Food - Drink
The Extinct Herb Ancient Romans Put On Everything
Whether used as a medicine or conversely as a poison, added to food for seasoning, or used in religious ceremonies, herbs are pretty incredible. The Roman Empire was notable for its use of herbs, but there was one herb they loved above all others that is tragically now extinct.
Silphium was an herb native to the Mediterranean coast that was used in Ancient Rome for almost everything; its stalks were cooked, its roots eaten raw, its small yellow flowers squeezed into perfume, and its sap dried and grated over all sorts of dishes. Silphium was so revered that the ancient city of Cyrene had its image pressed into its coins.
The plant was treated as a seasoning and its sap was used in sauces, bringing a parsley-like flavor to rich Roman cuisine, and was included in recipes from braised flamingo to cabbage salad. Aside from adding flavor, silphium supposedly cured stomach aches, headaches, and even hangovers and is suspected to be the first effective birth control ever used.
With such a long list of uses, it’s no surprise that Ancient Romans loved silphium, but sadly, they recklessly overharvested the herb leading to its extinction — essentially loving it to death. However, while human greed may have killed off Silphium, its demise was aided by climate change and the aggressive urban growth of Rome.