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Symbolism of Herbs

Many herbs have symbolic meaning that goes back centuries, even millenia. For example, the ancient Romans offered wreaths of bay leaves as a symbol of triumph and peace. Earlier, bay was thought to be sacred for the Greeks and to be a protector from disease, witchcraft and lightning. Rose petals, a symbol of love and victory, were lavishly strewn on the paths of wedding parties and victors of war by the Romans. In England, rosemary was called "Rose of Mary" in memory of the Virgin Mary, and in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember."

The following list is from Gem Rigsby’s book, Herb Seed for Thought (Spur Ridge Press, 1998). This is by no means a complete list of the symbolic meanings of each herb. The symbolism of herbs is inextricably tied to culture and religion. While some symbolic meanings of plants travelled well from culture to culture and from era to era, many probably did not. Rigsby relies heavily on biblical scripture and on ancient Greek and Roman history for these symbolic meanings.

Aloe: healing, protection, grief, bitterness, affection
Angelica: inspiration, magic
Bay: glory, honour, reward
Calendula: sacred affection, joy, remembrance, grief
Chamomile
: energy in adversity, patience, long life, wisdom
Chives: usefulness, why do you weep?
Dandelion: faithfulness, happiness
Dianthus: dignity, woman’s love, symbol of Mother’s Day
Dill
: preservation, good spirits
Dogwood: love undiminished by adversity, durability
Elder: compassion, bad luck, zealousness
Fennel: strength, worthy of praise, flattery
Garlic: protection, strength, healing
Grass: submission, utility, usefulness
Iris: message, wisdom, faith, valour
Ivy: patience, fidelity, undying love, eternal life
Lavender: housewifely virtue, acknowledgement
Lily of the Valley: contentment, return of happiness, let’s make up
Marjoram: joy happiness
Mint: eternal refreshment, wisdom, virtue
Mugwort: be not weary, tranquillity, happiness
Mustard: faith, indifference
Nasturtium: patriotism, victory in battle
Pansy: happy thoughts, meditation
Parsley: useful knowledge, feast, joy, victory
Rose: love, victory
Rosemary: remembrance, love, loyalty, fidelity
Saffron: beware of success
Sage: wisdom, long life, esteem immortality, esteem
Sassafras: foundation, considered choices
Sunflower: haughtiness, lofty, pride, pure thoughts
Thyme: activity, bravery, courage, strength
Violet: humility, devotion, faithfulness, forgiveness
Yew: immortality, sorrow
Yucca: opportunity, fidelity
Zinnia: thoughts of missing friends


Reference

Rigsby, Gem. 1998. Herb Seed for Thought, Spur Ridge Press, Frankston, TX.

 

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