Does parsley have any particular symbolism in myth or religion?

For some reason I had the idea that parsley is often eaten at Passover as the ‘bitter herb’.

However, the Wiki article on this subject doesn’t mention parsley.

So is parsley symbolic of anything in either religion or myth? And if so, what?

According to the online version of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable:

Parsley He has need now of nothing but a little parsley- i.e. he is dead. The Greeks decked tombs with parsley, because it keeps green a long time.”

Parsley is not eaten as the “bitter herb” on Passover. It is eaten as the vegetable that comes earlier in the Passover meal, and is known in Hebrew as “Karpas.” This is dipped in salt water, which symbolizes the tears the Israelites shed while enslaved.

I’m not sure that parsley has a specific connection here; it seems to me that the Karpas-dipping tradition can be satisfied by any vegetable, at the beginning of spring, root vegetables were probably the ones that kept best over the winter, and parsley root was probably a very common one to use in ancient times. Since other root vegetables (e.g., potatoes, radishes, carrots) have become more common as food than parsley in recent centuries, the main vegetable is usually one of those now, but it is usually garnished with a parsley sprig as a connection to the root (pun semi-intended) practice of the tradition.

Yes, the Greeks garnished their dead. How thoughtful! :smiley: Archemorus, the Greek herald of Death, or son of Death, or servant of Death, or Hero (depending on the version of the story you hear) was killed by serpents, and where his blood spilled, the first parsley grew.

Plutarch claims that parsley was, for a time at least, used in the victory wreaths at the Isthmian and Nemean games, but he acknowledges that for other Greeks, it was associated with death and ill-omens. (Remember “The Greeks” were not a single people, culturally, back then.)

The Romans are purported to have tucked a sprig of parsley in their robes “for protection” before leaving the house. Some think that the current tradition of parsley as food garnish stems from this - it used to be believed (Culpepper, et al) that parsley could cure any venom or poison and ward against decay.

I’ve read some reports that, probably due to the long germination period of parsley, virgins were not allowed to plant parsley, for it’s thought that doing so would impregnate them with Satan’s babies. This sounds convoluted - the idea was that the seeds went to hell and back before they sprouted, and that’s why they took so long (usually about a month, which is a long time for a kitchen herb). On their return from hell, they would bring with them Satan’s seed, which would impregnate the planter. This was probably exacerbated by the Greek custom of only allowing planting of parsley by the male head of the household, and only on a Friday, because of the plant’s associations with Saturn. Lots of “Saturn” things got turned into Satan’s things somewhere along the line.
ETA: What I can’t find it WHEN the above mentioned virgins weren’t allowed to plant, and in what country. It’s said of that nebulous post-Roman Europe, but I haven’t found specifics of time or place.

In current Western magickal use, parsley is used for purification and protection and spells to contact the dead (and clairvoyance/divination in general), as well as to increase fertility and inspire lust.

I can’t tell you anything about virgins but my Gardener’s Folklore tells me that, in the UK:



From this page. What it says doesn’t contradict what others have posted.

The *Oxford Dictionary of Plant-Lore * says “With the possible exception of apple, parsley is the focus of more superstitious beliefs than any other plant commonly grown in gardens.” Most of the examples they cite from modern times are in three categories, mostly covered by previous posts in this thread:

  1. Parsley is difficult to grow (therefore, to grow it successfully there must be something abnormal, such as women in charge of the house or witchcraft or the devil)
  2. Parsley is bad luck (therefore, do not give it away or keep the roots around)
  3. Childbirth (good for pregnancy, childbirth, regular periods)

It was definitely used in Greek funeral rites, but I’m not sure why. Some references suggest it was sacred to Persephone, but the more authoritative sources say that only mint and pomegranate were sacred to her. In any case, none of the above explains passover rituals.

In the Pesach symbolism, parsley is not the bitter herb, horseradish is. Most of the Seder symbols are misunderstood, and the traditional Hagaddah doesn’t do much to clarify them, alas.

The best interpretation of the presence of parsley at the Seder that I have heard involves the similarity of the Seder to fancy meals in Roman times.

At a fancy Roman meal held among patricians, everyone of course ate while reclining on couches, pillows, or mats. That is the reason why we “recline” at the Seder (see the 4 questions).

Meals started with an appetizer, often a raw vegetable dipped in a savory sauce or mixture. In the Seder, this is done twice, first parsley dipped in salt water and then horseradish dipped in haroset. The salt water is tears; the parsley is something to offset them. Similarly, the horseradish is bitter, and the haroset represents the mortar the Hebrews used to build the cities. But haroset is sweet, so it offsets the horseradish. In fact, both salty sauces and sweet fruit sauces were part of the Roman meal.

I think it’s obvious that current home practice for Pesach began in Roman times, starting perhaps pre-Destruction and then evolving post-Destruction (of the 2nd Temple). I’ve heard drash that says that the four rabbis who figure so dramatically in the cryptic Midrash read during Seder were up all night because they were discussing a revolt against the Romans! That whole passage is code words to the meaning of Pesach, but you have to look up the quoted verses to understand it.

The Pesach egg also has a great Talmudic connection, but that is a story for another ramble…

Funny that parsley is associated with good health in pregnancy… At an antenatal class the subject of natural remedies came up. The doctor was advising caution as many people think that just because something is natural it is good for you. One example he gave was parsley which used to be used to induce miscarriages. More info here

Yeah, this is the first time I’ve heard of parsley being good during pregnancy. I’d avoid it, personally. Very generally speaking, anything which is touted at being a regulator of periods (although that’s only at best a tertiary use of parsley; it’s not in my list of usual suspects for menstrual issues) is probably not a good thing to take while pregnant, at least early on. I wouldn’t worry about it at culinary doses, but I wouldn’t take it at therapeutic doses during pregnancy.

I use parsley root for it’s diuretic properties, mostly. It’s also great for UTI’s and kidney infections, handily enough. Along with some other herbs, it’s part of my kidney stone breaking formula.

The leaves, of course, are great for upset stomachs and gas, eaten raw or made into tea. Some people like to use the seeds, too, but I’ve not found a reliable source for them, so I don’t have much experience there.

Speaking of pregnancy and parsley, in the Rapunzel fairy tale (probably not the mythology the OP had in mind) where a wife sends her husband into the witch’s gated garden for a bit of parsley (sometimes it’s a carrot or radish, though) while pregnant.

I see reading the Wikipedia article that there’s really no consensus on what vegetable “rapunzel” really is, and I’m assuming the mentions of parsley I’ve seen have just been permutations on the fairy tale, finding a common leafy green/vegetable for the reader to latch onto.

Re: Rapunzel:

There’s no doubt as to the meaning of the vegetable in the Grimms’ tale of “Rampunzel.” Any German speaker will tell you that Rapunzel is widely known and eaten in Germany. It has a variety of names in English, including “lamb’s lettuce” and “corn salad” (genus Valerianella), and it has been frequently mistranslated as “rampion” and other things. Italian versions usually have parsley (cf. Basile’s “Petrosinella”). Different versions of the same tale have different vegetables (technically, allomotifs within the motif of the stolen vegetable).

Well, my people were from farther north. I prefer to put a sprig of thyme in my pocket. It smells nice, and you never know when you’ll need a little more thyme. :wink:

Wikistates that “Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme” are used by herbalist to promote menstruation

Oh, Jeez.

Not anymore, it doesn’t. (I deleted it.) Rubbish.