Pliny and the Garden

December 13 2021

Pliny the Elder is famous for having thought about many interesting topics: from healing plants to politics.

An exploration of some of his vast knowledge will follow.

First up: Garden plants and their healing properties!



Pliny’s health advice:

  • a cure for poor vision through the tears caused by the smell

  • applying onion juice directly into the eye is even better

  • soporific (sleep-inducing)

  • heals mouth sores (when eaten with bread)

  • healthy complexion (when eaten)

  • good health (when eaten everyday on an empty stomach)

  • moves gas along

  • disperse haemorrhoids (when used as a suppository

  • against the early stages of dropsy [edema] (onion juice mixed with an extract from fennel)

Pliny’s entertaining anecdotes: Onions do not grow wild (!)

People are places Pliny mentions: Asclepiades



Pliny’s health advice:

  • soporific (sleep-inducing

  • cools a feverish body

  • purge the stomach

  • increases blood volume

  • disperses flatulence

  • suppresses belches

  • aids digestion

  • stimulates AND diminishes appetite, depending on the amount (too much loosens the bowels, a moderate amount causes constipation)

Pliny’s entertaining anecdotes: Lettuce can check sexual appetite (!)



Pliny’s health advice:

  • headaches, impaired vision, spots before the eyes, spleen & stomach, hypochondria are cured by a mix of cabbage with oxymel (a mixture of raw honey, vinegar, and herbs), coriander, rue, mint, and silphium root (silphium is a now-extinct plant, likely from the Ferula family - it can be substituted with asafoetida) taken in the morning

  • fresh and old wounds and malignant lesions that cannot be healed with any other means, should be covered by pounded cabbage, stirred in hot water twice a day

  • fistulas, tumors, and sprains are to be treated the same way

  • preventing dreams and insomnia (when eaten with oil while otherwise fasting)

  • improves eyesight (when cabbage juice is mixed with Attic honey)

  • paralysis

  • coughing up blood

Pliny’s entertaining anecdotes:

The mixture to be taken in the morning for all sorts of ailments is said to make the person who makes it stronger (!) [Cato]

Due to cabbage being a bad companion to vines, cabbage prevents the wine drinker from getting drunk when they eat cabbage before consumption or neutralizes the intoxication if cabbage is eaten afterward (!) [Greek common knowledge]

People are places Pliny mentions: Chrysippus, Dieuches, Pythagoras, Cato, Erisistratus



Pliny’s health advice:

  • beneficial against ailments caused by changes of water and of location

Pliny’s entertaining anecdotes: The smell of garlic drives away snakes and scorpions (and according to some, any kind of wild beast)



Pliny’s health advice:

  • treat poor eyesight, styes on the lids, other eye diseases (via wild cucumber seeds, which have been crushed and coagulated in the sun, and pressed in tablets)

  • heals impetigo, scabies, ringworm, and psoriasis (dried and pounded cucumber roots, with resin)

  • helps fainting problems(the smell is restorative)



Pliny’s health advice:

  • beneficial to the sight (both when used as medication and when eaten)

  • good for inveterate (unchanging) coughs

  • prevent the blood from coagulating (when taken with honey)

  • dispels chronic fluxes (when applied externally with mustard)

  • various problems with the bowels (must be used in moderation)

  • against melancholy and the alienation of the senses

  • epilepsy (the smell revives patients)

  • asthma

Pliny’s entertaining anecdotes: Survival of Attic thyme was thought to depend on the sea breeze. This view was held of all thyme “in olden times” according to Pliny (!)


… more knowledge by Pliny coming soon!