The folklore of herbs

Herbs are a lovely addition to gardens and kitchens alike. They smell great, add flavor to dishes, and some are often touted as good companion plants (basil and tomatoes don’t just taste great together, they grow well together too!). But have you ever thought of the legends behind these herbs?
Northside community garden mentor Sarah Johnson recently shared some interesting herb folklore with us during an herb workshop she led in June. Here are a few tidbits on some herbal history and other interesting facts, mostly referenced from the Herb Society of America.



  • Basil likely originated in Africa or Asia. It made its way to England from India in the mid-1500’s and then to North America in the early 1600’s
  • Basil is associated with the astrological sign Scorpio. It was once thought to cause spontaneous generation of scorpions and to cause scorpions to grown in the brain (scary!)
  • Despite this frightening legend, holy basil (known as Tulsi Basil) is sacred in Hindu tradition – during times of British rule, it was even used in place of a bible during oath. Tulsi basil is a Hindu symbol of love, eternal life, purification, and protection
  • Basil also has a reputation as being a good luck charm, good for exorcisms, and attracting wealth


  • Did you know that cilantro and coriander are one and the same? Well, sort of. Cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant, whereas coriander refers to the plant’s tiny, round seeds. BUT, in Europe, it’s just all called coriander.
  • Cilantro’s history is traced back to Middle Eastern, North African, European and Asian cuisines. Seeds that were 8,000 years old were found in caves in Israel.
  • In ancient Egypt, coriander was believed to be used as food in the afterlife and so was often gifted to the deceased.
  • Cilantro has a reputation of being a very polarizing herb – some people love it, some people hate it. One theory: some people are predisposed to be genetically intolerant to cilantro.
  • Learn more about cilantro’s controversy in this NPR article.


  • Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, typically growing in dry, rocky areas near the coast
  • Rosemary’s genus name is Rosmarinus, which is derived from two latin words: ros and marinus. Together, these words translate to “dew of the sea”
  • Greek scholars would often wear a garland of rosemary during examinations to improve their memory
  • In folklore Rosemary is linked to remembrance, happiness, loyalty, and love during funerals and weddings
  • Rosemary has a long history of being an important medicinal herb. In fact, it is thought that a concoction of rosemary oil and alcohol cured the crippled Queen Elizabeth of Hungary after she rubbed the mixture into her joints



  • Dill is also thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, nearly 5,000 years ago
  • Despite dill’s reputation as a weed in many of our community garden plots, its name means to calm or soothe
  • Dill is also known as “meetinghouse seeds” because its seeds were often chewed during long religious ceremonies to keep kids quiet and church members awake
  • Roman gladiators would eat dill to boost their courage and valor

Thanks for reading our garden notes this week!  I will be back next week with more garden ideas and tips.  Like what you read? Subscribe, right up there in the right side bar.  Until next week. . .