Herbs have played an important part in man`s life for countless years -- in his politics, romance, love, religion, health, and superstition.
Celery was used by the Abyssinians for stuffing pillows. Ancient Greeks and Romans crowned their heroes with dill and laurel. Dill also was used by the Romans to purify the air in their banquet halls.
Some herbs were given magical properties, probably because of their medicinal uses. The early Chinese considered artemisia to have special charms. In France during the Middle Ages, babies were rubbed with artemisia juices to protect them from the cold. Ancient Greeks used sweet marjoram as a valuable tonic, and parsley as a cure for stomach ailments. Rosemary was eaten in the Middle Ages for its tranquilizing effects and as a cure-all for headaches.
Humans have used herbs for food and medicine for all of recorded history. Gardeners in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome all included them in their courtyard plots or in containers to have them close at hand. In Europe during the Renaissance, the knowledge of early civilizations was coming to light through texts and manuscripts. There was a great interest in useful plants, and herbs began to be collected, classified and studied as never before. Physic Garden, places to grow plants for apothecaries, or drug stores, were created by some of the most wealthy and influential families of Europe. The first physic garden was built in 1543 at the University in Pisa. Later gardens were created in Padua, Florence and in England. The Chelsea Physic garden, near the banks of the Thames in London, was built by the Royal Society of Apothecaries in 1673. Most of these gardens still exist today and are open to the public.
Chives, still a common herb often found growing wild, had economic importance throughout Asia and many Mediterranean countries. Odd as it seems now, the early Dutch settlers in this country intentionally planted chives in the meadows so cows would give chive-flavored milk.
Mint, another popular herb today, also had its beginnings early in history. Greek athletes used bruised mint leaves as an after-bath lotion. In the Middle Ages, mint was important as a cleansing agent and later was used to purify drinking water that had turned stale on long ocean voyages. Mint also was given mystical powers It was used to neutralize the "evil eye" and to produce an aggressive character.
Mustard was lauded by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, and Shakespeare called it a desirable condiment in several of his plays.
Other herbs with importance dating back to early times include basil, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
Early settlers brought herbs to America for use as remedies for illnesses, flavoring, storing with linens, strewing on floors, or burning for their pleasant fragrances. Some herbs were used to improve the taste of meats in the days before preservation techniques were developed. Other herbs were used to dye homespun fabrics.
Herb gardens were almost an essential feature of pioneer homes. They were placed in sunny corners near the house to be readily available to the busy homemaker. As the population of the new country grew, people from many nations brought herbs with them. This resulted in an exchange of slips, seeds, and plants.
Many herbs familiar to settlers from other countries were found growing wild in the new country. These included parsley, anise, pennyroyal, sorrel, watercress, liverwort, wild leeks, and lavender. American Indians knew uses for almost every wild, nonpoisonous plant, but they used the plants chiefly for domestic purposes -- tanning and dyeing leather and eating.