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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Gardens have been common for thousands of years in one form or another. Ancient Persia, Egypt, the Greeks and the Romans heavily influenced the style of today's gardens; scented gardens were a large part of this style.
Ancient Persian Gardens: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Some of the most famous scented gardens in history are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon located in ancient Persia and date back over 2,500 years. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were reputedly built in sixth century B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar II for his homesick wife, Mayitis. The gardens were said to have been a paradise of water, cool terraces and an exotic blend of fragrant trees, flowers and herbs.
Ancient Egyptian Gardens and Fragrances
The Egyptians were also known to be experts in aromatic plants, including their uses in cosmetic and medicinal purposes, as well as ancient rituals. It is reported that there are no less than 256 different types of plants represented in drawings in the “Botanical Garden”, a room in the temple of Amun at Karnak. It is at Karnak also that another wall painting shows the first plant expeditions to find the incense tree for Queen Hatshepusut in 1495 B.C.
Perhaps the most well known of Egyptian fragrances is Kyphi. Kyphi was blended from plants such as juniper, peppermint, cinnamon, saffron and myrrh. Kyphi was a fragrance, a general antidote to toxins and it helped to induce sleep. Pomades of roses, made from fresh macerated roses and fat and shaped into a cone were also popular.
The earliest known botanical gardens were formed from the temple gardens of Egyptian priests, who grew many medicinal plants in their walled gardens of retreat. The Ebers Papyrus, reported to be one of the oldest medicinal works, dating back to 1550 B.C., contains a number of recipes for aromatic and fragrant plants.
Some of the more interesting descriptions in the Ebers Papyrus include the use of cannabis or Indian hemp as a sedative and narcotic, saffron for its aromatic value and culinary uses and the oil of blue lotus for its by Pharaohs in their tombs and of sacred value. Frankincense and myrrh formed the basis for most types of incense and were extremely popular at that time.
Greek and Roman Aromatic Gardens
The Greeks took the knowledge of aromatic plants, which they learned from the Egyptians, back to their own Empire. In fifth century B.C., Herodotus and Democrates brought back information of the aromatic properties of plants; Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, was credited with providing many aromatic uses of plants. Later in time, Discorides produced the De Materia Medica, a description of many medicinal uses for plants.
By the fourth century B.C., the Greeks had also established their own flower gardens to honor the Gods. They took their inspiration from the ancient gardens of Persia and incorporated many of their features, such as fruit trees and herbs. The Romans were also inspired by the same influences.
Evidence of Roman aromatic gardens is shown in old wall paintings in Pompeii, Italy, carefully preserved for centuries under the lava of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The knowledge of the Romans spread throughout the Roman Empire and many of today's well known plants worldwide were introduced to Great Britain by the Romans, including peach, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley.
- Lawless, Julia 2001 The Aromatherapy Garden London, UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd
- Squire, David 2002 The Healing Garden London, UK: Vega
This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Ancient History of Scented Gardens
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