Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Holy Shit, Silphium!

I decided to go a little festive for this week's entry and talk about Silphium. It's nearly Valentine's Day, after all, so it's only appropriate. Silphium was an herb that was so valued for its flavor and medicinal properties that it was said to be worth its weight in silver. It's been found on ancient coins from Cyrene in North Africa. And its seed pod looked like this:
Silphium Coin from Cyrene
Yes. That's why it's festive.

If that looks more like a heart symbol to you than an actual heart does, you might be onto something. In fact, it's possible that Silphium seed pods are the origin of the heart symbol as we know it. There are other theories, too, but it's usually best not to illustrate them.
This close, they always look like landscape.

Silphium was apparently a wonder plant. It was described as an incredibly aromatic herb that every good cook should always have in their kitchen. It was also used for a medicinal purposes, treating all maladies that stretched from sore throats to pregnancy.

The reason this plant is thought to be the origin of the heart symbol, you see, is that it may have been an early form of birth control. And what could be more romantic than sending your sweetheart a message that says, in essence, "I want to have consequence-free sex with you."
"I Birth Control New York" has...what I'll call an interesting ring to it.

Alas, the ancient civilizations eventually had to give up their herbal anti-baby love drug. Through some combination of over-harvesting, over-tilling, over-consumption, or over-grazing, Silphium became extinct early on in the Common Era, around the time of Nero.

The way I choose to see it is that people were so excited to discover that they could easily make with the hanky-panky and not worry about babies, they all ran out to the fields and harvested the shit out of Silphium until there simply weren't none left for nobody. Thus did the promise of copulation lead to the demise of a pillar of the North African economy.

Holy shit. Happy Valentine's Day!

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