Long ago, in the ancient city of Cyrene, there was a herb called silphium. It didn’t look like much – with stout roots, stumpy leaves and bunches of small yellow flowers – but it oozed with an odiferous sap that was so delicious and useful, the plant was eventually worth its weight in gold. To list its uses would be an endless task … Then there were the medical applications. Silphium was a veritable wonder herb, a panacea for all manner of ailments … But today, silphium has vanished – possibly just from the region, possibly from our planet altogether … With just a handful of stylised images and the accounts of ancient naturalists to go on, the true identity of the Romans’ favourite herb is a mystery. Some think it was driven to extinction, others that it’s still hiding in plain sight as a Mediterranean weed.
Z. Gorvett – BBC News