Many plants have a rich history of fact,folklore, symbolism and mythology that often dates back thousands of years. Generally, the plants that have the most lore connected with them are those which were most useful to man as food, medicine, or commercial products of those which impressed him with special characteristics such as striking size, beauty, or longevity. But plant folklore symbols and myths also represent men’s efforts- ranging from naïve to sophisticated – to fulfill basic human psychological needs, especially the need to explain the unknown.
As modern, 20th century folk we may be tempted to react with amused condescention toward these stories, but in the wholesale discarding of old beliefs we may also run the risk of losing more than we gain. Both the tenacity and the symbolic richness of legendary stories suggest that they have a psychological validity that survives even when we can no longer believe them literally .
With so much still left to discover about the mind and world of man, we can hardly afford to throw away anything we may already have learned. But even aside from such weighty considerations both fact and fiction in plant history make interesting reading in themselves. By providing a glimpse into the past, they let us see even the most familier of plants around us in a new light. The dandelion in your lawn or the parsley on your plate may never be the same again.
THE HISTORY OF GARLIC.
Garlic has a long history as a food plant. In Egypt several thousand years before Christ, garlic was given for strength and nourishment to the laborers who built the pyramids. The bible records that the Israelites who lived in Egypt at the time of Moses also ate garlic before their exodus out of that country. Like the Egyptians, the Romans gave garlic to their laborers and their soldiers ate it in the belief that it inspired courage. Thus it was dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war.
Garlic has also been valued for its medicinal and antiseptic values. Garlic has seen use since ancient times in the West and the Orient as an antiseptic medicine against the plague and for many other ailments besides. Even today in rural New Mexico, garlic is worn strung on a necklace to preserve against infection from diphtheria. Because of its strong odor and antiseptic properties, seventeenth century sailors used it in cooking their stale and rotting food supplies, especially their meats.
Since the ancients believed that many diseases were the result of evil spells, garlic with its effective medicinal qualities was thought to possess magical power over evil; thus it was used in many charms or countercharms. In Greek legend, Odysseus used moly, a wild garlic, as a charm to keep the sorceress Circo from turning him into a pig.
In the Middle Ages, garlic was considered strong against the evil eye, witches and demons. Another tradition still held in rural New Mexico is the use of garlic as a charm to help a young girl rid herself of an unwanted boyfriend. She would first put a piece of garlic and two crossed pins in a spot where two roads intersect, and then she must get the boy to walk over the charm without noticing it. If the task is accomplished successfully, the boy will miraculously lose all interest in her. ( Personally I think the smell of garlic would put him off anyway) I will follow with another interesting piece of history about Ginseng.
The name Ginseng is derived from the Chinese words for ” likeness of man ” because its roots sometimes resemble a human figure. (The Chinese consider such roots to be the most efficacious medicinally and will pay high prices for them). Ginseng’s genus name Panax, like the word panacea, comes from the Greek word panakeia, meaning “all healing” .This refers to the plant’s reputation as a Chinese cureall – a reputation it has enjoyed for thousands of years.
To the Chinese, ginseng is a tangible link between man and the unseen spiritual reality on which existence is based: they believe that the gensing plant contains an embodiment of the great spirit of the universe. When a ginseng hunter finds the plant growing wild, he will first kneel in prayer, claiming that his soul is pure and asking that the great spirit remain in the plant. Its efficacy thus assured, he digs up the root and takes it home – probably for his own use rather than for the herb market, since wild specimens are very rare. Most ginseng used for medicinal purposes is cultivated, some of it in the United Sates. In the early 1900’s ginseng was one of the nations chief moneymaking export crops; and most of the ginseng grown in the U.S. today is still exported.
It is a custom to have oral thick paste in the start of winter for the people of Suzhou. In ancient times, the rich family would use red ginseng, dried logan and walnuts to make a soup which had the effects of nourishing vitality and invigorating of blood and supporting the yang.
NOTE: There will be more on the Legends and Lore of plants in further posts.