many cases, human life ends with death and burial in the ground.
Plants are just the opposite. They emerge from the earth and draw
nourishment from it. For this reason, many mythological traditions
associate plants with birth or rebirth and with the eternal cycle
of life springing forth from death.
magical plant or herb of immortality sought by Gilgamesh, the
hero of ancient Mesopotamian mythology, provides one example of
how myths use plants as symbols of life and of the healing power
of nature. However, because some plants yield poisons and some
die in winter, plants can also represent death and decay.
trees, shrubs, herbs, grains, flowers, and fruit appear in myths
and legends as general symbols of rebirth, decay, and immortality.
Some plants have acquired much more specific meaning in folklore.
The acanthus plant grows throughout much of the Mediterranean
region. Its large leaves appear in many ancient sculptures, especially
on top of columns in the Greek style called Corinthian. Legend
says that after a young girl's death, her nurse placed her possessions
in a basket near her tomb. An acanthus plant grew around the basket
and enclosed it. One day the sculptor Callimachus noticed this
arrangement and was inspired to design the column ornament.
The jointed, cane-like bamboo plant plays a role in Asian folklore.
Because bamboo is sturdy and always green, the Chinese regard
it as a symbol of long life. In the creation story of the Andaman
Islanders of the Indian Ocean, the first man is born inside a
large stalk of bamboo. Philippine Islanders traditionally believed
that bamboo crosses in their fields would bring good crops.
Beans have been an important food source for many cultures, except
for the ancient Egyptians, who thought beans were too sacred to
eat. Many Native Americans – from the Iroquois of the Northeast
to the Hopi of the Southwest – hold festivals in honor of
the bean. Europeans traditionally baked bean cakes for a feast
on the Christian holiday of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night.
ancient lore linked beans with the dead. The Greek philosopher
Pythagoras thought that the souls of the dead resided within beans,
while the Romans dreaded the lemurs – the evil spirits of
the dead – who brought misfortune on a home by pelting it
with beans at night.
ability to live forever
Deity: god or goddess
Grain-bearing cereal grasses, "the bread of life," are
basic to the diets of most cultures. Rice is the staple grain
throughout much of southern Asia. In many Asian cultures, people
perform rituals to honor the rice spirit or a deity of rice, usually
a female. Some peoples, such as the Lamet of northern Laos, believe
in a special energy or life force shared only by human beings
maize, a grain native to the Americas, is now called corn, many
Europeans traditionally used the word corn to refer to such grains
as barley, wheat, and oats. Europeans often spoke of female corn
spirits – either maidens, mothers, or grandmothers. Grain
waving in the wind, for example, was said to mark the path of
the Corn Mother. Such sayings may have come from ancient beliefs
that grains were sacred to harvest goddesses such as Greek Demeter
and Roman Ceres.
Central America, the Maya believed that human beings were made
from maize. After attempts with other materials failed, the gods
succeeded in creating people by using ground maize mixed with
The Druids of the British Isles regarded clover as sacred, with
both good and evil meanings. According to legend, however, St.
Patrick later converted the Pagan Irish to Christianity by using
the three-part cloverleaf as an example of the Trinity: God the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one. Clover came to represent
fertility and prosperity in English folklore, and dreaming of
clover foretold a happy marriage.
Legends from various parts of the world tell how people learned
of the stimulating properties of caffeine, contained in the beans
of the coffee bush. An Ethiopian story says that a goatherd noticed
that the beans from a particular bush made his goats unusually
alert and frisky. People sampled the beans and determined that
they might be useful for keeping people awake during evening religious
ceremonies. Similar tales from Europe and South America also relate
that people discovered the effects of caffeine in coffee by observing
The ginseng root has long been prized in Asia for its medicinal
properties. It was also thought to provide strength and sexual
energy. A Korean legend says that a poor boy caring for his dying
father prayed to the mountain spirit, who appeared to him in a
dream and showed him where to find ginseng. A drink made from
the root cured the father. Another legend tells of a man who found
ginseng and tried to sell it at a high price. When his greed led
to his arrest, he ate the root, which made him so strong that
he overpowered his guards and escaped.
The leaves and vine of the ivy, which remain green year round,
often symbolize immortality. The plant was associated with Dionysus,
the Greek god of wine (Roman Bacchus), who wore a crown of ivy
and carried a staff encircled with the vine.
The evergreen laurel tree or shrub occurs in many varieties, including
cinnamon and sassafras. Greek mythology says that Daphne, a nymph
who rejected the love of Apollo, was turned into a laurel tree.
The laurel was sacred to Apollo, whose priestesses were said to
chew its leaves in order to become oracles. The Greeks also crowned
some of their champions with laurel wreaths. According to English
mythology, if two lovers take a laurel stick, break it in half,
and keep the pieces, they will always remain faithful to each
The leek – vegetable with a stalk of leaves layered like
the skins of an onion – is the national emblem of Wales.
According to legend, St. David, the patron saint of Wales, ordered
a troop of Welsh soldiers to put leeks in their caps to identify
each other during a battle. When the Welsh side won, the soldiers
thanked the saint – and the leek – for the victory.
The mandrake plant has properties that bring on sleep or reduce
pain. Many folklore traditions link the plant with sexual behavior.
In the biblical book of Genesis, for example, Jacob's wife, Leah,
obtains mandrake root to become pregnant. The Arabs called the
plant devil's apples because they considered the arousal of sexual
desire to be evil. Medieval Christians associated the mandrake
with devil worship, and witches were believed to make images of
their victims from mandrake root. According to one European tradition,
a mandrake root cries out when pulled from the ground.
Flour made from the manioc root is a traditional staple food of
the Amazon peoples of South America. A story about Mani, an old,
much-loved village leader, explains the origin of manioc. Before
dying, Mani promised to come back to take care of his people,
and he told them to dig in the ground a year after his death.
What they found was the manioc root, Mani's body turned into food.
Trio people of South America have a myth about Paraparawa, who
lived before people were farmers. Paraparawa caught a big fish
one day, but just as he was about to eat it, the fish became a
beautiful woman. Paraparawa wanted to marry the woman, so she
asked her father to bring a wedding feast. Out of the river he
came, a huge alligator – some say a giant snake –
with yams, yucca, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Following his bride's
instructions, Paraparawa put the food in the ground. Each plant
then became a hundred plants and provided plenty of food for all.
Later Paraparawa planted the remains of the meal, which became
another bountiful harvest. This is how people learned to farm.
The mistletoe plant, which grows in trees, appears in European
legends as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, perhaps because
it remains green all winter. Unlike most plants, mistletoe thrives
without being rooted in soil. This may explain why many cultures
have believed it to be heavenly or supernatural. Mistletoe has
also been said to offer protection from sorcery and evil spells.
The Druids believed that mistletoe had great healing properties,
especially if it was gathered without the use of a knife and never
allowed to touch the ground.
Africans compare the mistletoe on a tree to the soul in the body,
and they believe that mistletoe in a house brings good luck. In
Norse mythology, mistletoe was sacred to the beloved god Balder,
but the evil god Loki used trickery to kill Balder with a stalk
of mistletoe fashioned into a dart.
An evergreen shrub, myrtle is associated with birth and rebirth
in European mythology. The ancient Greeks carried myrtle with
them when they colonized new lands to symbolize the beginning
of a new life. The Greeks also associated myrtle with Aphrodite,
the goddess of love.
The Greeks believed that the herb parsley grew from the blood
of a hero named Achemorus, who was killed by a serpent. At games
held in his honor, they crowned the winners with parsley wreaths.
Both the Greeks and the Romans regarded parsley as a symbol of
death and rebirth. They often put parsley on tombs, and someone
"in need of parsley" was on the verge of death.
A Scottish legend tells how the thistle, a plant with purple blooms
and prickly stems and leaves, became a national emblem. Around
A.D. 950, Norse raiders invaded Scotland. As they crept toward
a Scottish camp after dark, one of them stepped on a thistle.
The resulting cry of pain awoke the Scots, who drove the invaders
away and saved Scotland.
The tobacco plant originated in the Americas, and smoking dried
tobacco leaves was part of many Native American rituals. Native
Americans of different regions developed various
about tobacco: In the Southwest and Central America, tobacco is
associated with rainfall because tobacco smoke resembles clouds
that bring rain. A story from southeastern North America says
that tobacco's origin was related to sex. A young man and woman
who were traveling left the path to make love. They married soon
afterward. Later the man passed the place again and found a sweet-smelling
plant growing there. His people decided to dry it, smoke it, and
call it "Where We Came Together." The couple's life
together was happy and peaceful, so the flower produced by their
love – tobacco – was smoked at meetings intended to
In a myth from the African country of Kenya, the creator god Ruwa
made humans immortal and gave them a paradise to live in but ordered
them not to eat one plant growing there – the edible root
known as the yam. One day Death told the people to cook the yam
for him. When Ruwa learned what the people had done, he took away
following plants, according to Scott Cunningham, possess the power
to attract good luck:
aloe vera, bamboo, banyan, be-still, bluebell, cabbage, calamus,
Chinaberry, cinchona, cotton, daffodil, devil's-bit, ferns, grains
of paradise, hazel, holly, houseleek, huckleberry, Irish moss,
Job's tears, linden, lucky hand root, moss, nutmeg, oak, orange,
persimmon, pineapple, pomegranate, poppy, purslane, rose, snakeroot,
star anise, straw, strawberry, sumbul, vetivert, violet, and wood
rosemary and St.
John's Wort are said to bring good luck to a home, as well
as to drive out demons and ghosts. But the two luckiest plants
to bring indoors, according to English herb lore, are white
heather and rowan tree.
the Welsh countryside, as well as in other parts of the world,
it is believed that bad luck will befall any person who dares
to pick a leaf or flower growing atop a
was once widely believed among country folk that it was unlucky
to bring into the house a bunch of primroses
or daffodils totaling any number less than 13. Doing so
was said to have an adverse effected upon the fertility of chickens
and geese, causing them to lay fewer eggs.
is extremely unlucky to bring blackthorn
into the house. A blossoming branch from this plant is believed
by some folks to precipitate an illness or death in the family
when brought indoors.
planted near the house or brought indoors will curse your daughters
with spinsterhood, and parsley (if it is
given as a gift) will impart the worst of luck to both
the giver and the recipient.
plants said to invite bad luck when brought into a house include
broom (especially if brought in during the
month of May), dog rose, elder, gorse (also known as furze flower),
hawthorn, heather (unless it is white), ivy, lilac, lilyof-the-valley,
pussy willow, snowdrops, and the flowers of any plant, shrub,
or tree (especially fruit-bearing ones) that bloom out of season.
blooms and elder flowers, Fill a house with evil powers."
~~ An old English saying ~~
speedwell was once thought to be
an unlucky flower. So unlucky, in fact, many young children were
often warned not to gather it lest their mothers would die before
the year was done. In some parts of England, it is still believed
by some that picking speedwell (also known
as "bird's-eye") will cause one's eyes to be
pecked out by birds!
any type of white flowers into the house
will result in a death in the family, according to an old superstition.
avoid bad luck, white flowers should never
be given to the ill or brought
yew into one's home
is also said to be a very unlucky thing to do. Some folks believe
that if it is brought indoors at Christmas, a family member will
meet his or her demise within the next 12 months.
Source Unknown ~~