Step back in the time of mysteries and evil spirits, magic potions and mythical monsters, gods and goddesses and some truly bizarre myths. Stories that once upon a time were believed to be true! None more so than the many stories about the uses of our humble herbs and the importance of how they featured in peoples day to day lives. Now we’re not talking about the obvious medicinal or culinary purposes, but the more intriguing tales of rituals, beliefs and magic and what part herbs played in them. As with many rituals and beliefs, they have generally been passed down from generation to generation and often take on the characteristics of the time and place in which they are told.
It’s fascinating to think how herbs have survived all these years and still used to this day but more for medicinal and culinary uses than the uses mentioned here. Although if you do believe in evil spirits and magic potions then maybe you should give these herb superstitions a try, you just never know!
So bearing this in mind, on to our ancestor’s thoughts and beliefs;
The ancient Egyptians were fascinated with the afterlife where they could continue their life for eternity. Maybe this was because they died fairly young. Around 40 years was life expectancy back then due to (among other things) tuberculosis, diseases and infections that physicians were powerless to control or cure. So in a way it was maybe comforting for them to believe in the afterlife. Basil leaves were scattered around their deceased loved one’s body or placed in their hands to ensure a safe journey. They believed it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.
One English doctor believed that by just smelling basil it would make a scorpion grow in your brain!
Witches were said to drink basil tea before flying!
During the Middle Ages, dill was considered to have magical powers and could destroy all evil. People would make a drink from dill leaves as an antidote if a witch had cast a spell on them. They would also make a charm from dill leaves to protect themselves against evil spirits.
In ancient Greece and Rome, couples were crowned with wreaths of oregano at weddings to ensure a happy future.
Ancient Greeks believed that if oregano was growing on a grave, the deceased was happy. Also placing it on loved ones grave would help bring them joy.
From ancient Greece through the European Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to protect against evil spirits. Sprigs were placed under pillows or burned as incense to prevent bad dreams.
In some parts of Europe, it was believed that if an unmarried woman placed rosemary under her pillow, her future husband would be revealed to her in a dream.
At funerals, sprigs of rosemary were thrown into a grave as a sign that the departed would not be forgotten.
Knights wore scarves with thyme leaves sewn on them during tournaments in the Middle Ages as charms of bravery.
The Victorians would place thyme under their pillows for prophetic dreams and to improve memory. They also potted thyme with other herbs as a way of prediction. Each pot was assigned the name of a desired lover and the plants that grew the fastest and the strongest would predict the love match.
Borage was sometimes smuggled into the drink of prospective husbands to give them the courage to propose marriage.
The Romans believed that borage was an antidepressant, and ancient Celtic warriors took it for courage.
Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans and was linked associated with immortality.
The history of herbs is full of contradictions and superstitions. If you would like to explore more fascinating stories, take a look at our herb garden and take a journey back through time.