Silphium

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August 20, 2022

Silphium (lat.), silfion (m.Greek. σίλφιον), laser or laser root was a spice used by the ancient Greeks. Silphium was the root of a plant that was used with vegetables, but especially meat was seasoned with it, and it was also used to season wine. Silphium was brought to Greece in 638 BC. from North Africa. The spice was cultivated by the Cyrenes, who brought it to the Greeks and later to the Romans. The Romans also highly valued silphium. It was one of the most expensive spices of its time, which was not grown elsewhere, but then for some reason the importation of silphium stopped. There is no certain information why the spice was no longer imported to Rome and why the production of the spice stopped. It is suspected that the reason may have been some kind of political differences. As the export of the spice was suppressed, the spice producers apparently destroyed their spice plantations, and the entire plant disappeared around the middle of the first century. It has been speculated that the plant may have been a hybrid of two different plants that only reproduces asexually and died out. In addition to taste, silphium was needed because it was supposed to have a contraceptive effect, and it became a metaphor for love. Silphium seed is heart shaped. The plant was depicted on local coins. Later, the Romans tried to find the plant again but without success. It is said that during the search, one plant was found, which was sent to Emperor Nero. So, according to the story, he was the last one to have tasted silphium. After numerous searches, the Romans found a spice with which they could inevitably replace silphium. The spice is a resin that is claimed to have a very garlicky/oniony aroma.

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