Author’s Note: This is not an article on herbology. It is a history of legend, folklore and mythology surrounding a particular plant and/or parts thereof. Although, as with all mythology, there are elements of truth behind the legends, in this case one should be cautious about using this plant lore entry as a guideline to medicinal herbs and plants. Seeking the advice from a professional botanist, medical practitioner or herbalist concerning certain plants is best.
LUCK FLOWER: In German folklore, an unidentified blue flower considered magical. Thought to be Chicory, anyone carrying the flower can find the entrance to a secret subterranean world where gold and jewels can be found. If that person forgets to bring the flower out of the cavern there is a risk of injury or death as the rock closes the exit.
According to Myths of the Norsemen, was about a peasant shepherd who left his family every day to take his sheep up a mountain to pasture hunting while doing so with a crossbow. One day while pursuing an animal, he saw it disappear behind a boulder and when he came to the spot he found a doorway. He proceeded through the open door and found himself in a cave with stalactites and jewels and in the center, a beautiful woman stood dressed in silvery robes and attended by lovely maidens with Alpine rose crowns, The beautiful woman then told him he could choose anything in the cavern he wished to carry with him. The assorted jewels in the care certainly dazzled the shepherd, but his interest was centered more to the blue flowers the lady held in her hand, shyly he requested the flowers. She told him he had chosen wisely and would live as long as the flowers that were special because they neither drooped or faded. The woman also provided him seed which she told the shepherd to plant in his field and told him he must leave. Thunder suddenly sounded, the earth shook, and the shepherd found himself outside on the side of the mountain. He went back home and told his wife of his adventure, showing her the blue flowers and seed. The wife angrily chastised her husband for not having brought home the precious stones instead of the blue flowers and seed. The shepherd then sowed the seeds as the lady in the cave instructed and found that the small measure of seeds given was enough for several acres. Soon green shoots appeared and one moonlit night while the peasant was admiring the plants, he saw a misty form hover above the field with hands outstretched as if giving a blessing. When the field blossomed, the field of blue flowers opened to the sun. The form that blessed the fields was the goddess Holda, matron of spinning, who returned after the flowers withered and the plant produced seeds, and taught the shepherd and his wife how to harvest what she called flax that could be spun and woven into linen. The family grew wealthy by selling the linen and the man lived to a considerable age. All that time the bouquet he received from the woman in the cave had remained as fresh as the day he brought them from the mountain, but one day he saw that during the night the flowers had drooped and were dying. Knowing what that meant, the old shepherd realized his time had come and so he climbed up the mountain for the last time searching for the doorway he had found many years before. He found it and entered the icy doorway and the goddess took him under her care in that cavern where his every wish was granted. No one ever heard from or seen the old man again.
In other myths of blue flowers, it involves the Cornflower, a symbol of delicacy and elegance, used in the pagan ritual of Handfasting (union of a couple). The Cornflower is also the national flower of Estonia since 1968. It is believed to have grown there for over 10,000 years.
MALE FERN: Common name of the genus Dryopteris that is found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. The plant has been used as a vermifuge, listed in the US Pharmacopoeia. It is also used as an ornamental garden plant. In English folklore it is called Lucky Hands and was used in spell ingredients, as charms, and for cures. It protects against evil and witchcraft.
MANDRAKE: (Mandragora officinarum) Probably one of the most important plants in the medieval period in history. The plant originated in the eastern Mediterranean region and distributed through southern Europe, Middle East, and northern Africa. It usually grows wild in waste places and abandoned fields where the soil is sandy (and rocky). There is also a species found growing wild in the Himalaya. It is cultivated in gardens of the north Alps, but is not found in the wild there. The plant does not tolerate frost well and must be mulched in the winter. It belongs to the nightshade family of plants. It contains delirant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, hyoscyamine and bifuractions in the roots that resemble human figures. The roots have long been used for magic rituals even in the Neopagan religions of today like Wicca and German revivalism religions such as Odinism.
The Mandrake is mentioned in ancient Jewish scriptures in the Book of Genesis (30: 14-16) and Song of Solomon (7:13). The plant is also linked with sexual behavior, ancients using it to ensure a woman becomes pregnant. Arabs referred to the mandrake as evil and called it the devil’s apples, as well as medieval Christians who associated the mandrake with devil worship. It was believed that witches used mandrake root to make images of their victims. Mandrake is mentioned in the Harry Potter adventures. [See Magical and Mundane Plants] According to European tradition, the mandrake root makes a horrible squeal when pulled from the ground. The mandrake root has been used as a potato in witch stew. The alkaloid content of the root suppresses pain and promotes sleep.
In Song of Songs, 7:12-13:
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see whether the vine hath budded, whether the vine-blossom be opened, and the pomegranates be in flower; there will I give thee my love. The mandrake give forth fragrance, and at our doors are all manner of precious fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.
Josephus (37 – 100 AD, Jerusalem) provided directions for pulling the mandrake root:
A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavors to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this root can be handled without fear.
… we will add a few words about mandragores (mandrakes) and kandroids, which several writers on magic confound with the waxen image; serving the purposes of bewitchment. The natural mandragore is a filamentous root which, more or less, presents as a whole either the figure of a man, or that of the virile members. It is slightly narcotic, and an aphrodisiacal virtue was ascribed to it by the ancients, who represented it as being sought by Thessalian sorcerers for the composition of philtres. Is this root the umbilical vestige of our terrestrial origin ? We dare not seriously affirm it, but all the same it is certain that man came out of the slime of the earth, and his first appearance must have been in the form of a rough sketch. The analogies of nature make this notion necessarily admissible, at least as a possibility. The first men were, in this case, a family of gigantic, sensitive mandragores, animated by the sun, who rooted themselves up from the earth ; this assumption not only does not exclude, but, on the contrary, positively supposes, creative will and the providential co-operation of a first cause, which we have reason to call God. Some alchemists, impressed by this idea, speculated on the culture of the mandragore, and experimented in the artificial reproduction of a soil sufficiently fruitful and a sun sufficiently active to humanize the said root, and thus create men without the concurrence of the female. (See: Homunculus) Others, who regarded humanity as the synthesis of animals, despaired about vitalizing the mandragore, but they crossed monstrous pairs and projected human seed into animal earth, only for the production of shameful crimes and barren deformities. The third method of making the android was by galvanic machinery. One of these almost intelligent automata was attributed to Albertus Magnus, and it is said that St Thomas (Thomas Aquinas) destroyed it with one blow from a stick because he was perplexed by its answers. This story is an allegory; the android was primitive scholasticism, which was broken by the Summa of St Thomas, the daring innovator who first substituted the absolute law of reason for arbitrary divinity, by formulating that axiom which we cannot repeat too often, since it comes from such a master: ” A thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just. ” The real and serious android of the ancients was a secret which they kept hidden from all eyes, and Mesmer was the first who dared to divulge it; it was the extension of the will of the magus into another body, organized and served by an elementary spirit; in more modern and intelligible terms, it was a magnetic subject.
Because of the human shape of its roots, folklore has it that mandrake grew where semen of a hanged man dripped on the ground.
In The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian (1963), pp. 402-403:
Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For thirty days water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the thirty-first day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.
Shakespeare mentions mandrake, sometimes as the name of mandragora. [Othello]
Herbologists who use the plant in alternative medicine are advised to do so with caution to the tropane alkaloid have a powerful effect upon the central nervous system and produces a hypnotic hallucinogenic effect. It is primarily used as a sedative or anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic pain reliever.
Warning: The plant is poisonous if used incorrectly.
The common marigold is Tagetes, while the French marigold, Tagetes patula is commonly found in ornamental gardens as an annual. The marigold commonly used in herbology is the Pot Marigold (Calendula). Other marigolds are Mexican marigold, Tree marigold, Desert marigold, Corn marigold, and Marsh marigold.
The marigold is traditionally used in garlands and offerings in South Asia. It is known in Sanskrit as sthulapushpa, and in Hindi as gendha. During the festival of Holi, people splash each other with colored water and powder, yellow water being made by soaking and boiling marigold flowers and leaving them overnight in the liquid.
Christian folklore states that Virgin Mary wore marigold flowers on her clothing. Other European folklore claims that marigolds ward off witchcraft and dreaming of marigolds signifies wealth will soon come. The flower has been used to ease the pain of wasp and bee stings when rubbed on the skin. Marigold powder and distilled water cures headaches and depression.
MEADOWSWEET: A perennial herb of the family Rosaceae that grows in damp meadows, native to most of Europe and Western Asia (Near East and Middle East), as well as being introduced and naturalized in North America. Alternate names are Queen of the Meadow, Pride of the Meadow, Meadow-Wort, Meadow Queen, Lady of the Meadow, and Bridewort.
The herb has a pleasant flavor and is used to flavor wine, beer, and vinegar. The flowers added to stewed fruit and jams giving them a slight almond flavor. Used as a spice in Scandinavia varieties of mead. Those who are asthmatic should be aware that meadowsweet may induce an asthma attack.
Meadowsweet plants have been found in the remains of three people and one animal in a Bronze Age cairn at Fan Foel, Carmarthenshire. In Welsh folklore, Gwydion and Math created a woman out of oak blossom, broom, and meadowsweet naming her Blodeuwedd (flower face). In the medieval period, it was known as Bridewort because it was strewn in churches for festivals and weddings, often made into bridal garlands. It was a favorite of Queen Elisabeth (the First) and in the 16th century, meadowsweet was strewn on floors with rushes and other herbs to provide warmth for the feet and overcome smells and infections. In ancient times, it was used with Watermint and Vervain for various remedies and potions of the Druids.
MISTLETOE: Is a hemi-parasitic herb belonging to the Loranthazeae family of genus Santalales. The mistletoe is found in North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, and Korea. It generally grows on other trees and plants, as apple trees, pines, and firs. The berries of the American mistletoe and European mistletoe are toxic, the leaves of the herb is used to make tea. The American mistletoe invigorates smooth muscle, but raises blood pressure while the European mistletoe reduces blood pressure. In Germany, extracts from European mistletoe used to treat malignant tumors, administered as an intravenous injection or injected directly into the tumor.
The Druids and ancient Greeks were the first to use European mistletoe for health benefits, the Druids considered the mistletoe sacred as it grew on the sacred oak tree. It has been used for an assortment of health disorders as headaches, pain caused by arthritis and menopausal symptoms. The plant has been used to reduce internal hemorrhage.
Mistletoe was used in pagan religious ceremonies during winter holidays, later adopted by Christians. The Vikings believed mistletoe possessed the power of reviving the dead and the Romans used mistletoe to sanctify marriage by the couple kissing under mistletoe. In 1893, the mistletoe was chosen as the state flower of Oklahoma. Shakespeare called the plant Baleful Mistletoe due to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses. The goddess of Love kept mistletoe after the resurrection of Balder, so the plant would no longer have a reputation of hate.
MONKEY PUZZLE TREE: An evergreen conifer tree (Araucarua araucana) native to Chile and cultivated just about everywhere for ornamental purposes. Monkey Puzzle Trees planted on the edge of a graveyard provides an obstacle to the devil.
MOONWORT: In folklore, this variety of fern was used to open locks, loosen nails and fastenings made of iron. It is a seedless vascular plant of the genus Botrychium. It is correlated with the moon and protects from evil and prosperity spells. The plant has been cultivated in the gardens of Mount Vernon and Monticello in the United States. The oil of the seeds contain fatty acids used for multiple sclerosis therapy.
Used as a medicinal herb by the Chinese, Japanese, and South Koreans. Also used to flavor food. The text, Nine Herbs Charm (Anglo-Saxon) mentions it as Mucgwyrt. In Ukrainian it is called Chornobyl. It is a tall herbaceous perennial plant that has a woody root. It grows on hedgebanks and waysides in many places in England. In the Middle Ages, the plant was called Cingulum Sancti Johannis, believed to be the girdle of John the Baptist.
Roman centurions used mugwort inside their sandals so their feet would keep in good shape. It was also used by ancient Europeans and Asians in treating various ailments. The Greek physician, Dioscorides (1st century) stated that the Goddess Artemis provided the plant’s name. It was used to for women during labor and childbirth. Physicians of Myddfai (13th century), Wales, used it for birthing. The Chinese use mugwort when administering acupuncture. It is used to treat digestive disorders and as a tonic. It has also been used to eliminate worms within the body, an antiseptic, and provide relief of malaria. Sheep like Mugwort and its roots. In ancient times it was used to fatten animals before slaughter. It is said to be good for poultry and turkeys.
MULLEIN: Genus Verbascum is also known as velvet plants. They are biennial or perennial plants, rarely annual or sub-shrubs native to Europe and Asia with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region. Long list of species available at Wikipedia entry. It’s herbal remedy use dates back far into human history and is effective for treatment of asthma and respiratory disorders. It is also used as a topical application for skin. Cultivars have increased flower size, shorter heights, and longer-lived plants than the original wild varieties. In addition, a number of new colors have been introduced to the genus.
Mullein is an active ingredient to alternate smoking blends. It has been the favorite fire starter material for friction fire-starting methods since ancient times using a hand drill for creating friction to start fires or sparking devices.
The Great or Common Mullein, native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia was introduced in the Americas and Australia. It grows in a variety of habitats, but prefers sunlight and disturbed soil. It is a common weedy plant, but not aggressively invasive. It hosts many insects that are harmful to other plants, formerly used to make dyes and torches.
It was imported to the United States in the early 18th century and cultivated for medicinal and pesticide use. By 1818 it spread and became a native plant. It grows best in dry, sandy or gravelly soils on banksides, meadows, roadsides, forest clearings, and pastures.
Ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides was the first to recommend the plant to use for pulmonary diseases, 2,000 years ago. Native Americans quickly accepted it in their herbal remedy list of natural plants. The plant has hairs, so it must be finely filtered when made into preparations. Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhs and colic. In Germany it was used for earaches, frostbite, and eczema. Recent research shows it is beneficial an anti-tumoral from the compounds found in the flowers. Topical preparations was used for treatment of warts, boils, and carbuncles as well as hemorrhoids and chilblains.
Like many ancient medicinal plants Pliny the Elder describes it in his Naturalis Historia. The Great Mullein (Common Mullein) is linked to witches and witchcraft; yet the plant was also used to ward off curses and evil spirits.
The flowers provide dyes of bright yellow or green and have been used for hair dye. The dried leaves and hare made into candlewicks or put into shoes to insulate them. Dried stems of the Mullein were dipped into suet or wax to make torches. It is not a plant often found in an ornamental garden, but instead can be found in herbal gardens.
MUSHROOMS: A fungus whose fleshy body is produced above ground, on soil or on trees. Identifying mushrooms is important for some are toxic, sometimes causing death. Typical variety of mushrooms belongs to the order Agaricales, genus Agaricus, the field mushroom being Agaricus campestris. Mushrooms were once called toadstools, the latter most often applied to the poisonous mushrooms and/or those that have the classic umbrella cap-and-stem form. Other names between 1400 and 1600 were tadstoles, frogstooles, frogge stoles, tadstooles, tode stoles, toodys hatte, paddockstool, puddockstol, toadstoole, and paddockstooles.
In German folklore, toads are often depicted sitting on toadstool mushrooms and catching flies with their tongues. Krötenstuhl (toad-stool) was a former name. A superstition developed concerning mushrooms (poisonous) and poisonous toads. Indeed, the fear of mushrooms given the name Fungophobia that spread from Europe to the United States and Australia.
Many species of mushrooms seemingly appear overnight, growing rapidly. The cultivated mushroom is popular in foods all over the world. The Armillaria solidipes in the Malheur National Forest of the United States is estimated to be 2,400 years old and spans an estimated 2,200 acres. Most of the fungus is underground and in decaying wood or dying tree roots.
Mushrooms are a low-calorie food usually eaten cooked or raw and as a meal garnish. They are a good source of B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, as well as essential minerals selenium, copper, and potassium. It does not contain Vitamin C or sodium. When exposed to ultraviolet light, natural ergosterols in mushrooms produce Vitamin D2 – a process now used for mushrooms sold in the retail market. Most mushrooms are grown on commercial farms. People who collect edible mushrooms are known as mycophagists. China is the largest producer of edible mushrooms, producing half of all cultivated mushrooms in the world.
Some mushrooms have psychoactive properties used in various native medicine traditions and spiritual rituals around the world. The ritual velada uses psychedelic mushrooms in its sacrament mental and physical healing.
Medicinal mushrooms have historical been used in traditional Chinese medicine and today mushroom extracts are used to modulate immune system responses and inhibit tumor growth. Mushrooms are also used to dye wool and other natural fibers. Fungi types of polypores of the mushroom family have been used as fire starters. (Tinder fungi)
Spotted red mushrooms were pressed into juice and mixed with milk or curds, which the gods of ancient Greece feasted on at Mount Olympus.
MYRTLE: (Myrtus) … Native to southern Europe and North Africa, an evergreen shrub or small tree, the fruit is round berries that contain several seeds. The Common Myrtle, also called True Myrtle, is native to the Mediterranean region. There is also the Saharan Myrtle found in the Tassili N’Ajjer Mountains in southern Algeria and the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, in small areas near the center of the Sahara Desert. There it is listed as an endangered species. In ancient times it was considered a lucky tree/shrub and associated with love, marriage, and fertility. The Welsh myrtle was planted on both sides of the front door of a dwelling to promote peace and happiness to all within. Young girls who drink myrtle tea will be more beautiful.
NARCISSUS: Commonly called daffodil, is a genus of hardy, spring-flowering, herbaceous perennials in the Amaryllis family. The original name, Narcissus, is from a Greek mythical tale of a man who became obsessed with his own reflection so much that he knelt too close to water’s edge and fell in drowning. The Narcissus plant grew from where he died. Pliny wrote that the plant was named instead for its narcotic properties. The modern name, Daffodil, is derived from the Dutch around the 16th century. The bulb of the plant is toxic. Dermatitis problems for florists occur when their skin is exposed to the calcium oxalate in the sap of the plant that produces itching, dryness, fissures, scaling, or erythema in the hands.
However, in traditional Japanese medicine of kampo, wounds were treated with narcissus root and wheat flour paste; the plant does not appear in the modern kampo herb list. Roman physician, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, listed narcissus root in De Medicina among medical herbs. Daffodils are grown commercially in Wales for its production of galantamine, a drug used to combat Alzheimer’s disease.
In Kurdish culture, it is a national flower and symbolizes the New Year, also such a symbol for the Chinese New Year. The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, traditionally worn (or leek) on Saint David’s Day (March 1st). In some countries, the yellow daffodil (Narcissus) is associated with Easter. The German for daffodil is Osterglocke – Easter bell.
NETTLE: Species of flowering plants of the genus Urtica in the family Urticeae. Nettle is mainly a temperate climate plant, mostly herbaceous perennial, but some are annual and few shrub. Most of the species have stinging hairs, one variety having the name of Stinging Nettle. The stinging hairs of most nettle species contain formic acid (like ants), serotonin, and histamine, and a few have oxalic acid and tartaric acid instead.
Folklore include … Nettles in a pocket will keep a person safe from lightning and provide courage when needed. Nettles kept in a room will protect anyone inside. Nettles enhance the fertility of men and fever is dispelled by plucking a nettle up by its roots while reciting the names of the sick person and his family.
Nettle was once used as an antidote to negate the effects of various poisons. It was used for treatment of rheumatism, stings, healing dog bites (to prevent rabies), and prevent loss of hair by coating a hairbrush or comb with nettle juice. If one gets stung by the stinging hairs of a nettle, rub the site with a dock leaf. Soap was once made with the extract of stinging nettle. Milarepa, the great Tibetan saint, reputedly survived for decades of solitary meditation by eating nothing but nettles. Reportedly, his hair and skin turned green and he lived to the age of 83, extreme old age for that time.
Nettles have been in Scottish gardens for many centuries used before Caesar arrived on the shores to conquest.
While the plant is common in English folklore, it is not commonly found in England. Its primary distribution is in Central and Southern Europe. However, a few have been found in 28 British counties, mostly in waste places, quarries, and near old ruins. In Scotland it is even more rare. It grows profusely under the shade of trees, on wooded hills, on chalk or limestone, and forms bushy plants several feet high. Specimens growing in places with too much sun exposure are usually dwarfed. The root of nightshade varieties is thick, fleshy and white, about 6-inches long and branching. It is a perennial plant and herbaceous. The flowers appear in June and July, singly, and continue to bloom until early September and are usually a dark purplish color, sometimes tinged with green, bell-shaped. The berries are dark with inky juice and extremely sweet, which ripens in September about the size of a small cherry. The sweet taste has attracted children far back into history with fatal results. In September, 1916, three children were admitted to a London hospital suffering from Belladonna poisoning caused from eating berries from large fruiting plants of Atropa Belladonna growing in a nearby public garden. In 1921, a similar event occurred in Norwich when a child died with four previous deaths recorded by the coroner. If the Belladonna berries are accidently eaten, a possible quick emetic would be a large glass of warm vinegar or mustard and water. Stomach pumping is highly recommended as soon as possible, followed by a dose of magnesia, stimulants, and strong coffee. The patient is to be kept very warm and artificial respiration being applied when necessary. One of the symptoms of Belladonna poisoning is the complete loss of voice, together with bending forward from discomfort and hands and fingers trembling uncontrollably. The pupils of the eye become extremely dilated.
The Nightshade’s deadly character is because of an alkaloid, Atropine. Every part of the plant is extremely poisonous, so neither leaves, berries, nor root should be handled if there are any cuts or abrasions on hands – handle with gloves to be safe. The root is the most poisonous, the leaves and flowers less so, and berries, except for children, least of all. An adult can eat two or three berries with no injury, but symptoms begin appearing if more are eaten. It is wise not to experiment with the deadly plant. A horse ate eight pounds of the herb with no injury. Rabbits, sheep, goats and swine eat the leaves with no ill effects. Birds often eat the seeds; however, dogs and cats are susceptible to being poisoned.
In the History of Scotland written by Buchanan in 1582 tells of soldiers of Macbeth poisoned a whole army of invading Danes by a liquor missed with an infusion of Dwale supplied to them during a truce. The drugged soldiers were killed in their sleep.
Legends has it that the plant belongs to the devil who tends it at his leisure. The apples of Sodom are supposed to be related to this plant. An old tradition is that Roman priests used to drink an infusion of Belladonna before they worshiped and invoked the aid of Bellona, Goddess of War. The plants name was derived from that goddess. The generic name of the plant, Atropa, is derived from the Greek, Atropos, one of the Fates who held the shears to cut the thread of human life – referencing its deadly, poisonous nature.
Belladonna is valuable in the treatment of eye diseases, Atropine, obtained during extraction, being the most important for dilating the pupil. Atropine injected subcutaneously is an antidote to Opium. Hahnemann proved that a tincture of Belladonna given in very small doses would protect from the infection of scarlet fever.
NUT: A symbol of good luck. It is lucky to find two kernels in one shell, and if carried in the pocket will guard against toothache and witchcraft. Various nuts are identified with Hallowe’en.
NUTMEG: This spice has lucky properties, sprinkled on a lottery ticket insures a change of winning. Dreaming of nutmeg brings changes in the dreamer’s waking life. In folklore, it is used to ward off rheumatism and boils, as well as improve eyesight. It also removes freckles.
OAK: Sacred tree of the Druids and Vikings and found in the emblems of family heralds, adopted as symbols by the early Christian church. The oak tree is sacred to the Norse god of thunder, Thor. An old English rhyme warns:
Beware the oak,
it draws the stroke.
In Greek mythology, the oak tree is sacred to Zeus, king of the gods. In Baltic mythology, the oak is the sacred tree of Latvian Pērkons, god of thunder.
In Wales, rubbing sores with oak bark on Midsummer Day will aid in healing. In the 17th century, the future king Charles II hid in an oak tree to escape his pursuers of the Parliament after the Battle of Worcester. In honor of the event, loyal subjects wore oak leaves on what became Royal Oak Day after the monarchy was restored in 1660. Anyone who failed to comply were beaten with stinking nettles. It was forbidden to cut down an oak tree that had mistletoe growing in it, the custom dating back to the Druids.
In ancient Germany, anyone who harmed an oak was punished by having his or her navel cut out and nailed to the tree, then forced to walk around the trunk several times which wound the person’s intestines around the tree.
A cluster of oak leaves was used as a military decoration since ancient Rome signifying bravery and loyalty. In Republican Rome a crown of oak leaves was given to those who had saved a life of a citizen in battle and was called the civic oak.
In Slavic mythology, the oak tree is the tree of the god Perun.
Christian legend states that Saint Boniface replaced oaks with fir trees in the process of Christianization of the pagans.
An oak tree or shrub is the genus Quercus native to the Northern Hemisphere and includes deciduous and evergreen species extending from cool temperate to tropical climates in Asia and the Americas. Their seeds are acorns. Oak wood is dense and has great strength and hardness, resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. It has a pretty grain and used often for furniture and other wood products. Oak planking was commonly used by the Vikings to make their longships in the 9th and 10th centuries. Oak was used in Europe to construct ships, especially naval men of war until the 19th century. It was also the principal timber used in European construction of timber-framed buildings. Oak is often used for flooring, timber-frame buildings, and for veneer wood products. Barrels for storage of wines, sherry, brandy, Scottish whiskey, and Bourbon whiskey are aged in oak barrels. Oak chips are floated in wine during the fermentation process that provides color, taste, and aroma of fine wines. Oak chips are used for smoking fish, meat, and cheese.
Japanese oak is used to construct professional drums of Yamaha Drums. The bark of Cork oak is used to produce wine stoppers (corks). The Cork oak grows in the Mediterranean region and Portugal, Spain, Algeria, and Morocco produce most of the world’s supply. The Northern red oak is the most prized of all the North American oaks. White oak is usually the choice when making wine barrels. The bark of the White oak is dried and used in medical preparations. Oak bark is rich in tannin, used by tanners for tanning leather. Acorns are used for making flour or roasted for acorn coffee. For centuries, oak galls were used as the main ingredient of manuscript ink. In Korea, oak bark is used to make shingles for roof construction.
The leaves and acorns of the oak tree are poisonous to cattle, horses, sheep, and goats because of the large amount of tannic acid; causing kidney damage and gastroenteritis.
Many countries use the oak as their national symbol or an integrate part of it. In Germany, it has been their national tree and symbol for centuries, displayed on German coins, both of the former Deutsche Mark and current Euro currency. As of November 2004, Congress passed legislation declaring the oak as America’s National Tree. Countries whose national tree is oak include England, Estonia, France, Germany, Moldova, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, United States, Wales, Galicia, Bulgaria, and Serbia.
Oak is the state tree of Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois, and Maryland. The Northern Red Oak is the state tree of New Jersey and the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island. The Live Oak is the state tree of state of Georgia (USA).
The coat-of-arms of Vest-Agder, Norway features an oak tree. If a member of the United States Army or Air Force earns multiple awards of the same medal, instead of wearing a ribbon or medal for each award, he or she wears one metal “oak leaf cluster” attached to the ribbon.
The Seven Sisters Oak is the largest certified southern live oak tree in the United States located in Mandeville, Louisiana and estimated to be about 1,500 years old with a trunk that measures 38 feet in diameter.
OLIVE: This ancient, long-lived tree, Olea europea, Oleaceae family, is found throughout the Mediterranean region and is associated with peace, prosperity, and beauty. Olive oil is beneficial to the skin, used as a base for perfumes and cosmetics; as well as a healthy diet condiment. Dating far back into history, its natural origin and ancestry of the cultivated olive tree are unknown. Fossil Olea pollen has been found in Macedonia, Greece and other places in the Mediterranean region, a probable indication of its original location. Others believe it originated in northern tropical Africa and introduced later to the Mediterranean Basin through Egypt, then Crete (or Palestine), Syria, and Asia Minor. In western literature, the olive is one of the plants most often cited. It is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
According to Pliny the Elder, a vine, a fig, and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum. Olive oil, long considered sacred, used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece; burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the “eternal flame” of the original Olympic Games. Victors were crowned with its leaves. It is still used in religious ceremonies today.
The Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, is mentioned several times in the Bible; as well as olive trees, olive oil, and olive leaves in both the Old and New Testaments.
The olive tree and olive oil is mentioned seven times in the Qur’an and the olive is praised as precious fruit.
The Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World where it is still cultivated in Peru and Chile.
In Japan, the first successful planting of olive trees was in 1908 on Shodo Island.
The olive tree has been cultivated for its olive oil (from fruit), fine wood, olive leaf, and olive fruit. Earliest evidence of cultivation comes from the Chalcolithic Period in modern-day Jordan.
ONION: The onion wards off snakes and witches, and placed under the pillow will cause a person to see the future. The onion helps to ward off colds. It was used to treat dog bites, hangovers, insomnia, earache, toothache, and fever. Rubbing the scalp with an onion will cure baldness.
The plant is a relative of garlic.
ORCHID: A favorite plant of gardeners, the Orchidaceae is a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants, commonly known as the orchid family. In folklore it was considered to be an aphrodisiac. Its roots have special properties and were used in herbology since ancient times.
ORPINE: A purple or purplish-pink flower of the family of dicotyledons that store water in its succulent leaves. Lovers used opine for divination. Brings luck to those who grow them in their household. Found worldwide, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and southern Africa, typically in dry and/or cold areas where water is scarce. There are 1,400 species.
PALM: Known in the botanical family of perennial lianas and trees as Arecaceae or palms. Palms are among the best known and most extensively cultivated plants. Their importance dates far back into history. It grows as shrubs, trees, or vines and has two methods of growth: solitary or clustered. Palms grow to great heights and the large size of its leaves and seed. Most grow naturally and in gardens in tropical climates.
Important as a Jewish and Christian symbol, palm fronds in early Christianity was a symbol of martyrdom. Palm fronds are still used on Palm Sunday to commemorate Jesus of Nazareth (Christ).
PANSY: Hybrid plants with large flowers often cultivated in flower gardens, often confused with viola plants a more delicate small-flowered plant. The exception is Viola cornuta, of which the original cultivar created future pansies. In the early 19th century, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet (1785-1861), daughter of Lord Tankerville, collected and cultivated different types of viola tricolor from her father’s garden in Surrey, England. William Richardson, her gardener, helped cross-breed plants. In 1812, Lady Bennet introduced her pansies, and in 1813, florist, further cultivated the flower. By 1833, there were 400 named pansies available to gardeners, once considering its parent, the heartsease, a weed. Pansies grow well in sunny or partially sunny positions and are perennial. However, they are grown as biennials or annuals because of their “leggy” growth. The first year produces greenery, and bears flowers and seeds in its second year of growth. After that the plant dies like an annual. Selective breeding has produced garden pansies that bloom in the first year, some in as little as nine weeks after sowing. Pansies purchased in flats of six in the USA from garden centers, planted directly into the garden. Plants will grow up to nine inches tall with flowers measuring two to three inches in diameter. Pansies are winter hardy in Zones 4-8. They survive light freezes and short periods of snow cover. In areas where there is prolonged snow cover, a covering of winter mulch is recommended. For best growth, water pansies thoroughly once per week, depending upon climate and rainfall. Never over water. For maximum bloom, plant foods should be used every other week. Deadheading will extend the bloom period.
Pansy folklore most often concerns love. If pansies are picked on a sunny day, it will bring a rainstorm. In Scandinavia, Scotland, and Germany, the pansy is known as the Stepmother Flower. It originated from the tale of a selfish stepmother.
In Italy, the pansy is known as flammola (little flame), and in Hungary it is called small orphan. In Israel, the pansy is known as Amnon and Tamar, after biblical characters in the Second Book of Samuels 13.
In New York, pansies are called football flowers for some unknown reason. The original name, “heart’s-ease” (heartsease) came from the woman St. Euphrasia, whose name in Greek signified cheerfulness of mind. The woman, who refused marriage and took the veil, was considered a pattern of humility, hence the name “humble violet”. [McGlashan, James. The Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal. Vol. 42. July to December 1853: p. 286]
PARSLEY: The garden parsley is a species of Petroselinum in the family Apiaceae. It is native to the central Mediterranean region – southern Italy, Algeria, and Tunisia; naturalized in Europe and elsewhere and cultivated as an herb, spice, and vegetable. It is a biennial, herbaceous plant that grows in temperate climates or an annual herb in subtropical and tropical areas. Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil with full sun. Parsley attracts wildlife, like swallowtail butterflies who use it for their larvae. The caterpillars feed on parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. There are two major varieties grown in vegetable and herb gardens – leaf parsley and root parsley. Leaf Parsley is used in the Middle East, Europe, and USA for culinary purposes, as well as a garnish. Root parsley is common in central and eastern Europe, used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
Parsley is a good source of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Health benefits include anti-inflammatory properties and boosted immune system. Pregnant women should not consume large amounts of parsley because of uterotonic effects.
The word parsley is a merge of Old English and contemporary German, as well as Old French, derived from Medieval Latin petrosilium and Latin Petroselinum.
Ancient superstition links parsley against evil and Satan, which may be why the Roman custom of planting parsley in groves. In some cultures it is said that only wicked people can grow good parsley. It was once considered an antidote to poison, where the tradition of garnishing dishes with parsley came from – signifying that the food was not poisoned. Parsley seeds sprinkled on the head cures baldness. Chewing parsley leaves relieves rheumatism and feeding to livestock prevents disease.
PASQUE FLOWER: A flower that is native to the tundra climate and soil conditions. It is a member of the Ranunculaceae family (Latin for little frog). Genus is Anemone, Species, patens. The plant only grows on southward facing slopes, common throughout US up to northern Alaska. The Pasque flower is also the state flower of South Dakota and popular in home gardens. It prefers well-drained, sandy and gravelly soils, often growing along roadsides. It grows low to the ground, as all natural tundra plants to withstand the cold, with fine silky hairs to insulate it.
In herbology, the Pasque flower used to treat cataracts and other eye disorders.
English enjoy this flower in their gardens and tradition in the UK has it that Pasque flowers grow where Saxon blood had been spilled, but in some places, it is called the Dane’s flower, growing where Danish warriors fell in battle. Dye from the Pasque flower was once used to decorate Easter eggs.
PEA: Found in many vegetable gardens around the world and an agricultural crop, the wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the Neolithic era in current Syria, Turkey, and Jordan. In Egypt, the earliest known cultivation was approximately 4800 to 4400 BC in the Nile Delta area, and 3800-3600 BC in Upper Egypt. The pea was present in modern Georgia in 5000 BC. Peas were present in Afghanistan in 2000 BC, in Pakistan and northwest India between 2250 and 1750 BC.
Pea plants are self-pollinating and grow in low vines.
In early periods of agricultural history, peas were grown for their dry seeds. Peas supplemented Roman legionnaires who gathered it wild from sandy soils of Numidia and Palestine to supplement their rations.
In the medieval period, field peas are mentioned constantly, apparently a staple that combatted famine that spread across Europe. It was considered to be good luck and was used in love divination. Peas were rubbed on warts to remove them.
PEACH: The peach tree bears delicious fruit commonly found in orchards and gardens around the world, but native to China and South Asia, where it was first cultivated. Most of the folklore of this fruit and its tree comes from China who has regarded it as a symbol of long life, and wards off evil spirits. Today, China is the largest producer of peaches and nectarines.
The ancient Romans referred to the peach as the Persian apple. The peach tree was portrayed on domuswall paintings in Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. From Rome the peach tree was cultivated on the British Isles and then brought to the Americas by colonists.
PEONY: The name for plants in genus Paeonia, Paeoniaceae family. It is native to Asia, southern Europe, and western North America. Most peonies are herbaceous perennial plants. The peony named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine and healing. Legend has it that Asclepius became jealous of his pupil, however, Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of his teacher by turning him into a peony flower.
The herb known as Paeonia is used in traditional medicines of Korea, China, and Japan.
Sailors believed that burning a peony would stop storms and ill people would wear a necklace made of peony around their neck.
In the Orient, mischievous nymphs were said to hide in the petals of the Peony. Peonies tend to attract ants to the sweet flower buds. Japanese tattoo artists once used peonies in their illustrative art, paintings depicting warriors with tattoos of peonies alongside tigers, lions, and dragons. Thus it became a symbol of masculinity.
In 1957, the peony became the state flower of Indiana, replacing the zinnia, the state flower since 1931.
PEPPER: According to folklore, Black pepper on cotton balls will cure an earache. While eating spicy peppers regularly, like chili peppers, will prevent and lessen the effects of colds comes from folklore, it is a fact in herbology and modern science.
Folklore also has it that if pepper is sprinkled on the chair of a guest it will ensure they will not overstay their welcome.
PERIWINKLE: This flowering plant whose flowers are a lavender blue, is derived from the lesser periwinkle or myrtle herb (Vinca minor). This evergreen plant is traditionally linked to witchcraft and death.
Italians used periwinkle to adorn dead babies. Heretics were burned at the stake wearing periwinkle crowns.
Welsh tradition has it that anyone who picks periwinkle from a grave will suffer nightmares for one year.
In Germany, periwinkle is a flower of immortality. In England, a man and woman who eat periwinkle leaves together will fall in love.
Periwinkle leaves were chewed to treat hemorrhages and toothaches, as well as diabetes. Scientific research has shown that the periwinkle plant is rich in natural alkaloids.
PLANTAIN: Sometimes called ribwort, it is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa. The fruit produced used for cooking is known as the banana. Drinking plantain tea was thought to cure measles. Most of the species are found in tropical climates. [See Banana]
POPLAR: Genus Populus is a genus of deciduous flowering plants, and trees like poplar, aspen, and cottonwood are the common variety of trees in the genus. In 2006, the Western Balsam Poplar was the first tree to have its full DNA code sequenced. In the wild, it is not uncommon to see a group of poplars growing together in one spot, like on a hilltop. Found in Europe, Asia, and North America; it is grown on plantations for pulpwood. It is an inexpensive hardwood timber used to make pallets and cheap plywood or wooden matches. Poplar wood is also used to make snowboards because of its flexibility and sometimes used in making electric guitars and percussion drums. Polar wood is used in the Orient to make chopsticks. The tree has a high content of tannic acid, so in Europe, poplar bark is used for tanning leather.
Before canvas became the medium for oil paintings in medieval Europe, poplar was used in Italy for panel paintings as well. The Mona Lisa was painted on poplar paneling.
Lombardy poplars are used as a windbreak around agricultural fields to protect against wind erosion. Logs from the poplar are used as a medium for growing Shiitake mushrooms.
In folklore, poplar has healing powers and its leaves are used by witches in their flying ointment preparations.
POPPY: A group of flowering plants in the family Papaveraceae grown for their colorful flowers, food, and source of opiate drugs.
Poppy flowers are also symbolic in remembering soldiers who died during war. This custom dates back to ancient lore that the plant, generally red flowers, grew from the blood of dead warriors. Bees use poppy as a pollen source. The oriental poppy’s pollen is dark blue. The California Poppy is yellow or orange in color and is the state’s flower. It is cultivated as an annual or perennial ornamental plant. The opium poppy is cultivated worldwide and monitored by international agencies. It is used for the production of dried latex, opium, opiate drugs as morphine, and codeine in cough syrups. It has been used in remedies dating far back into history, despite its highly addictive properties. Ancient Egyptian doctors would have their patients eat seeds from a poppy to relieve pain.
The name Poppy Goddess was given to a large female figurine believed to represent a Minoan goddess, discovered in a sanctuary of the Post-palace period (1400-1100 BC) at Gazi, Crete. It is thought it is a representation of the goddess who brings sleep or death.
In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. Poppies were used as emblems on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep. This symbolism was used in the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which the magical poppy field threatened to make the characters sleep forever.
In Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, artificial poppies are worn to commemorate those who died in war. Wearing of poppies for such reasons has been a custom since 1924 in the United States, given with donations to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Miss Moina Michael, American teach in Georgia is credited as the founder of the Memorial Poppy in the United States, known as the “Poppy Lady”. There is a particular poppy plant named the American Legion Poppy. The American Legion Poppy Drive occurs yearly to raise money for the organization.
In Mexico, the makers of Corona beer use the red poppy flower in advertising since the 1960s.
A poppy flower is depicted on the reverse side of the Macedonian 500 denars banknote, issued 1996 and 2003.
Canada issued special quarters (25-cent coins) with a red poppy on the reverse in 2004, 2008, and 2010. The 2004 Canadian “poppy” quarter was the world’s first colored circulation coin.
Girls have been given the name Poppy.
Poppy flowers are commonly used at Puerto Rican weddings.
POTATO: This familiar plant is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum of the Solanaceae family, also known as the infamous nightshades. In the region of the Peruvian Andes, there are some close relatives that are cultivated called Sweet Potato, which belongs to the Convolvulaceae family.
Wild potato occurs throughout the Americas from the United States to southern Chile.
The English word potato comes from Spanish patata, which is what it is called in Spain. Potatoes are occasionally referred to as Irish potatoes or white potatoes in the United States to distinguish them from sweet potatoes.
The plant is herbaceous perennials that grow about 24 inches high, dying after flowering – which aids in determining when to harvest the tubers. The potato plant produces small green fruits that look like green cherry tomatoes, each one containing 300 seeds. The potato fruit contains large amounts of the toxic alkaloid solanine, thus the reason why it belongs to the nightshade family of plants; while the tubular root is quite edible. The potato plant can be grown from its seeds by chopping the fruit and soaking in container of water, the seeds sinking to the bottom after about a day and the fruit remnants float to the top. Some commercial potato varieties do not produce seeds and must be propagated from pieces of the tuber.
The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, originally considered to have aphrodisiac properties and later a cure for rheumatism. Later, scientific research revealed that the potato eye, the budding portion of the potato that produces more plants, contains atropine that helps in curing rheumatism.
Christian folklore dictates that the potato plant should be planted on Good Friday.
PRIMROSE: A flowering plant of the family Primulaceae. The plant, Primula vulgaris, commonly known as English Primrose and Oenothera [Evening Primrose] are ornamental garden favorites. Onagraceae is the Willowherb family of Evening Primrose. Four towns in the United States was named after the flower.
Primula vulgaris is native to western and southern Europe and has been brought to Faroe Island, Norway, Portugal, Crimea, and the Balkans.
Oenothera is a primrose variety of annual, biennial, and biennial herbaceous flowering plants native to North and South America.
Evening Primrose has been used in alternative medicine as an aid in treating heart disease, high cholesterol, circulation problems, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, breast pain, certain symptoms of menopause, eczema, psoriasis, acne, osteoporosis, and multiple sclerosis. Recently it has been used in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, diabetes, and stomach or intestinal disorders. However, not all uses have been approved by the FDA. It is often sold as an herbal supplement with some marketed supplements containing toxic metals or other drugs. Purchase should be made from a reliable source. Never take evening primrose without advice of a doctor for any of the above ailments or if you have epilepsy or a bleeding disorder or before surgery or when taking blood thinning medication. It is not known if evening primrose is harmful to unborn infants, so it is advised not to take during pregnancy. Never give a child any herbal supplement without first consulting a doctor because children have different affects with things adults do not have.
Evening Primrose Oil is a yellow vegetable oil extracted from Evening Primrose seeds. It takes 5,000 seeds to extract 500 mg of oil with 86% of polyunsaturated fatty acids. This oil is used as an herbal supplement.
Native Americans rubbed the root of the evening primrose on their muscles for strength. Herbalists used it as a cough remedy when prepared a certain way. Research shows that it prevents blood clots when taken internally. Externally it treats sores and various skin conditions.
PUMPKIN: The squash plant is of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae that includes gourds. It has become a familiar sight in the fall and carved different ways for Hallows Eve [Hallowe’en] – when carved and hollowed out, decorated with candles, it becomes a jack o’lantern.
The oldest evidence of cultivated pumpkin seeds found is between 7000 and 5500 BC in Mexico. Pumpkins today are grown around the world commercially, especially in United States, Canada, Mexico, India, and China. Ninety-five percent of pumpkin crops grown in the United States is in the state of Illinois. Large pumpkins have been cultivated since an enthusiastic farmer in England grew kabocha-pumpkin in the early 19th century. The world record to 1981 was 493.5 pounds (224 kilograms) grown by Howard Dill in Nova Scotia. Dill patented the seeds from the giant pumpkin and sells them to growers around the world. The current world-record holder is Chris Stevens, whose Atlantic Giant pumpkin reached a whopping 1,725 pounds in October of 2010.
Pumpkin chucking has become a competitive activity where pumpkins are thrown as far as possible using catapults, trebuchets, ballista, and air cannons.
The city of Elk Grove, California has an annual Pumpkin Festival since 1995. Pumpkin Patch is the name of the fall festival here on the Door Peninsula, Wisconsin.
In folklore, the Chinese used the pumpkin in fertility rites and emblem of such. In the western world, it became an icon for Hallowe’en, originating from a Celtic tradition that pumpkins, when carved as jack o’lanterns, would keep evil spirits away a beacon for good spirits.
In the folktale, Cinderella, the fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage, at midnight it turned back into a pumpkin.
REED: This perennial grass plant, genus Phragmites, is familiar in different forms in wetlands around the world in temperate and tropical regions. The general botanical name of the common reed is Phragmites australis. Found in North America, the hardy reeds we see are species brought from Europe by the settlers. Reed is still used for thatching roofs in the UK and other European regions. In the British Isles, common reed used for thatching is known as Norfolk reed or water reed.
Papyrus sedge reed has a long history, an aquatic flowering plant that grows along the Nile River and native to Africa. It is a herbaceous perennial and ancient Egyptians used it extensively to make papyrus boats and paper, as well as an ornamental plant. Today it is nearly extinct in its native habitat in the Nile Delta region, where in ancient times it was cultivated. According to Pliny’s Natural History, it was also a native plant of the Niger River and the Euphrates. Its flowers were made into garlands and presented to gods. The pitch of young shoots were eaten, cooked or raw. Its woody roots were used to make bowls and other utensils, and was burned for fuel. From the stems reed boats were constructed, as seen on Fourth Dynasty bas-reliefs showing men cutting papyrus to build a boat. Papyrus was also made into sails, mats, cloth, cordage, and sandals. Theophrastus stated in his History of Plants [Book iv. 10] that King Antigonus made the rigging of this fleet of papyrus.
The adventurer, Thor Heyerdahl, built two boats from papyrus, Ra and Ra II, in an attempt to demonstrate that ancient African or Mediterranean people could have reached America. He succeeded in sailing Ra II from Morocco to Barbados.
In English folklore, it was unlucky to grow reed in garden areas or near houses in wetlands.
RICE: The seed of the monocot plant, Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice) is a cereal grain and used as a staple food across the globe; especially in Asia and the West Indies. Only maize (corn) has the higher worldwide production rate making it the second most produced grain in the world according to data of 2010. In regards to human nutrition and caloric intake, rice is number one. Rice is normally grown as an annual plant, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial and produce a ratoon crop up to 30 years; depending upon the soil fertility and the variety. It grows best in places with high rainfall, and is a labor-intensive crop to cultivate. Nevertheless, rice can be grown almost anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain.
The traditional method of cultivating rice is flooding fields after planting young seedlings, which deters vermin and reduces the growth of weed and pest plants that cannot grow submerged. Flooding is not mandatory, however, despite the traditional growing method.
Raw rice is ground into flour for many uses and several beverages like rice milk and rice wine. Rice is also made into various types of noodles. Rice fried in cooking oil is called fried rice, and when beaten in a tub it becomes mochi. Like other cereal grains, rice can be puffed or popped, a process that requires heating the grain in a special chamber.
In Arabia and the Mediterranean region, rice is used to stuff vegetables or is wrapped with meat in grape leaves called dolma. In some regions, rice flour substitutes wheat and other grains for making bread. Medieval Islamic texts mention rice being used for medical uses. Rice is also made into congee, which is rice porridge or rice gruel, traditionally used as a breakfast food or feeding the sick. Cooking time of rice is decreased when soaked prior to cooking, and for some varieties improves the texture of cooked rice by increasing expansion of the grains before heating.
In folklore, rice is a symbol of fertility. Thus it became a custom to throw rice grains in wedding ceremonies as the couple departs after the ceremony. Ancient Arab lore contends that rice kernels are drops of sweat from Mohammed the Islamic prophet.
ROSE: Not to be confused with Rosé, this woody perennial of the genus Rosa is from the family Rosaceae with 100 species – and growing because of horticultural cultivation. They are grown as shrubs, climbing or trailing, with stems that have sharp thorns. Most species are native to Asia and others are native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Some are grown compact as miniature roses, while others are climbers that can reach heights of seven feet. The developing flower comes from a bud called the rose hip, which is actually an aggregate fruit. The hips of most species are red, but some are purple to black in color. Rose hips are rich in vitamin C, especially the Dog Rose (Rosa canina), and Rugosa Rose (Rose rugosa), used in supplemental vitamin capsules. The hips are eaten by fruit-eating birds like thrushes and waxwings, which helps to disperse seeds. Some finches also eat the seed. Deer enjoy nibbling on roses, despite the prickles (thorns).
Roses have been cultivated in ornamental gardens far back into human history, bred for their flowers that have attractive and scented foliage. The earliest known cultivated rose dates to at least 500 BC in the Mediterranean region, Persia, and China. “In the 19th century, Empress Josephine of France developed rose breeding at her gardens at Malmaison. In 1840, a collection of over one thousand cultivars, varieties, and species when a rosarium was planted by Loddiges nursery for Abney Park Cemetery, an early Victorian garden cemetery and arboretum in England. Roses are often grown in greenhouses (glasshouses) in temperate climates, while in warmer places it is grown under cover to ensure they are not damaged by weather. However, they flourish best in full sun.
Rose perfumes are made from attar of roses or rose oil, steam distilled from crushed rose petals. This ancient product, known as rose water, used in hand-washing bowls of the ancient Romans. Roses have been used for cooking, cosmetics, medicine, and in religious practices. The technique of making rose oil or rose water originated in Persia and spread to Arabia and India and into Eastern Europe. Rose hips are made into jam, jelly, and marmalade or brewed in herbal tea for its high vitamin C content. Pressed and filtered, it is made into rose hip syrup, used today to make scones and marshmallow.
Roses over the ages has been a favored subject in art and appear in portraits, illustrations, stamps, ornaments, and even architectural décor.
The Victorian age, a period of romanticism and development of modern science and invention, made ornamental gardens to become popular. The rose represented love and certain colors of rose flowers were given specific interpretations – red for passion and white for pure love. Ancient Romans planted roses at gravesites. Early Christian folklore is that red roses got their color from Christ’s blood. If rose petals fall from the flower while someone is holding it, someone close will die soon. Dreaming of roses will bring success.
ROSEMARY: The common name for Rosmarinus officinalis, a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves with white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes other herbs. The name rosemary derives from Latin for dew (ros) and sea (marinus) – dew of the sea. Used as both an herb and a decorative plant in gardens, as well as medicinal purposes folklore states rosemary improve memory. It is widely used in flavoring of stuffing and roasted meats.
Rosemary leaves look like hemlock needles. It can withstand droughts and grows heartily in cool climates.
According to ancient legend, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea. The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the Rose of Mary.
In folklore and customs, mourners, later replaced by the rose flower, once tossed a sprig of rosemary on a coffin before burial. Rosemary wards off evil, cures madness, prevents nausea and nightmares. Wearing a sprig of rosemary in a buttonhole will aid memory. Spoons made with rosemary wood add taste and negates the effects of poison. The French believed that combs made with rosemary wood combat dizziness and lotion that contains rosemary applied to the head will restore thinning hair.
ROWAN: This small tree is often called Mountain Ash, genus Sorbus of family Rosaceae. They are native in cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere with the highest species diversity in the mountains of western China and the Himalaya. Rowans are unrelated to the true ash trees.
The European Rowan bears red fruit eaten by birds, which gave its ancient name of bird catcher tree. The original name comes from Old Norse for tree – raun. Rowan is a familiar tree in the wilds of the British Isles that has acquired English folk names over the centuries, like Quickbane, Roan tree, Rune tree, Sorb apple, Thor’s helper, Whispering tree, Wiggy, Witch wood, Witchbane, and Witchen. Mostly a small deciduous tree, a few are shrubs. In Britain and Scandinavia, the berries are used in jellies, its fruit being slightly bitter. One of the hardiest trees in Europe, it grows as far north as Vardǿ in Arctic Norway and has become naturalized in northern North America.
The tree was sacred to the Druids and considered protective against witchcraft. Nailing rowan branches over the doorway to cowsheds and houses prevented evil spirits from entering. Carrying rowan or wearing a sprig in a hat protects the wearer from witches. When horse riding, it was advisable to carry a whip made of rowan wood. Touching a witch with a rowan stick would cause the witch to be dragged by demons to Hell. Rowan trees were once grown in graveyard perimeters to prevent the dead rising as spirits and leaving the cemetery.
RUE: Ruta graveolens is also known as Herb-of-Grace, a species of Ruta grown as a herb. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula, southeastern Europe. It is now grown all over the world as an ornamental plant in gardens for its bluish leaves and cultivated as a medicinal herb, condiment or insect repellent.
Common Rue is said to promote onset of menstruation and of uterine contractions, for this purpose oil of rue was used by the Romans, according to historian Pliny the Elder and gynecologist Soranus, it was a potent abortifacient (induces abortion). It is used in Brazil as the key ingredient of homemade cough syrup when mashed with caramelized sugar and honey. Exposure to Common Rue, or herbal preparations made from it, can cause severe phytophotodermatitis that results in burn-like blisters on the skin.
if used sparingly, rue has culinary use but it is incredibly bitter and can cause severe gastric discomfort by some individuals.
It was used extensively in ancient Middle Eastern and Roman cuisine, according to Apicius. Rue leaves and berries are an important part of cuisine in Ethiopia. It is a traditional flavoring in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Seeds of the rue are used in porridge. The bitter leaf is added to eggs, cheese, fish, or mixed with damson plums and wine to produce a meat sauce. In Italy, young branches are dipped in a batter, deep-fried in oil, and consumed with salt or sugar. It is used as an ingredient for an omelette.
As an ornamental plant, rue is grown as a low hedge. Most cats dislike the smell of it, so it can be used as a deterrent to keep them out of gardens.
Rue is mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Luke 11:42:
But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference …In Richard II, rue was planted by the gardener, III 4.104-105:
Here did she fall a tear, here in this place I’ll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace.
In Winter’s Tale, IV.4:
For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep Seeming and savour all the winter long.
Rue is considered a national herb of Lithuania, frequently referred to in folk songs, an attribute of young girls, associated with virginity and maidenhood. It was once a common tradition in Lithuanian weddings for virgins to wear rue at their wedding, a symbol of purity.
In mythology, the basilisk, whose breath could cause plants to wilt and stones to crack, had no effect on rue. Weasels who were bitten by the basilisk would retreat and eat rue in order to recover and return to fight.
The Tacuinum Sanitatis, medieval handbook of medicinal wellness, lists properties of rue:
· Nature: Warm and dry in the third degree.· Optimum: That which is grown near a fig tree.· Usefulness: It sharpens the eyesight and dissipates flatulence.· Dangers: It augments the sperm and dampens the desire for coitus.· Neutralization of the Dangers: With foods that multiply the sperm.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ron has to take essence of rue for a couple of weeks while recovering from the poisoned oak-matured mead he drank in Professor Slughorn’s office.
See also: Syrian rue.
RUSH: A tall variety of monocotyledonous family of flowering plants that are herbaceous and resemble grasses, usually growing in marshy, wetland areas.
The dry pith of the plant was once used to make a candle known as rushlight.
The Japanese used to weave the rush into tatami mats.
In medieval Europe, loose fresh rushes were strewn on earthen floors for cleanliness and insulation.
In folklore, a pulled rush gently brushed across the lips will heal mouth ulcers. The Irish claim that the rush was cursed by Saint Patrick; yet is still used in homes indoors and outdoors – commonly for roof thatching. Some people believed it cured warts.
SAGE: Salvia officinalis, garden sage or common sage is a perennial evergreen sub-shrub with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae. It has a long history for medicinal and culinary use. Today used as an ornamental garden plant and dual purpose as an herb.
Described as Salvia officinalis by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, sage has been grown for centuries in the Old World for its food and healing properties, often described in old herbals. Sage was often stored in monasteries with other herbal medicines.
In folklore, Sage has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, fertility in women, and more. The Romans introduced it to Europe from Egypt as a medicinal herb. Theophrastus wrote about two different sages. Pliny the Elder said the elelisphakos cultivated sage was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, local anesthetic, a styptic, and other uses.
Common sage is grown in parts of Europe for distillation of an essential oil. In Britain, sage has for generations been listed as one of the essential herbs, along with parsley, rosemary, and thyme, as in the folk song Scarborough Fair written and sung by Simon & Garfunkel.
In the UK and US, sage is traditionally used with onion for stuffing with roast turkey or chicken on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Other dishes include pork casserole, Sage Derby cheese, and Lincolnshire sausages. While found in some traditional French cuisine, sage never was as popular in France as elsewhere.
Sage leaves contain tannic acid, oleic acid, ursonic acid, ursolic acid, cornsole, cornsolic acid, fumaric acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, niacin, nicotinamide, flavones, flavonoid glycosides, and estrogenic substances.
According to Saxon lore, eating sage seven or nine mornings in succession will cure the “ague”. It was custom to keep a sprig of sage in the kitchen to provide a pleasant order.
It has been used to treat sore throats and cure weak eyes, heal wounds, promote fertility, and help in childbirth for centuries. Before there was toothpaste, people would rub their teeth with sage leaves to keep them clean. An old proverb dictates that eating sage in May, when it is most potent, could extend one’s life:
He that would live for aye, Must eat sage in May.
SAINT JOHN’S WORT: A plant species Hypericum perforatum, also known as Tipton’s weed, chase-devil, or Klamath weed. It is widely known as an herbal medicine for treating mild forms of depression, widely used in Germany. St. John’s wort is a perennial plant with extensive, creeping rhizomes. Grown commercially in southeast Europe, it is listed as a noxious weed in more than twenty countries and has been introduced in South and North America, India, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. It acts as a both a toxic and invasive weed. Ingestion by livestock can cause photosensitization, central nervous system depression, spontaneous abortion, and sometimes death.
St. John’s wort is administered in doses of 300 mg of an extract for treating depression, three times per day. There have been no reports of overdosing.
St. John’s wort has been used for centuries as a topical remedy for wounds, abrasions, burns, and muscle pain. It has antiflammatory properties.
Rarely does it cause photosensitivity in humans. Studies have proved it is useful for inhibiting free radical production in both cell-free and human vascular tissue because of its antioxidant properties of the compound.
In ornamental gardens, it is used as a groundcover and is drought tolerant.
The plant, named after Saint John the Baptist, at whose festivals the flower was ceremoniously burned. It kept evil spirits and witches away.
SKULLCAP: Common Skullcap [Scutellaria galericulata] is also known as Marsh Skullcap or Hooded Skullcap, a hardy perennial herb native to northern areas of the Northern Hemisphere that includes Europe, Asia, and most of North America. It is a member of the mint family found in wetlands or growing alongside fens or shorelines.
Scutellaria is a genus that has numerous medicinal uses. The Blue Skullcap is accepted as a true skullcap plant, used in North American medicine. It shares many active chemicals found in the true Skullcap plants of the UK and Europe.
Mainly used as a mild anxiolytic in the form of herbal teas, tablets, capsules, dried for smoking, and in oral liquid preparations. The aqueous extract of the flowering parts traditionally used by Native Americans as a nerve tonic, sedative, and diuretic properties.
The skullcap has been given different names throughout history, like hoodwort and helmet flower. A number of the herb plants are found in Asia, most grow in Europe used as a herb there as well as in China. The skullcap root in China used for therapeutic purposes, like minor aches and muscle pain. It is a time-tested medicinal plant used today and found among herbal supplements at health stores and in other ingredients to put in capsules or prepared as an extract or ointment. The natives of North America used it to heal patients suffering from snakebites, insect stings, prevent rabies, and alleviate menstrual contractions. Both aerial parts and roots are used.
Skullcap grows best in humid environments along riverbanks in places that provide proper sunlight. Ingesting skullcap generally functions as a tranquilizer for the body and mind, reducing stress and tension.
The Cicerbita is a perennial herbaceous plant that bears blue to bluish-violet flowers found in the Northern Hemisphere (Eurasia, North America, and northern Africa), sometimes used as an ornamental plant.
The Sonchus genus known as sow thistle, hare thistle, or hare lettuce is named after the ancient Greek that are annual herbs, a few perennial, and some woody [Dendrosonchus found in the Canary Islands]. The stem contains a milky sap and the flower heads are yellow found alongside roads, native to Eurasia and tropical Africa and other temperate regions of the world.
Sow thistles have been used as fodder, particularly for rabbits, thus the alternate name of hare thistle. They are also edible to humans as a leaf vegetable, young leaves having the best flavor. It is eaten as a vegetable by the natives of New Zealand – the Māori people. The flavor when cooked is like that of chard [Shard].
In many areas sow thistles are considered noxious weeds for they grow quickly and spread rapidly. It can crowd out commercial crops, deplete nitrogen and water.
In traditional medicine, the plant has medicinal qualities like that of the dandelion and succor. Sow thistles are commonly host for aphids, which gardeners dislike because the aphids spread to other plants in the garden. It can also attract beneficial predator insects like the hoverfly.
Sochus asper, the Prickly Sow Thistle or Spiny-leaved Sow Thistle is an annual plant with yellow flowers. It is native to Europe, but also a common weed in North America.
In folklore, the sow thistle was given magical properties. Celtic warriors would wear sprigs of thistle to improve their stamina and transfer strength from their enemies. Boiling thistle in water makes a concoction used to benefit weak vision. Witches mixed a sage, thistle, and toad spittle and ingredients that made it an ointment with a special spell to make themselves invisible.
The Blue or Mountain Thistle is a tall plant that has large flowers used as a salad in Lapland. The milky liquid from the stem was used by women to wash their faces to keep skin clear and shiny.
SPEEDWELL: A large flowering plant genus Veronica in the family Plantaginaceae, formerly classified in the family Scrophulariaceae. It also has an alternate common name of gypsyweed. It is a herbaceous annual or perennial that also have shrubs and small trees in its family. Most of the species are native to temperate Northern Hemisphere regions, but some species found native to the Southern Hemisphere, mostly New Zealand.
The Veronica americana is edible and nutritious reported to have a similar flavor to watercress. Native Americans used the Veronica species as an expectorant tea to alleviate bronchial congestion associated with asthma and allergies. The plant can be confused with skullcap and other members of the mint family.
The several varieties produce small white, blue, pink, or purple flowers in the summer.
According to English lore the flowers should never be picked or birds will swoop down and peck your eyes out. In Ireland, a sprig of Speedwell pinned to one’s clothes protects while traveling.
SPRINGWORT: Today known as the Caper Spurge is a species native to southern Europe [France, Italy, Greece, and southern England, northwest Africa, and east/southwest Asia to western China; also known as the Gopher Spurge, Gopher Plant, or Mole Plant. It is a biennial (sometimes an annual) plant with a blue-green stem and green to yellow-green flowers.
All parts of the plant, including the seeds and roots are poisonous. Handling them may cause skin irritation because the plant produces latex (milky sap). It is poisonous to humans, but most livestock and goats are immune to the toxin. However, the toxin can be passed through the goat’s milk. It is considered an invasive weed.
In the medieval period of history, it was used for magical properties to provide invisibility, find treasure, and open locked doors. However, the plant mentioned in text of the medieval period is not identifiable, because the springwort mentioned was used for fertility and providing strength. The plant known as springwort today is not digestible. A list of wort plants is provided at Wikipedia.
The Mole Plant is sold by some nurseries to repel moles. In folk medicine is has been used for its poisonous properties and to cure cancer, corns, and warts.
THYME: an herb of the genus Thymus containing the active ingredient Thymol in thyme oil, used for culinary and medicinal purposes. In medieval times, this herb was associated with death, specifically murder. The plant was supposed to grow in places where a murder has been committed. Its flower was to have been the repository where souls of the dead resided.
Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burned it as incense in their temples. The Romans spread the plant elsewhere, which was used to purify their rooms and provided an aromatic flavor to cheese and liqueurs. In medieval Europe, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid in sleeping and ward off nightmares. Medieval women would give knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves to bring them courage, a custom originating in ancient Greece. Thyme was used as incense at funerals and placed on coffins to assure passage into the next life.
The thyme plant can withstand freezing and can be found growing wild in mountain highlands and grows along the Riviera at sea level as well.
Arabic for thyme is za’atar and used since ancient Assyrian times as a condiment and vital ingredient in cuisine. Thyme is sold dry and fresh, the fresh form being most. Fresh thyme is sold in sprigs, the plant having a woody stem. Sometimes the whole sprig is used for certain dishes, but generally it is the leaf that is used. Thyme retains its flavor when dried better than other herbs.
Oil of thyme is the essential oil of common thyme [Thymus vulgaris]. It is an active ingredient in commercially produced mouthwashes, such as Listerine. Before there were antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages to prevent infection of wounds. It is effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails. Thymol is used in alcohol-free, natural hand sanitizers. A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis. One study by Leeds Metropolitan University found that thyme is beneficial for treating acne.
TOMATO: Refers to an edible fruit of a plant, Solanum lycopersicum, typically red in color. The plant originated in the Americas and spread around the world by the Spanish colonization of the Americas. It has long been considered a vegetable and used as such but is really a fruit. Today it is grown around the world, often in greenhouses in colder climates because it is a perennial. Interestingly, an argument was brought before the United States Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden in an argument whether it was a fruit or vegetable. It contains lycopene and is beneficial to health.
The tomato plant belongs to the notorious nightshade family of poisonous plants, of which at one point in history was considered to be poisonous by those not familiar with the plant. Generally, it is grown as an annual in temperate climates, but perennial in its native habitat.
In Mesoamerica, the Aztec and other peoples used the fruit in their cooking whose domestication dates back to 500 BC, cultivated in Mexico and other areas. The Pueblo Native Americans believed that ingestion of tomato seeds would provide a blessing of divination.
It is thought that the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés may have been the first to transfer yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, appointed by the Spanish monarchy to explore for Spanish colonization may have taken tomatoes to Europe as early as 1493. The earliest mention of tomato in European literature appeared in an herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, suggested that the new plant was a type of eggplant brought to Italy; eaten like an eggplant, cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and olive oil. However, ten years later Mattioli provided a name for the fruit as the golden apple [pomi d’oro].
The Spanish distributed the plant throughout the Caribbean and took it to the Philippines as well, then it spread to southeast Asia and the entire Asian continent. The plant grew well in the Mediterranean climates, and cultivation became prosperous by the 1540s. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, the author obtaining them from Spanish sources. At the beginning it was a dish for the aristocrat and nobility. Florentine gardeners grew the plants only for their beauty. The peasantry did not readily adopt the use of tomatoes because they were not as filling as other fruits available. In addition, they were ignorant and were unsure of their toxic properties, since it was a plant of the nightshade variety. That was true in England in the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivars was John-Gerard, a barber-surgeon who published Herbal in 1597, mostly plagiarized from continental Europeans. Despite knowing the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy, he wrote that it was poisonous. The plant and raw fruit does contain levels of tomatine, but is not generally dangerous and only affects those sensitive to the chemical compound. This may have reinforced the idea the fruit was poisonous because people sensitive to tomatine would break out in rashes. When the tomato was transported to the North American colonies, Gerard’s views were influential and the tomato was considered unfit for consumption, but not necessarily poisonous. This changed by the middle of the 18th century and tomatoes began to be eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century was in daily use in soups, broths, and as a garnish.
The earliest use of the tomato in British North America was in 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in South Carolina. They had been introduced from the Caribbean by sailors and by the middle of the 18th century were cultivated on Carolina plantations. Those that continued to believe them to be poisonous would only grow them as ornamental plants. Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris, sent some seeds back to America in order to grow the plants on his plantation.
Alexander W. Livingston was the first person to succeed in upgrading the wild tomato into different breeds and more stabilized plants. In the 1937 yearbook of the Federal Department of Agriculture, it was declared that half of the major varieties were a result of the Livingston’s horticulture. Livingston’s first breed of tomato, named the Paragon, was introduced in 1870. In 1875, he introduced the Acme, which is the parent of the tomatoes produced in the next 25 years. Livingston eventually developed 17 varieties of the tomato plant and grown commercially. Today it is grown in every state in the Union, the Sun Belt states growing them in a longer growing season. In California, growers used a method of cultivation called dry-farming that worked well with Early Girl tomatoes. Cultivated tomatoes vary in size, from tomberries and cherry tomatoes to large beefsteak tomatoes. In 2010, the top producers in the world were: China, United States, India, Turkey, and Egypt. Some types of tomatoes are specific to a region or country (but you can obtain the seeds):
· Pomodoro di Pachino (Sicily)
· Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Argo Sarnese-Nocerino (south Italy) … I planted from seed the Marzano tomato last growing season and found it to have a thicker texture, but growing not much bigger than the plum tomato.
· Tomaten von der Insel Reichenau (Reichenau Island, Germany)
· Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio (Mt. Vesuvius area)
There are 7,500 tomato varieties grown around the world. Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular among home gardeners and organic producers, being a more flavorful fruit production that is disease resistant and good producer.
When purchasing tomato plants for the garden, look for letters that show what resistance the plant has: V = verticullium wilt, F = fusarium wilt, FF = fusarium wilt, N = nematodes, T = tobacco mosaic virus, and A = alternaria.
Common garden pests that attack tomatoes and the plant are stinkbugs, cutworms, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, flea beetles, red spider mite, slugs, and Colorado potato beetle.
The modern domestic tomato plant is self-fertile. This is different than self-pollination because tomatoes pollinate poorly without outside aid of insects like bees. To circumvent this problem for greenhouse tomatoes, the plants are vibrated by an artificial wind and sometimes by cultured bumblebees. In this way the pollen sheds and self-fertilizes. The bumblebee provides the needed source motion with its large wings, thus imitating that which occurs in the wild through wind or animal activity. Some tomato plants have been cultivated specifically to grow indoors.
The tomato fruit is an antioxidant and eating tomatoes reduces risk of breast cancer as well as head and neck cancers. Tomatoes also aid in lower urinary tract symptoms. It may be beneficial for reducing cardiovascular risk associated with type 2 diabetes. Green tomatoes have a shelf life of three to four days, but when ripe, they should be used in one to two days. Refrigeration of tomatoes when ripe is okay, but it affects the flavor.
Tomato leaves should not be used in tea because of its toxic alkaloid tomatine content, in which one death was reported while others became ill. Green tomatoes are only dangerous if eaten in great amounts when raw.
Tomato plants can be toxic to dogs if they eat large amounts of fruit or chew plant material. Tomatoes have been linked to seven salmonella outbreaks since 1990, but it was because human or animal feces used for fertilization that was the cause.
The largest and heaviest tomato grown was 7 lbs., 12 oz.; the cultivar Delicious grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma. The largest tomato plant was the cultivar Sungold that reached 65 feet high, grown by Nutriculture Ltd (UK) of Mawdesley, Lancashire, UK, in 2000. The Guinness World Record Holder for the largest harvest of tomatoes from one plant was more than 32,000 tomatoes with a total weight of 1,150 pounds. It yielded thousands of tomatoes at one time from a single vine. The tomatoes were the size of golf balls and were served at Walt Disney World restaurants, the plant grown in Epcot, discovered by a unique plant frown in Beijing, China; introduced and grown by Epcot agricultural manager, Yong Huang.
The town of Buňol, Spain annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival that is centered upon an enormous tomato fight. Tomatoes are popular “nonlethal” throwing weapons in mass protests and once it was common to throw rotten tomatoes at bad performers on stage during the 19th century.
A film critic’s website has the name of Rotten Tomatoes.
Several US states have adopted the tomato as the state fruit (or vegetable).
VALERIAN: Valeriana officinalis of the family Valerianaceae is a hardy perennial flowering herb plant with sweetly scented pink or white flowers that boom in summer months. Valerian extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. Native to Europe and parts of Asia, it was introduced into North America.
In pharmacology and herbal medicine, it is a dietary supplement prepared from the roots of the plant, usually put into capsules. Valerian root possesses sedative and anxiolytic effects. The amino acid valine is named after this plant. It has been used as a medicinal herb since ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the envy of the elves. [Thorpe, Benjamin; Northern Mythology, Vol. 2, pp. 64-65]
VIOLET: The botanical plant Viola, a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae distributed around the world with 400-500 species. Some species are perennial plants, some are annual plants, and a few are small shrubs.
In folklore, violets that bloom out of season signifies approaching death. The plant is credited with curing coughs, sleeplessness, and fevers. It is widely used for ornamental gardens in either annual or perennial species.
VERVAIN: A genus in the family Verbanaceae that contains 250 species of annual and perennial herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants. The majority are native to the American continent and Europe. The European species comes from the American lineage. Some species are used in ornamental gardens and are valued for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
In ancient Greece it was dedicated to Eos Erigineia.
In early Christian history, a folk legend states that V. officinalis was used to fill Jesus’ wounds after removal from the cross. Thus, it was called “holy herb” in Wales, and in other places Devil’s bane.
The ancient Persians and Druids venerated the plant and continues to give importance to it through herbology and Wicca practices today. It has been called the enchanter’s plant, used to ward off evil, for various love charms, open locks (via spells), and an aphrodisiac.
Prosperity will come upon a household with Vervain kept within, and children who carry it with them to school will grow intelligent and friendly. People forget their quarrels with one another when sharing an infusion of Vervain. Vervain treated snakebites, cancer, piles, scrofula, epilepsy, and plague.
The ancient Romans used the sacred herb to sanitize their homes and temples.
It has been used to reduce cramps, muscle pain, and calm the nerves. Vervain, Verbena officinalis, brought to America by the Puritans and the native American species is called the American Verbena.
The Druid priests in ancient Celtic religion regarded Vervain as sacred as mistletoe.
Vervain may be used during childbirth to make the birthing process easier, but never taken while pregnant, for it’s been used in ancient and medieval history as an abortive potion.
WALNUT: This tree is famous for its wood and edible seed of the genus Juglans, especially the Persian walnut tree or English walnut tree. Walnuts, like other tree seeds, must be processed and stored properly. Poor storage makes them susceptible to insect and fungal mold infestation and produces aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen. Walnut seeds are a high-density source of nutrients, particularly proteins and essential fatty acids. Husks of walnut contain a juice that will stain anything it touches. It’s use as a dye for cloth far back into history. Raw walnuts are the most healthy because roasting them reduces the antioxidant qualities. It has been found to be effective in reducing unhealthy fats by eating as a regular diet, reducing fat that damages arteries. In 2012, a study showed that eating walnuts improved sperm quality in healthy young men.
As other trees, the walnut was sacred to Druids and was used in various remedies, as well as a protection against witches.
Ancient Romans stewed them to promote fertility (in 2012 this proved true), and later a divination element. Witches, in some cultures, favor the shelter of walnut trees in bad weather because it wards off lightning. However, if a walnut is placed beneath a witch’s chair she will not be able to move.
In Romania, a bride who wishes not to have children soon should place a roasted walnut in her bosom during her wedding and after the ceremony bury the nuts.
In folk medicine, walnuts cured sore throats and restored thinning hair according to Native American lore.
Compared to other nuts, like almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts, walnuts (especially raw) contain the highest level of antioxidants, including free antioxidants and antioxidants bound to fiber.
WILLOW: A deciduous tree or shrub found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate climates regions of the Northern Hemisphere noted for their drooping branches species called the Weeping Willow used in ornamental gardens. The Weeping Willow is a hybrid of Peking willow from China and white willow from Europe. Almost all willows take root readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. Legend has it that Alexander Pope, the poet, obtained a twig in Spain and sent it to Lady Suffolk who planted it and grew willows on her land; and all weeping willows in England are descendants from the single planted twig.
A small number of willow species were planted in Australia to control erosion along watercourses. They are now regarded as an invasive species and are being replaced with native trees. Willow roots grow widespread and aggressive as it seeks moisture, making it problematic when planted in residential areas where roots can clog drainage systems, weeping tiles, septic systems, storm drains, and sewer systems. This does not seem to be a problem with the modern PVC pipes that have less leakiness at the joints or problems from the roots of willow.
The use of the leaves and bark of willow trees is mentioned in ancient text from Assyria, Sumer, and Egypt as remedies for aches and fever. The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, wrote about its medicinal properties in the 5th century BC.
Native Americans across the Americas have relied upon the willow as a staple of their medical treatments because willow contains salicin, chemically resembling aspirin. Indeed, European scientists, French in 1763 (Henri Leroux) and Italian chemist, Raffaele Piria, succeeded in separating the compound from its pure state, creating aspirin, named so by Bayer AG, Felix Hoffman’s employer, credited for the first synthetic compound acetylsalicylic acid.
Humanities earliest manufactured items comes from the willow tree. A fishing net made from willow dates back to 8300 BC. Baskets, fish traps, wattle fences, and wattle and daub house walls were all woven from pliable willows. Willow wood has been used to make boxes, brooms, cricket bats, cradle boards, chairs and other furniture, veneer, wands, whistles and arrows.
Christian churches in northwestern Europe and the Ukraine often used willow branches in place of palms on Palm Sunday.
In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put on gates and/or front doors to ward off evil spirits on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of Hades allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth.
In Japanese folklore, the willow tree is associated with ghosts.
In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travelers.
Despite the reference in the Holy Bible in Psalm 137, trees that were growing in Babylon along the Euphrates River in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq), named gharab in early Hebrew, are not willows (Salix), but the Euphrates Poplar with willow-like leaves. Book of Psalm 137:
Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also cried in our remembering Zion. Upon the willows in the river’s midst we hung our lyres.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote a story entitled Under the Willow Tree (1853).
Wisdom of the Willow Tree is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a willow tree, and who addresses the tree as Grandfather.
In Persian literature, the adjective for willow is lunatic and lover (or lover’s heart) compared to willow in many texts.
The willow is the symbol of wisdom in Native American lore, as depicted in Pocahontas, an animated film by Disney Productions.
WYCH ELM: Modern common name is Witch Elm, attributed to ancient superstitions and medieval folklore regarded to be a lucky tree, and carrying a stick of Wych elm wood wards off evil things. Wych is an Old English word for witch. It is a native woodland tree found mostly in the northern areas of Britain (UK). The oldest and largest of which have been lost to Dutch Elm disease.
Elm trees in general are associated with melancholy and death, perhaps because its branches drop without warning – a serious danger to those below. Perhaps it is because elm was most often used to make coffins. In Lichfield, it was custom to gather a particular elm and sing psalms on Ascension Day.
In antiquity, yarrow was known as herbal militaris, used to stop the flow of blood from wounds. The Common Yarrow is a perennial plant, producing one to several stems. In North America, the plant has a strong, sweet scent, similar to chrysanthemums.
Legend has it that yarrow was the first herb held by infant Jesus, thus carrying some of it around will safeguard against evil spirits and witchcraft. Carrying yarrow at a wedding will ensure newlyweds will remain faithful for at least seven years.
Yarrow allegedly treats upset stomach and promotes menstruation in women whose period is not regular.
YEW: A common name to various species of trees, a conifer native to western, central, and southern Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran, and southwest Asia. Taxus baccata is the tree originally known as yew, though related trees are known as the English yew or the European yew. These evergreens grow slowly but live long with trunks being recorded as 4 metres in diameter and reaching ages of about 2,000 years. Based on archaeological evidence, yews may live up to 5,000 years.
Most parts of the tree are toxic, except the red aril surrounding the seed, which is ingested by birds. Horses have the lowest tolerance, but cattle, pigs, and other livestock are vulnerable as well to the major toxin of the yew – alkaloid taxane. The common yew was one of the species first described by Linnaeus.
The yew is often found in churchyards in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. In France, the oldest yew trees are almost all located in church yards of Normandy and a chapel was often laid out in the hollow trunk. It is said that 40 people could stand inside one of the La-Haye-de-Routot yew trees. Sometimes monks planted yews in the middle of their cloister, as at Muckross Abbey (Ireland).
In Austrian culture, the yew tree is a link between the land, the people, the ancestors, and ancient religion.
Because of the tree’s long life, it is associated with afterlife in many ancient cultures.
The oldest surviving yew longbow was found at Rotten Bottom in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland dated between 4040 BC and 3640 BC, on display in The National Museum of Scotland.
The trade of yew wood to England for longbows depleted the stocks of good-quality, mature yew. The first documented import of yew bowstaves to England was in 1294. In 1350 there was a serious shortage, and Henry IV of England ordered his royal bowyer to enter private land and cut yew and other woods. Supplies of yew wood (bowstaves) had become so insufficient that the Statue of Westminster of 1472 declared that every ship arriving at an English port must bring four bowstaves for every tun. Richard III of England increased that to ten for every tun. By 1568, despite a request from Saxony, there was no yew to be cut, and the next year Batavia and Austria failed to produce enough yew for the cause. Forestry records in the area in the 17th century do not mention yew, for mature trees had all been cut down. By this time, guns were replacing bows and the need for yew was reduced.
YULE LOG: A large and extremely hard log burned in the hearth as part of traditional Yule (Christmas) celebrations in several European cultures. It is associated with the Winter Solstice festival celebrated by the Celtics and Druids, which has become the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Twelfth Night holy periods. The Yule log is associated with Ashen faggot, a Yuletide tradition.
The person lighting a Yule log must first clean their hands.
The Yule log was generally a log of a beech wood tree.
In English folklore, Father Christmas was often depicted carrying a Yule log.