Silphium, the Ancient Birth Control Plant

The ancients loved this plant too much, driving it to extinction, leaving only a naked lonely heart symbol behind.

We can make love as long as we have silphium.
— Catullus (pp A. Bellows)
 
 
This is a Greek coin minted in the North Africa city of Cyrene to celebrate the silphium plant. It became more valuable than silver because it allowed the ancients to thoroughly enjoy intercourse without worrying that sooner or later the lady is going to get pregnant. It was so valuable coins were minted to celebrate the fact silphium only grew in Cyrene. As the Vanna White look-alike is explaining on the face of the coin,  "these seeds you see me pointing to with my right hand make this place here between my legs so much more spreadable." Notice she's referring to a seedpod, ready to make more tea.

This is a Greek coin minted in the North Africa city of Cyrene to celebrate the silphium plant. It became more valuable than silver because it allowed the ancients to thoroughly enjoy intercourse without worrying that sooner or later the lady is going to get pregnant. It was so valuable coins were minted to celebrate the fact silphium only grew in Cyrene. As the Vanna White look-alike is explaining on the face of the coin,  "these seeds you see me pointing to with my right hand make this place here between my legs so much more spreadable." Notice she's referring to a seedpod, ready to make more tea.

The silphium plant was only found in one place on the coast of North Africa. It was so hard to grow it was extinct by the time Rome went dark. This is ferula glauca, its nearest relative. 

The silphium plant was only found in one place on the coast of North Africa. It was so hard to grow it was extinct by the time Rome went dark. This is ferula glauca, its nearest relative. 

Because of its high demand, ancient edicts were promulgated to protect the plant from over harvest. However smugglers were always a threat, and the plant finally lost its place on earth when the government in Rome could no longer police the area.

The silphium plant went down the same path of our rhinos today; in danger of being thieved to extinction at the hands of lawless unscrupulous men. 

Although other drugs have replaced the angst of sex without adequate protection, the silphium plant has left us with an endearing, instantly recognizable symbol of love: our heart. And if you think hard there is no other reason to explain why an organ that pumps blood is so close to our emotions. We made our emotions follow a symbol from a plant that allowed birth control.

 

Silphium was a giant fennel plant growing on dry hillsides in one place on the North African coast at Cyrene, six-hundred miles east of Egypt on the Mediterranean coastline of Libya.

The plant was fastidious in its growth requirements, refusing to grow anywhere else in the world. Still, this was a blessed event, allowing easy access to birth control with tea made from the seeds. This elixir brought along menses, and for those who need help, that means we're no longer pregnant, the lady's having her period. 

When the ancients realized help was available for the ladies the world went wild, and Cyrene-ians became extremely wealthy... so wealthy they made coins with the plant on it. 

 

Another coin showing silphium.

Another coin showing silphium.

Besides birth control tea the resin from the stalks and roots treated a cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, snake bite, even epilepsy. Others maintained it was an aphrodisiac too, but that's probably extreme relief knowing that shagging's not going to make babies.

Silphium tea was taken monthly to prevent conception; others used a medicated pessary, a fiber tampon soaked in tea. According to Soranus, a Roman physician it was also an abortifacient, able to not only "prevent(s) conception but also destroys anything living." 

The seeds of the silphium plant look similar to a heart. Soon after this coinage was minted the world melded this image of these plant seeds with the idea of perfect love. Centuries later Valentine's Day cards would show this seedpod pairing in its new form: the Lover's Valentine.

The seeds of the silphium plant look similar to a heart. Soon after this coinage was minted the world melded this image of these plant seeds with the idea of perfect love. Centuries later Valentine's Day cards would show this seedpod pairing in its new form: the Lover's Valentine.

Here is a later version, much closer to the beloved Hallmark Cards image we have grown to love and expect.

Here is a later version, much closer to the beloved Hallmark Cards image we have grown to love and expect.

The birth control plant Silphium grew only in Cyrene, Libya. Known to the Egyptians and Syrians during  Old Testament days it spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean by the Greek period. It was found only in Cyrene. That, plus the fact it was so difficult to grow caused it to go extinct by Christ's Crucifixion.

The birth control plant Silphium grew only in Cyrene, Libya. Known to the Egyptians and Syrians during  Old Testament days it spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean by the Greek period. It was found only in Cyrene. That, plus the fact it was so difficult to grow caused it to go extinct by Christ's Crucifixion.

KATIE IS PLEASED WHEN RABEA EXPLAINS ANCIENT MEDICATIONS TO HER IN GODS AND MORTALS

Katie is in a unique position using her veterinary learning alongside the old powders and elixirs Rabea is familiar with to maximize their effectiveness and use them more reasonably, particularly happy to learn the ancient plants used for gynecological issues.

 
Gods and Mortals is the eighth story in the Katie  Reynolds Series. 

Gods and Mortals is the eighth story in the Katie  Reynolds Series.