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Silphium is an extinct herb that grew near Cyrene in what is now Libya.

Cyrene was a Greek colony established by Sparta. The height of production was between 7th and 2nd centuries BC. The Greeks did try to transplant and grow it in other areas, but not successfully. It was practically extinct by the 1st century AD due to overharvesting.

It is not entirely clear what plant it was, though of course there is much speculation. The stalk seems to have been like that of fennel. It grew clusters of small yellow flowers.

Silphium was popular in Greece, and very expensive. It was used as a condiment, as a vegetable, and as a food preservative. The Greeks grated it over food, and cooked the stalk like a vegetable. The Ancient Egyptians felt that it helped them with birth control.

An extract named 'laserpicium' was derived from the plant

Asafoetida is sometimes referred to as the Silphium that the Greeks and Romans used, but it isn't really.

Literature & Lore

Some people got sick of all the hype that there came to be about Silphium. Antiphanes (circa 408 to 334 BC), a poet from Athens, visited Cyrene. While leaving, he wrote: "I will not sail back to the place from which we were carried away, for I want to say goodbye to all horses, silphium, chariots, silphium stalks, steeplechasers, silphium leaves, fevers, and silphium juice."

Language Notes

The Greeks called it silphion (σίλφιον.) The name Silphium has since been applied to the plant whose roots Asafoetida is now made from, as well as to some herbs found in North America.

See also:


Angelica; Angostura Bark; Bay Leaf; Borage; Chamomile; Chervil; Chives; Comfrey; Curry Leaves; Dill; Dried Herbs; Epazote; Filé; Folium Indicum; Garlic Greens; Green Garlic; Gruit; Herbes Salées; Herbs; Hops; Jacob's Ladder; Lady's Bedstraw; Lavender; Loroco; Lovage; Marjoram; Mexican Tarragon; Mint; Mugwort Powder; Oregano; Pennywort; Potherbs; Rolling Mincer; Rosemary; Rue; Sachet Bags; Sage; Salad Burnet; Sarsaparilla; Sassafrass; Savoury; Screw Pine Leaves; Shiso Leaves; Silphium; Sorrel; Stevia; Sweet Cicely; Tarragon; Thyme; Trefoil; Valerian; Wild Garlic; Winter Purslane; Wormwood; Yarrow; Yomogi

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Oulton, Randal. "Silphium." CooksInfo.com. Published 12 November 2003; revised 23 August 2007. Web. Accessed 05/22/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/silphium>.

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