Caesar’s favourite herb was the Viagra of ancient Rome. Until climate change killed it off

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    • #487687
      eridani
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      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/15/caesars-favourite-herb-was-the-viagra-of-ancient-rome-until-climate-change-killed-it-off

      Of all the mysteries of ancient Rome, silphium is among the most intriguing. Romans loved the herb as much as we love chocolate. They used silphium as perfume, as medicine, as an aphrodisiac and turned it into a condiment, called laser, that they poured on to almost every dish. It was so valuable that Julius Caesar stashed more than half a tonne in his treasury.

      Yet it became extinct less than a century later, by the time of Nero, and for nearly 2,000 years people have puzzled over the cause. Researchers now believe it was the first victim of man-made climate change – and warn that we should heed the lesson of silphium or risk losing plants that are the basis of many modern flavours.

      Paul Pollaro and Paul Robertson of the University of New Hampshire say their research, published in Frontiers in Conservation Science, shows that urban growth and accompanying deforestation changed the local microclimate where silphium grew.

      “You’ll often see the narrative that it [became extinct] because of a mix of over-harvesting and also over-grazing – sheep were very fond of it and it made the meat more valuable,” Pollaro said. “Our argument is that regardless of how much was harvested, if the climate was changing, silphium was going to go extinct anyway.”

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

    • #487734
      jbnw
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      As they tell us, it had an intense and spicy flavor, probably similar to garlic, but without its heavy odor. The Greeks tapped its juice for culinary use, while the Romans ate it whole. They even tasted its roots.

      https://www.greecehighdefinition.com

    • #487760
      Bernie Boomer
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      An all-purpose plant, apparently.

       

    • #487762
      Dunatus
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      …but there was a medicinal herb that grew along the north African coast that was used for contraception and abortion that was very common during the bronze and early iron age. I believe it went extinct before the Roman period though.

      • #487830
        Bernie Boomer
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        It shows up on a lot of Greek coinage (I assume they identify it from extant descriptions).
        https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/C_EH-p697-3-Cyr

        According to legend, the last stalk of the stuff was given to Nero as a curiosity in 1st c. CE, so it must have been dying out for some time. I recall reading that some researchers think it was over cultivated.

         

        • #487850
          Dunatus
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          • Total Posts: 753

          I was having a hard time remembering and I didn’t have access to my anthropology books. Hat tip.

          • #487925
            Bernie Boomer
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            • Total Posts: 674

            I’ve reached the age of “weird and largely useless information randomly pops into my brain” – probably should have gone the Sherlock Holmes route when I was younger and only bothered with useful information . . . but how on earth are you supposed to know what’s going to be useful 40 years later?!!

    • #487819
      Gryneos
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      warn us, nothing will be done on an official level. We know from experience (such as from the dust storms of the Dust Bowl era) that officials didn’t care until it impacted them personally. I am confident that if Gov. Abbott had been stuck in Houston when Harvey hit, he wouldn’t have been the least bit hesitant to use the aptly named “Rainy Day Fund” to help the city. But he doesn’t live here, and didn’t truly care.

      So, when several hurricanes in a row pound DC, only then will they wake up and heed the warnings.

      The people-to-cake ratio is too high.

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