Mythological Botanical Garden
Take a look around our garden...
These herbs and trees are more than just lovely to look at and sweet to smell.
They hold stories...
Did you know that the mulberry berries' colour is sourced in a tragic romance?
Or that a pound of lavender once cost a month's wages?
Or that ranting and raving helps basil grow strong and potent?
Read on and uncover the stories planted in our Mythological Botanical Garden.
Art Work: Nikki Nomicos
Species: Ocimum basilicum
Description: It is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae. Basil is native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia.
Myth: Basil supposedly derives its name from the terrifying basilisk, a half-lizard, half dragon creature with a fatal piercing stare according to Greek mythology. The basil plant was considered to be a magical cure against the look, breath or even the bite of the basilisk when a basil leaf was medicinally applied. Although this story moved into the realm of fable, basil was still considered a medicinal cure for venomous bites. In keeping with its hostile status, later Greeks and Romans believed the most potent basil could only be grown if one sowed the seed while ranting and swearing. This custom is mirrored in French verbage where semer le baslic (sowing basil) means to rant. In Greece today, basil is readily grown as an ornamental plant and is used in certain religious rituals as a symbol of fertility.
Species: Laurus nobilis
Description: A small tree that grows to a maximum height of 40 feet. It flowers in late spring and produces purplish black berries in the fall. The aromatic leaves of the bay are edible and are used in cooking.
Sacred to: Apollon (the god and victors of his Phythian Games were crowned with wreaths of laurel ; he was titled Daphnaios) ; Artemis (she had sacred laurel groves and was titled Daphnaia)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Daphne. Daphne was an Arkadian Nymphe loved by the god Apollon. When he pursued her, she fled and transformed into a laurel tree to escape him. The plant was ever after sacred to the god. (Sources: Pausanias, Ovid, Hyginus)
Species: Vitis vinifera
Description: The grape was widely cultivated in ancient Greece for the production of wine.
Sacred to: Dionysos (god of wine and viticulture)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Ampelos. A Satyr youth loved by the god Dionysos. After he was slain by a wild bull the god transformed him into a grape vine. (Source: Nonnus)
Species: Hedera helix
Description: A creeping vine which flowers in autumn and whose black berries ripen in late winter.
Sacred to: Dionysos (ivy garlands were worn by celebrants at the god's orgies and ivy was used to decorate their staffs)
Myth: Nursing of Dionysos. After the birth of Dionysos his jealous stepmother Hera sought to destroy him. So his nurses, the Nymphai Nysiades, covered his crib with ivy-leaves to keep him safely hidden. Kisseis (the lady of the ivy) was the name of one of these Nymphs. (Source: Ovid)
Description: The lemon, Citrus limon, is a species of small evergreen tree in the flowering plant family Rutaceae, native to South Asia, primarily North eastern India.
Myth: In Greek mythology the lemon tree was known as the “tree of the golden apples.” The lemon tree was represented in Greek mythology as a giver of the immortality. In addition, it was considered to be a symbol of fecundity. The fruit of the tree often appeared at wedding ceremonies. The lemon tree was a gift of the goddess Gea to the goddess Hera. The tree was placed in the Garden of the Hespérides and was guarded by a dragon-serpent with one hundred heads called Ladón. The Garden seems to have existed in the lost city of Atlantis.
Greek: Myrsinê, myrrinê, myrtos
Species: Myrtus communis
Description: A small evergreen tree or shrub with aromatic, spicy-tasting leaves. It blooms with sweet-scented, white flowers in spring and summer, and produces edible blue-black berries.
Sacred to: Aphrodite (brides wore myrtle-garlands and bathed in myrtle-scented water on their wedding day)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Myrrha. Myrrha was a Cyprian princess who fell in love with her father and conspired to seduce him in disguise. When he learned of her crime, she fled his wrath and was transformed into a myrtle tree. The boy Adonis was later born from her trunk. The same story was told of Myrrha or Smyrna and the myrrh tree. (Source: Pausanias)
Species: Origanum vulgare
Description: Oregano is a flowering plant in the mint family. It is native to temperate Western and Southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region.
Myth: Aphrodite was the goddess of two herbs, oregano and marjoram. Oregano was designed by her hand to represent joy. She planted the herb in her garden on Mt. Olympus to show the humans below a physical representation of what happiness looks like.
Marjoram on the other hand was made to have the scent of Aphrodite on it. This meant any mortal could smell and connect with Aphrodite whenever they pleased.
Since Aphrodite, the Goddess of all things love, adored her plants so much, the herbs themselves grew to be associated with marriage and love. Couples would wear garlands or crowns made of oregano and marjoram on their wedding nights in the hopes of having a long, happy marriage. It is also said that if marjoram grows on the grave of a deceased person, that person is having a happy afterlife.
Species: Cupressus sempervirens
Description: An evergreen conical tree with needle like leaves and small cones.
Sacred to: Apollon (sacred cypress grove at Ortygia), Artemis (sacred cypress groves), Asklepios (his staff was made of cypress)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Kyparissos. A young prince of the island of Keos loved by the god Apollon. When he killed himself following the death of his beloved pet stag, the god transformed him into a cypress tree. (Source: Ovid)
Species: Ficus carica
Description: An important orchard tree in ancient Greece. Figs were eaten both fresh and dried.
Sacred to : Demeter, Dionysos
Myth: Hospitality of Phytalos. A man who hospitably received the goddess Demeter when she was searching for her lost daughter Persephone. She rewarded him with the creation of the cultivated fig tree. (Source: Pausanias)
Species: Pelargonium Graveolens
Description: Pelargonium graveolens is a species native to South Africa. It is also known as the apple geranium or apple pelargonium due to its distinct apple scent.
Myth: Pelargonium comes from the Greek πελαργός (pelargos) which means stork. Another name for pelargoniums is stork's-bills due to the shape of their fruit. The specific epithet graveolens refers to its strong-smelling leaves.
Species: Nardus stricta
Description: It is a slow growing perennial bunchgrass that is densely tufted, and long-lived.
The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb νάρδος: nárdos, Latinized as nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq). It was also commonly called nard. The species originally grown was L. stoechas. Lavender was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple of Jerusalem to conjure the holy essence of God, and nard is mentioned in the Song of Solomon — “nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes, and all the finest spices.”
Its late Latin name was lavandārius, from lavanda (things to be washed), from the verb lavāre (to wash).
The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed and treated correctly would release a relaxing fume when burned. In medieval times powdered lavender was used as a food condiment.
Species: Morus nigra
Description: A small deciduous tree or bush native to western Asia. It is cultivated for its juicy, dark-red berries.
Myth: Death of Pyramos and Thisbe. Pyramos and Thisbe were a pair of ill-fated lovers from the Assyrian city of Babylon. Their parents forbade their romance and the pair agreed to meet secretly beneath a white-berried mulberry tree outside the city limits. When Pyramos arrived, he found Thisbe's shawl in the jaws of a lion and, believing that she was dead, plunged a sword through his breast. The girl, upon discovering her dead lover, also killed herself. The mulberry tree soaked up the lovers' blood and its berries were turned from white to blood-red. (Source: Ovid)
Greek: Elaia, moria
Species: Olea europaea
Description: The olive was the most important tree of ancient Greek horticulture. The fruit was used as a relish with bread, and its oil employed in cooking, lamps for light, and as a sometimes perfumed lotion for the skin and hair.
Sacred to: Athene (the most sacred olive tree grew in her sanctuary on the Acropolis of Athens) ; Zeus (victors at the Olympian Games were crowned with wild olive)
Myth: Contest for Athens. Athene and Poseidon once engaged in a contest for dominion of Athens. Zeus agreed to award the city to the god who produced the best gift for man. Athene then created the first olive tree which she caused to spring forth from the rock of the Akropolis, whilst Poseidon produced a horse. The gods judged Athene's the better gift and awarded her the city. (Source: Apollodorus, Pausanias, Hyginus, Ovid)
Greek: Onkhnê, apios
Species: Pyrus communis
Description: The pear was one of the mainstays of the ancient Greek orchard, alongside the apple, pomegranate, fig and olive. Despite its prominence the tree is curiously absent from myth. The travel writer Pausanias mentions an old cult statue or two crafted out of pear-wood. "But without the courtyard, hard by the door, is a great orchard of four acres, and a hedge runs about it on either side. Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates and apple-trees with their bright fruit, and sweet figs, and luxuriant olives." Homer's Odyssey 7.112
Greek: Peukê, pitys
Species: Pinus halepensis and Pinus brutia
Description: The Aleppo is a coastal pine which grows to a height of 15 to 25 metres. The Turkish pine is another coastal pine, somewhat larger at 20 to 35 metres, with edible seeds. Pine wood was commonly used by the ancients for shipbuilding and also for torches.
Sacred to: Poseidon (victors at the god's Isthmian games were crowned with wreaths of pine; he had sacred pine groves at Korinthos and Onkhestos) ; Dionysos (his devotees wielded pine or fir-cone tipped thrysoi staffs)
Myth: Banditry of Sinis. Sinis Pityokamptes (the Pine-Bender) was a Korinthian bandit, and a son of the god Poseidon, who waylayed travellers passing through the Isthmos. He bound his victims to the tops of curbed pine-trees and let spring up to tear the men asunder. Sinis was slain by Theseus in the same manner. Afterwards the hero instituted the Isthmian Games to appease the ghost of Sinis and his father Poseidon. (Sources: Apollodorus, Plutarch, et al)
Greek: Rhoa, sidê
Species: Punica granatum
Description: A fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree which grows to a height of 5 to 8 metres. It produces a red fruit about the size of an orange, rich in seeds and with a juicy red fruit pulp. The tree was cultivated in ancient orchards alongside the apple, pear, fig and olive.
Sacred to: Hera (the fruit was her attribute as goddess of marriage - the bloody red seeds representing female fertility), Aphrodite (for similar reasons)
Prohibitions: Demeter and Persephone (the fruit was one of the foods prohibited in the Mystery initiations)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Side. Side was the wife of the giant Orion who boasted that she was more beautiful than the goddess Hera. In anger the goddess sent her to Hades. Presumably this was accompanied by a metamorphosis into her namesake fruit tree, the pomegranate. (Source: Apollodorus)
Species: Salvia Rosmarinus
Description: It is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region.
Myth: Rosemary is a plant that grows by the sea. The word can be split into mare (from which marinus is derived) and the syllable rose, which describes how the plant is often seen glittering with dew (ros) on the shores of the sea. The Ancients were well acquainted with this herb, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. The Muses were the nine daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne (Memory). They presided over song and prompted the memory. They were sometimes depicted with rosemary in their hands. Minerva, the goddess of knowledge is also associated with this herb. It was used at both weddings and funerals, as it still is today. Rosemary is used for cooking, crafting and medicine.
Species: Thymus Vulgaris
Description: An herbaceous perennial with aromatic leaves. Thyme belongs to the the genus Thymus, aromatic perennial evergreen herbs in the mint family Lamiaceae. Thyme is a relative of the oregano genus Origanum.
Myth: Thymus comes from the Greek word courage. This herb was known to the Ancients because it was an herb the bees loved and honey was loved by the gods. It was used as an aromatic herb and to clean tables in preparation for serving food. Thyme was used internally and externally as an antiseptic. "To smell of thyme" was an expression of praise. It was also used to preserve meat.
Species: Mentha spicata (or viridis)
Description: An herbaceous perennial with aromatic leaves.
Sacred to: Demeter and Persephone (the sacred barley-drink of the Eleusinian Mysteries was flavoured with mint), Haides (aromatic mint may have been used to dress the bodies of the dead)
Myth: Metamorphosis of Minthe. Minthe was a Nymph loved by the god Haides. When she boasted that she was superior to his queen Persephone, the goddess, or her mother Demeter, transformed her into the mint plant. (Sources: Strabo, Ovid, Oppian)