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Medicinal plants in the myth


Many of our medicinal and poisonous plants are named after ancient myths, and their figures are reflected in the properties of the herbs. The myths of the Greeks are particularly productive. They designate plants as well as psychological symptoms, organic diseases as well as physically abnormal. The legends can still be seen in the Latin and sometimes German names.

The ancient Greeks saw the world in constant development. The forms of life kept changing, the gods took the form of people, animals and plants. They fathered children with people and animals who were gods as well as people or animals. In contrast to Christian creation, new things could be created. They turned people into animals, mostly as punishment, or into plants. Herbs and flowers also came from tears from gods and milk from goddesses.

In contrast to Christianity, the world of the Greeks was not invented for humans. People could only approach it by means of the mind, grasp it by logic, and give it meaning by myth, and some Greek philosophers like Aristotle strictly differentiated between scientific facts and mythical narrative. The gods of the Greeks hide in the diversity of nature.

Linné, one of the most important naturalists of the 18th century, found this dynamic nature with its development and decay probably more realistic than the Christian teaching of an unchangeable creation of God that was valid at the time. He systematically classified plants and animals and introduced the system of Latin generic names that still applies today, in which the epithet indicates the specific species. He found the names for the plants in antiquity and, like the transformations in the myth itself, referred to the properties of the plants, which also characterize the ancient storylines. Christian names used in German such as St. John's wort, daffodil or peony scientifically became pagan titans, daffodils or songs for the god of light Apollo.

The Adonis floret

Adonis aestuvalis, the summer Adonis floret, a buttercup family contains cardiac glycosides that relieve cardiac arrhythmias. Psychologically, it should also help against the "broken heart" disease if the heart gets out of rhythm with lovesickness.

An Adonis is still a good-looking man in everyday language. The king's daughter Myrrha turned into a tree and her pregnant belly became its trunk. This swelled over the next few months, then it burst and came out Myrrha's son, namely Adonis.

The mortal was so beautiful that the gods and goddesses wanted him. Artemis, the virgin hunting goddess, was after him as well as Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. But the two had no chance against the goddess of love Aphrodite, who seduced Adonis in all her appearances.

She enchanted him as Chryse (the golden one), she entered into a purely platonic relationship with him as heavenly Urania, she aroused the desire for him as Kallipygos (the one with the beautiful buttocks) and she grabbed him as a porne (the whore). Adonis became her lover.

But one of his passions was hunting, which is why he moved around with the less erotic Artemis, but this remained as frustrated as Persephone. If they could not have the coveted youth, then at least none of them should have him either, the two thought and came up with an evil plan. Artemis created a monstrous boar that devastated the farmers' fields and, thanks to its divine origin, evaded all hunters.

Adonis wanted to put the pig's tusks at the feet of his lover and prepare a jelly from his head. Aphrodite was still asleep when her lover went hunting. She woke up after a nightmare in which she saw the death of Adonis. Instead of Aphrodite's mistress, Persephone appeared and told Aphrodite that Adonis was in the Hades of Hades. Then Artemis came in and brought the boar 's teeth, reporting how the animal killed Adonis and how she had shot the wild boar with an arrow. Men dragged their lover's bloody corpse.

She closed the outer wounds with nectar so that Adoni's body shone again in full beauty, then embalmed it with myrrh. Their tears fell to the ground and wherever they touched the earth sprouted white anemones, which the Greeks symbolized as separation and death. The man Adonis was buried, but Zeus had other plans for him, and he made mortal a god. Since then Adonis has brightened the upper and lower world with its beauty. He spends a third of his time hunting with Artemis, another third with the somber Persephone, and the last third with his beloved Aphrodite.

The Greeks associated another flower with the myth. So life sprouted where Adoni's blood dripped onto the floor, and this flower is the Adonis floret.

The Hercules

Heracleum giganteum, the giant hogweed, contains furocomarins that trigger toxic reactions - both when touched and by inhalation. The poison causes blisters on the skin and a burning pain. The Herkulesstaude is a perennial umbellifer, grows up to four meters high and the leaves alone are over one meter long.

Hercules, Greek Herakles, was a son of Zeus, a demigod and the muscle man among the ancient heroes. Zeus impregnated the Queen of Thebes, Almene, in the form of her husband. Zeus' wife, the goddess Hera, took the baby to her breast. Before she knew it, the baby sucked and acquired superhuman strength. Hercules the Kentaur Cheiron taught medical knowledge with the torso of a man and the torso, legs and tail of a stallion.

Hercules was of oversized physique and he also shot poisonous arrows, no wonder that the naturalist Linné dedicated hogweed to him. The epithet gigantaeus also refers to giants, but to pure villains, in contrast to Hercules, in which the good sides covered his dark deeds.

The battle between gods and titans was, so to speak, the big bang of Greek creation. The gods won and locked the titans in the underworld of Tartaro. Earth mother Gaia felt sorry for these giants, whom she had given birth to, just like the gods. She took the severed penis of the god Uranos, fertilized herself with it and gave birth to monsters. The giants were also giants, but with scale skin like reptiles and snakes on their feet. They climbed out of a crack in the earth and covered the world with war. Wherever they raged, grass literally stopped growing.

They piled mountains on top of each other in order to storm Mount Olympus from there. Almost all giants were mortal, and so the immortal gods struck them down. One of the attackers, Alkyoneus, rose again every time he sank to the ground.

Apollo realized that only one could defeat this resurrector - and that was Hercules. Hercules slipped on the sandals, grabbed the club, bow, arrows and lion skin and came just in time when the fiend had taken hold of Hera. He slapped his club on the head, which distracted the reptile giant, struck again with Alkyoneus, then jerked him up and held him in the air. The giant, however, could only be resurrected if it touched the earth and after a long time in the air, he died.

The name Heraclum giganteum therefore shows an ambivalence. With the surname the idiosyncrasies of the giant bear claus move into the negative. Like the giants, nothing else grows where hogweed is rampant, and poisoning from the Hercules tree fills the Yellow Press.

The hellhound's tears

Hercules had passed a number of heavenly commands, captured the Erymanic boar, driven out the stymphalic birds, and fetched the apples from the Hesperides. But King Eurystheus of Tiryn, his cousin, came up with another task that was sure to end the hero's life.

Hercules was to bring Kerberos, the dog that guarded the underworld. Kerberos should have between three and fifty heads, the Greeks did not agree, his eyes shone in blue and yellow, his tail were poisonous snakes, and his hair was viper.

Dogs had a bad reputation with the Greeks, and the cynics (cynics), a school of philosophy, were notorious for their "biting" ridicule. Besides, they shouldn't wash themselves, and their speeches decomposed like a canid's stomach acid. The story was not very dramatic: Hercules came to Hades, argued with the ferryman Charon, who accompanied the deceased across the Styx River into the underworld, but overpowered him and forced him to drive the hero into the underworld. Kerberos greeted him happily, the hero put a collar on him and brought him to the palace of Eurystheus. When the dog came into the sunlight, he whined because this being of darkness couldn't stand the light.

The king startled when he saw the monster, hid in a clay jug and ordered Hercules to bring the dog back to where he had found it. Hero and dog went the same way they came - but flowers were growing everywhere now. Hercules remembered that tears from Kerbero's eyes had wetted the earth right here. The flowers were beautiful blue, yellow, and white, and their shape was reminiscent of hats; the stems alone reached the size of a small man.

Hercules saw the danger because his teacher, the horse man Cheiron, had instructed him in botany. They were buttercups and Hercules knew their poison. Thus the genus Aconitum was born with the Greeks. Aconitin is the strongest plant poison in Europe. Three milligrams can kill a person, it is enough to touch the plant, because the poison penetrates through the skin. The poisoning begins with a burning sensation in the mouth and tingling in the fingers, followed by sweating and nausea, then the sensory sensations cease, followed by respiratory paralysis, cardiac arrest and death.

Arcadia's cattle died of Kerbero's tears because the animals ate the storm hat. The shepherds were clever, however, and used the gift of the underworld for their own purposes: they poisoned sheep carcasses with the yellow flowers of the storm hat. They contain lyoconitin, the wolf poison, and the prepared bait took the wolves away. Today, the yellow storm hat therefore bears the name Aconitum lycoctonum, the wolf shrike.

The glowing St. John's wort

The Titan Hyperion was called the "widely shining". He embodied righteousness, and the ancient Greeks therefore called him as an oath in court. Plants under his sign were suitable to drive away dark spirits.

Hyperion's warmth and light made the plants grow, being careful not to burn the delicate green. Hyperium, the St. John's wort, was assigned to the giant; its bright yellow flowers probably led to this association because they sprout like the sun of a child's drawing. St. John's wort reflects the property of the mythical giant, because it brightens the mood in the dark season.

Lilium Candidum

The lily also owes its existence to Hercules - at least in the myth. When the hero sucked on Hera's chest, a few drops of milk fell to the floor. From this came the lilies, the symbol of innocence. The ancient world saw her as the flower of Hera, especially in the form of Hera-Pais, the eternal virgin. But Aphrodite spoiled this "pure flower". She embodied sexual love and planted a pistil in the shape of a donkey penis in the virgin lily.

Nymphaea - Seductive Plant Spirits

In front of the human women, far more tempting beings populated nature, the nymphs. Different genera of them animate the springs and trees, dryads, hamadryads, naiads and oriads. The dryads lived in oak, the melia in ash. What we have left are the nymphs on ponds and lakes. This is where the lotus plants, Nymphaea caerulea, grow, opening their red and white flowers when light shines on them.

Artemisia - the virgin mugwort

Artemis was the mistress of the forest, she appeared as a crescent, while the full moon goddess Selene and the new moon goddess Hekate were originally aspects of her. Artemis was not only very prude, she also defended her virginity with extreme brutality. For a long time it was a mystery that the Greeks depicted this untouched natural goddess in statues with a hundred breasts, until it turned out that these "breasts" were actually testes of sacrificed bulls.

The early forms of Artemis reflect the powerful and menacing goddesses of the archaic hunters. Their virginity had nothing to do with the submissive chastity of the Christian Madonna; Although they could appear like elves in a fantasy novel, as ethereal beings like the shadow of a deer peeking shyly out of the thicket, they also expressed the destructive aspects of nature - they were predators, and for Artemis the bear stood for itself takes care of her young as lovingly as she tears up the one who makes her angry.

Men who approached the divine hunter with sexual intentions paid with their lives, and even the charming Apollo didn't even try. Girls consecrated to the goddess, the "arktoi" did not let a man come to them, a sensible method of contraception at the time: exposing children or aborting them at risk of life were the alternatives.

In childhood, the girls joined the Artemis cult, and most left it with the first menstruation. Few remained in the forest and continued to serve the goddess; they were then forbidden to meet men. If they violate this commandment, Artemis will punish them without mercy. Artemis particularly protected the virgins, but also the parturients, which is also logical when it comes from the archaic “mother of animals”, who gives birth to life. Artemis fought child bed fever, but mostly her adversary Thanatos prevailed, who brought the deceased women into the underworld.

Artemisia vulgaris, the mugwort, and Artemisia absinthum, the wormwood promote menstruation and were widely used as an abortion agent. The ancient Greeks used sagebrush to open the womb and start the menstrual period.

Artemisia abrotanum strengthens blood formation and therefore helps mothers who have lost a lot of blood at birth. The Greeks put them under the pillow when they suffered from childlessness, but the husband was not allowed to know about it. Holding a branch of Abronatum in your hand and calling Artemis should help fight infertility.

The fourth Artemisia species, the tarragon, played no role in fertility and contraception, but the Greeks used it to protect themselves against snake bites.

Lamium ssp. - The devouring labiate

A monster lurked in the deepest depths of Hades, which fertilized the myths for millennia. The modern Christian witch hunters also called Lamien the witches who supposedly copulated with the devil and thus gained power for their evil spells. In ancient Rome, the lamias became nightly horrors, which entered the houses in the form of birds and sucked the blood out of the vampire-style infants, which explained the sudden child death.

The original Lamia, however, lived in the underworld of the Greeks, and its monster body was that of a snake as that of a woman. Originally a goddess who was as clever as she was beautiful, she moved into the crosshairs of the gods Casanova Zeus. As usual with the sperm distributor, he made her pregnant several times, then put it down like a wet towel and let her sit with the children.

The abandoned raced with despair as much as with anger. She couldn't get to the producer, so she took out her anger on the children. She murdered her crop and swallowed it up afterwards. Now post mortem Zeus' fatherly instincts stirred and he punished his ex-wife, turned her into a dragon-like monster and gave her the darkest spot in the Tartaros as home. The reptile stared into the darkness with lidless eyes, to sleep, if she had to take her eyes out, they would continue to watch. The Greeks also told each other other variants: In an alternative version, Zeus became so wild that he in turn ate Lamia, which was then reborn as Athena from his head.

Laimos means throat or throat. Linné named an entire family after this figure, the Lamiaceae. In German, these devourers are called lip-bloomers. You have a win-win relationship with bumblebees; the bumblebee feeds on the nectar and pollinates the flower at the same time. But the eye sees something else at first: A bumble bee that crawls into the "lip flowers" looks as if it were devoured.

In contrast to its ancient model, lamium, the dead nettle, is completely harmless.

The golden herb of the horse men

The Greeks populated forests and steppes, mountains and seas with creatures that were half human and half animal. The saytyre had the torso of men or monkeys, but the legs, ears and lower abdomen of horny billy goats; the Silene instead the legs of horses. The role of these beasts was mostly ambivalent, and some were vicious to humans.

The centaurs with the body of a horse, four legs, hooves, a tail, and the torso and body of a man were also wild fellows: they robbed and raped human women, they broke into people like a barbarian cavalry, even when they were themselves met for peaceful feasts with the people, they beat everything short and small in the Suff.

Some historians believe that the Centaur myth reflects the encounter of the farmers with the horsemen, the Scythians, who penetrated from the steppes of southern Russia to the north of today's Greece, and devastated the country like a force of nature from the perspective of sedentary farmers. For farmers who did their work on foot and used horses and donkeys primarily as pack animals and draft animals, the men who lived in the saddle must have appeared like beings who had grown into their mounts.

There were female centaurs, but the wild horse men preferred to mate with human women. Robbery was her passion, and here too, a real experience is probably passed down. Indeed, in fact, the robbery of women in ancient times determined the relationship between sedentary and equestrian nomads. Mounted warriors were almost always superior to the settlers who tilled their fields; they moved around in small groups in their tent camps, and therefore the inbreeding pressure was great. For centuries, abducting women from the settled was a cruel and successful strategy to maintain the incest taboo.

The other behavior of the Centaurs, who violently overthrew the Greeks, robbed them of what they could carry, but did not do any permanent work, very well corresponds to the usual relationship between farmers and equestrian peoples. It seems likely that this experience was left in negative memory for the Greeks, and even the Centaurs did not arise from the good idea of ​​a gentle god: Ixion, a man murdered his father-in-law and thus gave birth to the relatives. The light god Apollo punished the criminal with insanity, but Zeus irritated such outlaws. He not only forgave the mortal, but even gave him immortality.

That didn't change anything about Ixion's bad character. He was now on Mount Olympus and patted Hera, the godfather's wife. She fled to her bedroom, the craving stumbled and pounced on the beautiful woman who was lounging in bed. It was an illusion, he reached into the void, and instead the whole group of gods pressed the instigator. Zeus also got involved with everyone he wanted, whether goddess, human woman or female animal, but he set a different standard for his own marriage.

Nephele, the goddess of the fog, had pretended to be Hera's illusion, and the cursed Ixion had impregnated this fog. The subsidiary goddess gave birth to a child, Kentauros, the horse man. Just as lustfully as his father, the offspring mated the wild mares, and from that the Centaurs emerged, which retained the bad qualities of their grandfather.

However, one of them struck out of the species. Cheiron lived in a cave and taught his students the secrets of nature. More than that, he instructed her to treat all creatures with respect. Even half human, half animal and at the same time of divine origin, he claimed that humans, animals and plants have the same origin. Orpheus, Jason and Achilles attended his school.

The horse man founded medicine. He was the first surgeon and understood what we now call naturopathy: he treated diseases and wounds with the medicinal plants of Greece. One of his most important herbs is said to be the centaury herb. Centaurium erythrea is a gentian family with pink flowers. The taste is bitter.

Centaurium can be taken as a tea or tincture. It helps against liver diseases such as bile and anemia. It also aids digestion, has traditionally been used as a remedy for fever, helped with inflammation of the eye, against ulcers and relieved the symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption. New studies also see the Centaur herb as an aid to prevent tumors.

Wild garlic

The bear was the animal of the hunting goddess Artemis in Greece, and bear cults were at the center of the early hunting rites. Hunters and predators saw themselves as part of the animal kingdom. Animals were other people's egos, people could mate with them, talk to their spirits and change their identity.

At the same time, people perceived inside and outside, dream and waking world, which led to ideas of a here and now and a beyond. However, these worlds were not strictly separated, but influenced each other, and cross-border commuters, the shamans, crossed these bridges. Killing an animal made the hunter guilty and forced him to restore harmony between the worlds through rites or sacrifices. Through physical agitation, dances, chants and trance, the shaman put himself in a state in which he believed he was traveling to the other world.

We find bear ceremonies not only among the Indians of America, the peoples of Siberia, but also in finds from the Paleolithic Age. According to Egon Wimmers, it is the "archetypal dream image of a primal religion of humanity that survived in the hyperborean distance". According to Wilfried Rosenthal, it goes too far to speak of a "cave bear cult" as a fixed ceremony in the Paleolithic, but it has been proven that there was a special relationship between humans and cave bears in the last ice age.

Even in the 20th century, the circumpolar hunter peoples embeded bear hunts in cult ceremonies, the Scandinavian seeds as well as the Voguls, Samoyads, Evenki, Yakuts or Chukchi - indigenous Kamchatka people as well as the Ainu in Japan.

The brown bear appeared to our ancestors as a hybrid: its skeleton resembles that of an extremely strong person; he can stand upright and is a sole-walker like us. He's an eater like us, he even masturbates like we do. Therefore, he often appears in the myths as a disguised person or even as an ancestor. For this reason, the death of a bear was always considered a dangerous event in hunters. The bear's spirit could take revenge, its soul could find a new body, or the hunters had accidentally killed an ancestor.

Bear hunts therefore followed strict rules: the bear was approached and deceived like a human. When the Karelier came to the cave in which he hibernated, they shouted: "Now get up, dear bear, to receive your guests." The bear was often circumscribed so as not to call him: his name was "old man" or "Father". Conversely, when a bear killed a human being, the hunters did not treat it as they did with other animals, because they assumed that the bear had a human intention and behaved in this way. They practiced blood vengeance on the bear as well as on a person who murdered a member of the clan.

In many cultures the bear was considered a healer, and in some Indian peoples a bear spirit was even the creator of medicine. On the one hand, this was due to his strength, on the other hand, he came out of his winter cave when life sprouted from the earth in spring. The Chukchi in northern Siberia attributed the same skills to him as a shaman.

But what was crucial was his diet: bears dig up roots and, like other animals, eat medicinal herbs when they are sick. Bear's garlic, the leek of the bear, is a relative of the garlic. In April it covers the ground of light forests, it particularly spreads in riparian forests and pervades them with its spicy smell.

In contrast to garlic, wild garlic does not evaporate through the skin, but only through the mouth, and this leek smell is also comparatively mild. Wild garlic was considered both a herb and a medicinal plant, and our ancestors probably believed that bears ate the leek to fortify themselves. When a person did that, he also developed bear powers.

Then there is the bear's subtle sense of smell. Bears can smell food over many kilometers, and the hunter-nations recognized this and therefore attributed clairvoyant powers to him. The "bear's garlic" can therefore also have its origin in the fact that the vapors of this plant attract the bears with their fine noses. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Swell:

  • Bernd Hertling: How the squab became the strawberry: (medicinal) plants in the Greek myth, Mediengruppe Oberfranken; Edition: March 1, 2006
  • Egon Wamers: Bear cult and shaman magic: rituals of early hunters, quick & steiner; Edition: November 1, 2015
  • Mircea Eliade: shamanism and archaic ecstasy technique, Suhrkamp; Edition: 1st, 2006
  • Ginzburg, Carlo: Witches' Sabbath. Deciphering a nightly story, Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1993
  • Harris, Marvin: Lazy Charm. Our longing for the other world, Klett-Cotta, 1993
  • Herrmann, Paul: Nordic Mythology, Anaconda, September 2011
  • Hiller, Helmut: Lexicon of Superstition, Süddeutscher Verlag, 1986
  • Rosenbohm, Alexandra: Marburg Studies on Ethnology. Hallucinogenic drugs in shamanism. Myth and ritual in cultural comparison, Reimer, 1991
  • Caroline T. Stewart: The emergence of werewolf belief. In: Bolte, Johannes (ed.): Journal of the Association for Folklore, page 30-49, 1909.


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