Herbal Myths And Lore

There is some fact among the fiction in the myths grown up around herbs.

By Jan Wiese-Fales | Photos By ©

Myths associated with herbs have existed for centuries, as have curative remedies attributed to them when herbalism was mainstream medicine. By modern standards, some of these associations are amusingly whimsical, but in some cases, ancient herbalists got it right. What follows is a little lore in both camps for a handful of culinary herbs.


Italian folklore equated sweet basil with love, and a woman who wanted to advertise her availability to perspective suitors placed a pot of basil on her windowsill.

Tulsi, or holy basil, is a symbol of long life in Hindu sacred traditions. Recent studies document holy basil’s ability to fight stress and anxiety. It also is high in vitamin K, a nutrient linked to longevity.


Dill’s common name, derived from the Norse dillan, means “to lull.” For centuries, it was used to soothe the stomach and calm nerves, attributes verified by contemporary research.

Because early American settlers nibbled dill seeds in church and shared them with their children to calm fidgeting and stave off hunger during long sermons, dill was called “meetinghouse seed.”

Dill oil has proved to be effective at reducing inflammation, and because dill stimulates endorphins, it may even be effective in the treatment of depression. It also is high in vitamin C.

In the garden, dill helps with natural pest control by attracting one of aphids’ worst enemies, green lacewings. It’s also said to lure tomato hornworms away from tomato plants.


In addition to being used to tell fortunes and ward off illness, historically chives have been used to treat burns and sore throats. Studies have shown they do indeed exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.

It also has been documented that chives are effective as an anti-bacterial agent, and its diuretic properties help eliminate toxins, water and salt from the body.


Ancient Greeks believed oregano was an anecdote to poison, and traditional herbal medicine connects oregano to relief of respiratory ailments and pain. Herbalists prescribed a cloth bag filled with oregano leaves to be steeped in a steaming bath for relief of aches and stiff joints.

Recent research shows that compounds in oregano and its essential oils do offer antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits.


A historical household staple, rosemary has been used to ward off evil, deter moths and preserve meat.

Long-linked to increased memory function, sprigs of rosemary were worn by Greek students in their hair when taking exams. Modern-day research has verified that compounds within the herb prevent the breakdown of a neurotransmitter in the brain needed for cognition and reasoning.

The ancient use of rosemary as a healthful scalp application also has played out in recent studies, which show that it is effective at combating hair loss by stimulating hair follicles and promoting blood circulation to the scalp.


Before thyme was culinary, it was prized for its scent and burned as a fumigant by the Greeks. The Romans used it as a perfume, and Egyptians employed it in embalming procedures.

Oil of thyme is antiseptic, antimicrobial and also has anti-inflammatory properties. It was used to fight infection and relieve the pain of wounds suffered by soldiers on the battlefields of World War I.

Thyme purportedly will repel mosquitoes. To conduct your own research on this claim, try mixing four drops of thyme oil with a teaspoon of olive oil, or five drops of oil to two ounces of water to use as an herbal repellent.

For more information:

Images of these and other common herbs can be viewed at

Tips for cooking with herbs and pairing them with foods can be found here: Pairing and combining your fresh-grown herbs with food: