A photograph of plants with the sound in the background. Image Credit: Jumpstory.

10 Plants and Herbs Used by the Ancient Greek to Help Cure Diseases

Civilizations across the world have been using plants and herbs to alleviate the symptoms of many diseases.

One of the most admirable and powerful civilizations in the history of the human race has derived from the Greek world, the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Personally, on the website of Curiosmos, the articles have been able to take a deep ‘dive’ into this civilization and the impact of the ancient Greek world in the modern international context. 

However, these articles present a more polemical perspective, which is focused on ancient battles, leading personalities, and critical dates for the future of antiquity and the empires of that time. 

The perspective of this article is different. 

Greece has not only played a huge role in the foundation of political, financial, and sociological innovations that have helped the Mediterranean world as a whole, but it has also been decisive when it comes to the Greek climate and the natural contribution. 

More specifically, the Greek climate has developed a tremendous equilibrium for plants and herbs to grow and flourish in abundance. 

The most important part of this process is that this is not genetically or technically modified, but it is part of its natural growth. 

One astonishing fact, which will be further analyzed in this article, is that the plants and the herbs are not new. 

The same plants that are flourishing and collected in 2021 have also been gathered nearly 2,000 years ago. 

The analysis will cover the history of the plants’ flourishing and when they were discovered. Still, it will also be crucial in understanding the use of herbs as a medical treatment for the people living in the ancient world. 

1. Mint

Up until this day, mint plays a vast and essential role in everyone’s life when it comes to a plant that can be used for cooking, fresh smell, and better design.

Mint plays a role of utmost importance in our lives and the cultural perspective, but its contribution in antiquity was not limited to that. 

The name is the only thing that does not originate from the Greek language, but from Latin, which had the word ‘menta’ to describe the plant, after some misunderstanding occurred between popular Greek scholiasts. 

Even though today’s use has evolved to treat bronchitis, headaches, and other muscle pains, back in the ancient era, this plant which is believed to be originated from Greek mythology and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, had treated gastrointestinal issues and made breath smell better, a use that does not deviate from today’s popular uses. 

How often do you use mint in your daily life today? Credit: Jumpstory
How often do you use mint in your daily life today? Credit: Jumpstory

2. Mandrake

Originating from the taxonomical rank of the plant’s named genus Mandragora, mandrake is a root found in the Mediterranean. 

However, the story here is a little different regarding the medical treatment and the usage of the plant. In ancient Greece and later on in the world of ancient Rome, the plant was perceived to have magical powers, fertility, and at the same time, a possession of the devil’s spirit. 

The perception about the plant is also contradicting its earlier use and the first reference to it by the people of the world. More specifically, mandrake was included in the Bible and dated back to 4,000 BC, where Rachel used it to conceive a child. However, in ancient Greece, it was used as a narcotic and medically cured anxiety and depression, and insomnia. 

3. Licorice

Although being placed third on the list, licorice has been one of the most enduring and commonly used remedies in the section of natural medicine and usage of plants and herbs.

One of the first references of the plant does not come from ancient Greece but originates from the treasures found in the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb from around the 14th century BC. 

In addition to the last reveal about the origin of licorice, scholars have yet to identify why the plants have been found in the tomb and how they were used in ancient Egypt. Nonetheless, the evidence they have depicts the situation in the ancient Greek world, where licorice was used as cough medicine. 

There have been multiple licorice ingredients induced in cough syrups and used for their anti-inflammatory benefits in modern times. 

4. Olive

This is probably the plant that serves the best description for the Greek identity, not only in antiquity but throughout the country’s whole history. 

Originating from Greek mythology, Homer describes this plant as a 10,000-year-old plant during the golden age of ancient Athens. In addition, any action of dishonoring the plant would be viewed as capital punishment. 

Homer refers to it as ‘liquid gold.’ 

The most common use outside of the medical treatment was at the site of the ancient Olympia stadium, with the athletes that competed and won a medal being crowned a wreath made out of olive twigs. 

Around the beginning of the 8th century BC, Greece started the cultivation of olive.

Apart from the benefit for the country and the city of Athens in the social and the financial perspective, olive was used in ancient Greece for more than 60 medical applications and treatment procedures. At the same time, it healed skin problems, stomach aches, and face or ear infections. 

Olives have been used for medical and culinary purposes for millennia. Credit: Pixabay
Olives have been used for medical and culinary purposes for millennia. Credit: Pixabay

5. Marshmallows 

It turns out that the best snack at US campfire events is not of US origin, and it is certainly not a new product originating from a western hemisphere plant. 

From the taxonomical class of Althaea Officinalis, marshmallows sprout pink flowers and grow in wet areas. Although the medical treatment and the marshmallow applications were intensified in the centuries to come, everything began in Greece after the Ancient Greek discovery.

Greek people used marshmallows around the 9th century BC to heal the big wounds and soothe the sore and stiff throats. This is why in ancient Greece, we have the use of marshmallows balm to toothaches and bee stings. The variations in the centuries to follow mainly came from the eastern hemisphere and Arab empires.

6. Fennel 

Fennel is a flowering plant species, and it is part of the category of perennial herbs. Although it has become naturalized on the whole world, along the west and the eastern hemisphere, it is originated from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A highly aromatic flavor that is used in cooking and has the primary ingredients of absinthe. 

The story comes from mythology, where Prometheus stole the fire from the Gods to give it a gift to the human race and humanity, while this was stolen using a stalk, deriving from a fennel plant. The plant contains a lot of Vitamin C and E, as well as folic acid. In ancient times, fennel seeds were used for digestion, eliminating bad breath smell, and reducing blood pressure. 

7. Saffron

Saffron is one of the most widely known plants globally and one of the oldest diverse herbs. More specifically, it has believed that it had been cultivated more than 3,500 years ago, and it was widely extended across different continents, places, and civilizations. 

While there is no accurate location of the origin, many scholars have awarded the title of the first country to ever cultivate saffron to Mesopotamia and Greece. 

One of the best and most historical places for saffron harvest and cultivation is the Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete, where the process was depicted in the mural designs of the palace. Saffron was precious in treating gastrointestinal issues or renal upsets. It was also used to regulate blood pressure, heal stomach pains and aches. 

Saffron may not be the most typical plant you would think about when it comes to medicine but in ancient times, it was used for a variety of medical conditions. Credit: Pixabay
Saffron may not be the most typical plant you would think about when it comes to medicine but in ancient times, it was used for a variety of medical conditions. Credit: Pixabay

8. Parsley

Parsley is also part of the list with the most historical plants with their origins in mythological stories. One can find parsley at the family dinner table during the modern era that we live in, but this was not the case back in Ancient Greece. 

More specifically, when serpents ate the fallen hero of antiquity named Archemorus, parley sprang was seen in his blood, and that is why the Greeks did not put it as an ingredient on their tables; it was sacred. 

Parsley has been cultivated for 2,000 years, and it was medically consumed not only as a food but also for digestive purposes. It is scientifically proven that at this point, the Greeks were using it to cure disorders of the digestive system as well as bronchitis and pain on the teeth. 

9. Sideritis 

Sideritis might be a new definition for the readers who know this plant as ‘mountain tea’ or ‘shepherd’s tea.’ This herbal medicine is found in abundance in the Mediterranean and the Balkans, while its existence is less dense in Central Europe. 

Sideritis is a name deriving from the Greek language, and it belongs to the generic reference for plants capable of healing wounds on the battlefield. Nonetheless, it was then used in the same way today, primarily for the preparation of herbal teas or for their aromatic properties in the local cuisines and the Mediterranean diet. 

10. Burdock 

Burdock is a plant that derives from the taxonomical class of the herbs with the title Arctium lappa, which were known in ancient times as ‘Prosopis.’ For the most specific medical treatment, burdock would be boiled in wine and then heal the wounds of the people bit by dogs and other animals. As it evolved, it treated the snake bites and the internal pains after being blended with honey and juice.

Today’s use continues to be firmly and powerfully connected to the past medical treatment, and it is essential to underline that this is probably the most accurate description of evolution from the ancient medical application to one of the exact nature but more empowered after centuries.

Burdock was used for a variety of medical conditions due to its powerful properties. Credit: Pixabay
Burdock was used for a variety of medical conditions due to its powerful properties. Credit: Pixabay

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Wikipedia. (2021, May 25). Sideritis.

Written by Ioannis Dedes

Hi, I'm Ioannis Dedes, an experienced Freelance Writer with a demonstrated history of working in the online media industry. After working in the Freelance writing world for a while, I can say that I have produced great articles for the niches of history, philosophy, and politics. Curiosmos was the best platform to apply what I have learned after two years of creative writing experience, and I am more than ecstatic to share my thoughts with the special readers of the blog and people that are interested in finding out the roots of human civilization and the evolution of our world.

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