The most boring thing on your plate is about to get exciting. I’m talking about that unwanted, castoff garnish found on dinner plates everywhere – parsley.
In Greek mythology an infant prince named Opheltes was left unattended by his nurse and bitten by a serpent, resulting in the child’s death. Blood ran from the wound and along with it, parsley sprang forth from the infant’s blood. The child was renamed Archemorus, meaning “the forerunner of death.”
Romans dedicated the herb to Persephone, queen of the underworld and to funeral rites. It became a staple of Greek funeral rituals and was scattered over graves during funeral ceremonies or planted over them. When funeral games were played, participating athletes donned wreaths of parsley. Romans would create these wreaths for their own funerals and adorn their graves with them. It was believed that great fields of parsley grew on Ogygia, the death island of Calypso. There was also the saying, De’eis thai selinon – “to need only parsley,” which was a gentle way of saying someone had “one foot in the grave.”
Folklore and superstition surrounding parsley through the centuries has been abundant up through the Victorian era:
* In Germany and the United States it is believed that if parsley would not grow in your garden, someone in the household will die soon.
*Virgins could not plant parsley or they would risk being impregnated by the Devil.
*When parsley was planted, it was believed that the seeds travelled back and forth between it’s planting spot and the devil.
Next time you encounter parsley on your dinner plate, don’t push it to the side, but regard it as a form of memento mori instead.
Vase Francios (detail of neck: Atalanta, Calydonian boar hunt and funeral games for Patroklos). Black Figure volute krater by Kleitias & Ergotimos. ca. 570 B.C. Florence, Museo Archeologico, 4209.
Nancy Arrowsmith, Essential Herbal Wisdom: A Complete Exploration of 50 Remarkable Herbs, 2007
Mark R. Vogel, The Devil’s Seeds
Dr. May Berenbaum, Horticulture Magazine, July 1980 issue