexes. Wearing garlic, as we all know, discourages vampires … and everyone else.

Next: Rosetta Clarkson’s Language of Herbs