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.”
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.