The Mystery of the Lost Roman Herb

Z. Gorvett – BBC News­uture/story/20170907­-the-mystery-of-the-­lost-roman-herb

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.


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