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Another Three Spices: Aphrodite's Birth, Smoke & King Minos' Daughter

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This time we will take a look at the three spices rosemary, thyme, and coriander. The title of this article might be confusing, but there is a story behind it.

For a time in the past, I created monthly quizzes for a magazine, and one time the question was “Which three spices am I thinking of if I say Aphrodite's birth; smoke; and Ariadne, the daughter of king Minos of Crete?”

The correct answer is: Rosemary, Thyme, and Coriander; it will soon be clear why.

Rosemary, Spice Hallowed to Aphrodite

Rosemary was once hallowed to Aphrodite, the foamborn, so named because she was said to have sprung from the foam of the sea, [aphros, foam]. Thus the plant was named rosemary, from Latin ros, dew, and marinus, sea.

Rosmarinus officinalis is a plant of the mint family, whose leaves yield an essential oil, use in making perfumes, as medicine and as a spice. Traditionally rosemary is the symbol of remembrance and constancy.

It is often said that rosemary improves the memory. There might be some truth in that; it contains a substance which stimulates activity in certain areas of the brain. This is still insufficiently studied though. Given that this herb is also a good (moderately strong) antioxidant, there is good reason to assume it does prevent age-related breakdown of some categories of brain cells.

Rosemary stimulates circulation and the immune system (the latter especially in combination with bee propolis), and it relaxes muscular tension. In addition to that it improves the assimilation of other nutrients.

The old legend about Aphrodite's birth can be found in Hesiod's Theogony (8th century BC). Homer, however, relates another legend, where Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Plato claimed that there were two Aphrodite. But the one we discuss now is the foamborn, so we keep to Hesiod.

Uranus (Ouranos) dislikes his offspring, the Titans, and imprisons some of them. Thereby he causes enmity between the youngest, Cronus (Kronos), and himself. With a flint knife Cronus manages to cut off Uranos members (genitals) and hurls them into the Mediterranean. From them, Aphrodite was born. Hesiod describes it thus:

But the members themselves, when Kronos

had lopped them with the flint,

he threw from the mainland

into the great wash of the sea water

and they drifted a great while

on the open sea, and there spread

a circle of white foam

from the immortal flesh, and in it

grew a girl, whose course first took her

to holy Kythera,

and from there she afterward made her way

to sea-washed Cyprus

and stepped ashore, a modest lovely Goddess,

and about her

light and slender feet the grass grew,

and the gods call her

Aphrodite, and men do too,

and the aphro-foam-born

goddess, and garlanded Kytheraia,

because from the seafoam

she grew, and Kytheria because she had gone

to Kythera,

and Kyprogeneia, because she came forth

from wave-washed Cyprus,

and Philimmedea, because she appeared

from medea, members.

[Translation by Richmond Lattimore, in Great Classical Myths, ed. F.R.B. Godolphin, Random House, 1964.]

Thyme

Thyme is any of the plants of the genus Thymus, with white, pink or red flowers and fragrant leaves.

The word "thyme" comes from Latin thymus and further from Greek thymos. It could be related to a word meaning "spirit" or "smoke". Another theory links the word to Ancient Egyptian tham, a plant used in embalming.

Thymus vulgaris gives the spice, thyme, and by distillation, thyme oil. The latter contains thymol (can also be produced synthetically), which can be used in medicine for disinfection - working against bacteria and fungi. It also contains carvacrol, which can be used as an antiseptic and an anaesthetic [painkiller].

Thyme can be used against cramps, to stimulate the appetite, and for disinfection. Chewing thyme 2-3 days is excellent against an inflamed gum.

Whether it is used to season food or for medical purposes, it should not be used too much, too regularly, or too long. Due to its high content of the element Lithium, which strongly affects the thyroid gland, regular long-term use can generate goitre.

A few days of use for a gum inflammation are harmless, and occasional seasoning of food with thyme is probably beneficial.

Sometimes thyme is given in cases of Lithium deficiency, indicated by certain thyroid problems, but that must be handled with knowledge and sound judgement, not in self-medication.

Coriander

Coriander is one of the many spices and herbs whose name might confuse international readers. This text refers to Coriandrum sativum, whose leaves are sometimes called Cilantro. Mexican (or long) coriander (Eryngium foetidum), Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata), and Bolivian coriander (Porophyllum ruderale) are names of three separate herbs. I have added a few comments of these three at the end of the section.

Coriandrum Sativum

The word coriander is derived from an old Mycenaean word, ko-ri-ja-da-na, the same as the name of Minos' daughter, later called Ariadne. Cilantro is Spanish for coriander, but is usually used only in reference to the leaves. Both dried leaves and dried fruits, commonly referred to as seeds, are used for cooking. In South East Asia, the roots are used as well.

Archaeological evidence indicates that coriander has been cultivated since at least the Early Bronze Age - and it was well spread in the great ancient cultures around the Mediterranean.

The medical effects of coriander are numerous. Scientific studies with rats show antioxidative effects, lowering of bad blood fats, insuline-like activity, preventing deposition of Lead, and antimicrobal effects. In traditional and alternative medicine, it is used against flatulence and to aid digestion.

Mexican Coriander

Eryngium foetidum, has a stronger taste than Cilantro, and is used for seasoning in the Caribbean and parts of South East Asia. Traditionally it has been used against a large number of ailments, most notably epilepsy. Scientific studies have confirmed its anti-convulsant properties.

Vietnamese Coriander

Persicaria odorata, sometimes referred to as Vietnamese mint, although it is as little related to the mint family as to coriander, is used for seasoning in South East Asia, and is especially typical for Vietnamese food. Tradition holds that it represses sexual desire, and it is used for that purpose by monks bound to celibacy.

Bolivan Coriander

Porophyllum ruderale, or papalo, is a herb used for seasoning food, not at least in salsa, in parts of Latin America. (I have not been able to find any scientific studies of its health properties.)

This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Spices & Herbs”, 2018.)

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The King & Queen of Spices: Turmeric & Ginger

Spices & Health: Cumin, Anise, Star Anise, and Fennel

Fenugreek, Lactation & Male Libido

The Three Most Expensive Spices

More Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove & Pepper

Copyright © 2005-2008, 2018, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

(The lead image shows rosemary. Photo by Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain.)

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Comments

Hello my dear friend, another excellent article, very educational and interesting, I was totally unaware that rosemary was linked to the beautiful Aphrodite, no doubt the Greek mythology is unique, but we can not deny that rosemary gives a taste to the food really unique, its smell does not go unnoticed, like thyme, however this if a little strong, in my country they use it a lot to combat the fungus on the scalp, they say it is very effective.

Now, in Latin America we use a lot of cilantro in our gastronomy, not only for the benefits but for the flavor it gives to each recipe, we even make sauces with it, even cilantro mayonnaise is something that can not be ignored when cooking.

Thank you very much for being my new Sponsor, it is an honor that such an incredible writer and content creator supports this small digital channel, thank you very much, dear friend.

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2 months ago

Thanks for your nice comment with additional information.

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2 months ago

I have always wanted to have rosemaries in my yard. Coudn't find any around here.

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2 months ago

Is "here" the Philippines? (I saw you post in "Filipino Readers".) South East Asia seems to be without this spice.

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2 months ago

Yup. Philippines. There could have some up in the mountains, but not here in the lowlands.

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2 months ago

I suppose so. It is not a tropical plant.

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2 months ago

All I know is coriander as a spice. Because I've never heard of rosemary and thyme mixed into food. Maybe Southeast Asia doesn't use rosemary and thyme? Or I don't know haha

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2 months ago

I think it is as you suggest, rosemary and thyme are not used in South East Asia. At least they are not common there. I have never seen them there or heard South East Asians talk about them. If any reader from the area has information or experience to the opposite, please state it in a comment here..

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2 months ago

Well, the most common spices used by people in southeast asia are ginger, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, etc. From the history I've read, Europeans used to explore in search of Asian spices. Their destination is India. Because there are a lot of spices

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2 months ago

Indonesia was also a target for European spice search and was colonised for its wealth of spices, such as nutmeg, mace, ginger, pepper, cinnamon and cloves. The Moluccas (The Maluku Islands) were called the Spice Islands.

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2 months ago

I think the Europeans in ancient times strayed from their main destination. When the netherland entered the archipelago, they created politics to form a state here and gave the name India-Netherland. Why india-netherland? The same thing happened in America. They call the natives of the American continent as the Indians. so, I think they strayed from their destination.

This is just my own opinion because I am not an expert in the field of history either.

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2 months ago

Yes, in both cases, they believed they had come to India.

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2 months ago

I know the subject of this article is about those spice. But I enjoy reading it, because it was like a combination of Greek mythology story, which I'm interested in 😁

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2 months ago

Are you interested in all mythology, or only the Greek?

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2 months ago

All mythology. But personally I prefer to watch videos about it instead of reading, it makes me understand the story well.

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2 months ago

Ok, I see. You can find much Egyptian mythology among my articles about Egypt. Not everything is mythology, but some: https://read.cash/@Mictorrani/index-over-my-articles-at-read-cash-5f7c1e34#egyptology

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2 months ago

Thanks for this, I'll read it in my vacant

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2 months ago

I love tot combine different topics like that. It is not always suitable, but when it is, I do it.

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2 months ago

And I think it is more better, since you can share more learnings 😊

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2 months ago