Dionysus and the Rose

Dionysus and the Rose


Still life by Van Gogh

Roses by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil on canvas, 93 x 74 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The rose is a very ancient flower. Fossils of rose leaves, shoots, thorns and buds are found as far back as from the Tertiary period. The rose has thus flourished on Earth for more than 35 million years.

No plant exceeds the rose in beauty and scent.

Mankind has loved and used the rose since the dawn of time. As far as we know, it was first cultivated in Persia.

The rose has in additions to its esthetically qualities also been appreciated for its healing and culinary abilities. Rose oil is very soothing, and rose-water is ideal for cooking.

In ancient Persia wine was made out of roses, and the Turks made confectionery out of rose petals. The petals have been highly praised as an ingredient in jams, vinegar, cakes and as a delicious garnish. Indeed a useful plant.


But not only mankind, the gods have also been great admirers of the beautiful flower.

Map of NaxosWhen Dionysus was a rather little boy his mother sent him off on foot to Naxos, where they would build temples in his honor, and worship him as a god, as he was of  godly seed, you know, and now it was his time to be worshiped.
He walked and walked. The road was long, and it was terribly hot, so he sat down on a stone to rest. Right in front of his legs grew a plant he found so beautiful that he couldn’t resist its allure, and thus he unearthed it to take it with him. He wanted to plant it when he arrived at Naxos. He was afraid it would fade in the strong sun, and therefore he put it into a bird’s bone he also found. Then he went on.
When he had walked for a while, the plant had grown out of the bird’s bone, and hurled itself around it. Fortunately Dionysus found a lion’s bone, and put his bird’s bone with the plant into it. So he continued his walk, but when he had gone for a while, the plant also grew out of the lion’s bone, and had hurled up around it as well.

Dionysus and the Rose

Statue of Dionysus, marble, height 208 cm, 2nd century CE (arms and legs were heavily restored in the 18th century), found in Italy. Louvre, Paris. Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons



Then he found a large donkey bone, and put both bones with he plant into it.
Finally, he arrived at Naxos, and it was lucky, because now the plant had grown in and around all three bones. He then planted everything into the ground next to a rose-bush, and the plant continued growing and hurling around the rose-bush.

Dionysus had found the vine, and it yielded delicious grapes of which he made the first wine, and gave it to the humans to enjoy.

And when they drink it, they first become light as birds, then as brave as lions, and at last as stupid as donkeys.


Dionysus himself  learned from the rose to use a wreath of roses around his head and thereby avoid to become like a donkey.


Tender green grapes

Photo by BrownyCat (CC)

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Psito Kréatos

Psito Kréatos


Marigold, Calendula officinalis, is probably native to southern Europe. Nobody knows for sure as it has been cultivated a very long time. We know that the flower was very popular with the ancient Greeks. In Greek mythology, after Apollo abandoned Clytia she sat naked on the rocks, without food or drink, staring at the sun.


After nine days she turned yellow and brown, and was transformed into a Marigold, always turning its head to look longingly at Apollo’s chariot of the sun.

English poets really loved Marigold and called it e.g. “Bride of the Sun” and “Mary’s Bud”.


Perdita from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale

Perdita, painting by Anthony Frederick Augustus, 1866




In the Winter’s Tale Shakespeare lets Perdita tell about Marigold and how the flower goes to bed with the sun and rises crying the next morning.





The Beggar's Opera

Painting by William Hogarth of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, Act 5, ca. 1728, oil on canvas, 56 × 72,5 cm.

The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay gives us a recipe for what I call Psito Kréatos which is Greek for broiled veal. This in honor of the poor Clytia:

“And lettuce and beet with marigold meet.”


Used as a herb, the flower-leafs of marigold enhance the taste of almost all food. You can use it either fresh or dried.



Take a knuckle of veal,
You may buy it or steal;
In a few pieces cut it,
In stewing pan put it,
Salt, pepper and mace,
Must season this knuckle;
Then what’s joined to a place
With other herbs muckle;
That which killed king Will
And what never stands still
Some springs from that bed
Where children are bred
Which much will mend, if
Both spinach and endive,
And lettuce and beet
with marigold meet.
Put no water at all,
For it maketh things small,
Which lest it should happen,
A close cover clap on;
Put this pot of wood metal
In a boiling hot kettle,
And there let it be
(Mark this doctrine I teach)
Above, let me see,
Thrice as long as you preach.
So skimming the fat off,
Oh! then with what rapture
Will it fill Dean a Chapter!


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Did Genghis Khan’s Soldiers Eat Tabbouleh?

Did Genghis Khan’s Soldiers Eat Tabbouleh?

One of Genghis Khan's Soldiers

Mongol light cavalryman/archer, Chinese miniature, 15th to 16th century, Ming dynasty. ink and color on paper. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


No, probably not exactly. The tomato was not known to them, but bulgur, green onions and parsley were.


My previous post was a lowcarb recipe for tabbouleh, and as written there – the original recipe for this salad is based on bulgur.



Taizu or Genghis Khan

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan,14th century. Portrait cropped out of a page from an album depicting several Yuan emperors, now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Original size is 47 x 59,4 cm. Paint and ink on silk.

Bulgur has a long and interesting history. According to assistant professor, Dr. Mustafa Bayram of the university of Gaziantep, Turkey, the armies of Genghis Khan, AD1162 –1227, the feared founder, Khan (ruler) and Khagan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire loved to eat bulgur. It made them strong and fearless.


Bulgur may in fact be one of mankind’s first processed foods. Actually, in the Bible we can read that bulgur was prepared by ancient Babylonians, Hittites and Hebrew people over 4000 years ago, and recent research dates the use of this food as far back as 8000 years ago.


Bulgur is made by boiling the wheat grain, dry it, remove the bran and ground it into coarse particles, a parboiling process. This makes bulgur easy to store and easy to consume, you only need to soak it in hot water.


The name bulgur is from Turkish bulgur, which is from Arabic burghul, which is from
Persian barghu-l, and means parched crushed wheat.


Genghis Khan started the Mongol invasions that would result in the conquest of most of Eurasia, and his empire became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death.


13th century size of Genghis Khans empire

Genghis Khan empire, 13th century. Map by Bkkbrad (CC)


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Tabbouleh for a LowCarb Life

Tabbouleh for a LowCarb Life

Tabbouleh is a Levantine Arabic word which means “little spicy”. It is traditionally a salad made of bulgur, finely chopped parsley, tomato and spring onion dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Bulgur is a cereal food made from several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat. As I live a lowcarb life I decided to make a lowcarb version of this popular dish.
Bulgur, as said above, is made of wheat, but it is not the worst to eat (as a lowcarber) compared to other grains. Bulgur has a relative low glycemic index (46). Although, I will substitute bulgur with mushrooms in this recipe.

To make a lowcarb version you will need:

  • 250 g button mushrooms
  • 1-2 bunches  (ca. 100 g) of parsley
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 100 g green onions/scallions
  • 100 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • Sea salt and freshly grounded pepper to taste

Chop the mushrooms to the size of grains. Peel, seed, and dice the tomato. Chop the scallions, the white parts more finely than the green. Finely chop the parsley. Mix it all in a large bowl. Whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together and pour over the salad. Season to taste with salt, pepper and (if you wish – gives a more “grainy” taste) a little bit nutmeg.
Refrigerate for an hour or so to allow the flavors to meld, and you have a delicious lowcarb tabbouleh.

lowcarb tabbouleh

LowCarb Tabbouleh


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Columella Loved Making Moretum

Columella Loved Making Moretum


Emperor Nero

Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome, photo by cjh1452000 (CC)

During the reign of the notorious emperor Nero there lived a man in Rome called Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella.


He was born AD 4 and died ca AD 70. In the first part of his life he was a soldier, but later on he took up farming, and then he wrote one of the most important ancient books on this subject: Twelve volumes called De Re Rustica.

They have been completely preserved, and in them Columella cites  many other authors who are no longer extant, and therefore he is one of the few sources to these almost forgotten writers – some of them very ancient.


Columella also wrote a smaller book called De Arboribus, which is a book about trees.


De Re Rustica presents itself as advice to a certain Publius Silvinus. In the book Columella writes about soils, viticulture (the cultivation of grapes), fruits, olive trees, big animals (cattle, horses and mules), small animals (asses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs), fish and fowls (chickens, doves, thrushes, peacocks, Numidian chicken and guinea fowl, geese, ducks), fish ponds, wild animals and enclosures for wild animals, bee-keeping (production of honey and wax), gardens, personnel management, calendars and  household management. His range of subjects was  indeed very comprehensive.

In volume XII of the book Columella has written down several recipes of moretum.
Moretum is a spread made of fresh cheese, herbs, olive oil, some vinegar and sometimes nuts. If you make it with pine nuts it is very similar to what we today know as pesto. The name moretum was given to the dish because it was made  by crushing the ingredients together in a mortar.

This is what Columella wrote in De Re Rustica, XII-lix:

“Addito in mortarium satureiam, mentam, rutam, coriandrum, apium, porrum sectivum, aut si non erit viridem cepam, folia latucae, folia erucae, thymum viride, vel nepetam, tum etiam viride puleium, et caseum recentem et salsum: ea omnia partier conterito, acetique piperati exiguum, permisceto. Hanc mixturam cum in catillo composurris, oleum superfundito.”

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella
This is Columella’s moretum recipe for us to use today:
  • 1 small head lettuce
  • 100 g fresh mint
  • 50 g fresh coriander
  • 50 g fresh parsley
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 200 g feta cheese (or other fresh salted cheese)
  • vinegar
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Tear the lettuce leaves into small pieces and put them together with the herbs and the sliced leek in the mortar (or use a blender) . Add the cheese and crush it all together. Stir in a little peppered vinegar. Put this mixture on a plate and pour oil over it. If you like you can add nuts, eg walnuts or pine nuts.

You can also experiment with the herbs you use – try different herbs and use both fresh and dried.

Columella loved to eat his moretum with fresh bread.

Posted in Personalities, Recipes Cheese | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two Births on the Island of Cyprus

Two Births on the Island of Cyprus 

Cyprus old map

Map of Cyprus by the Ottoman captain Piri Reis (ca. 1465-1555)

The legend tells that Aphrodite was born out of the foam of the waves on the coast of Cyprus. Her father was Uranus, the primal Greek god personifying the sky.


Petra tou Romiou were Aphrodite was born

Aphrodite's Rock (Petra tou Romiou) in Cyprus, photo by Paul167 (CC)

Aphrodite is well-known for her beauty, and she has also been called “goddess of love”. The Romans knew her as Venus.


Her birth-place is called Petra tou Romiou, or Aphrodite’s Rock, and is situated between Limassol and Paphos.



King Cinyras of Paphos was the ancestor of the priestly kings of Cyprus, and many stories are told about him. This is one:

King Cinyras was fabulously rich and lived in a beautiful palace with a wonderful garden filled with the most exquisite looking and smelling flowers.

The flowers were harvested by specially selected, beautiful virgins, and from the harvest exclusive fragrances were made by highly regarded perfumers. Famous artists were engaged to make the most beautiful jars to contain the precious perfumes.

King Cinyras is said to have been famed for his exquisite beauty himself, and therefore to have been wooed by Aphrodite.

Once a year Aphrodite visited king Cinyras. During this visit she was always given the best perfume in the most beautiful jar as a gift.
The birth of oreganoOne year the gift was to be given to her by a handsome youth. As he saw Aphrodite he was so overwhelmed that he slipped the precious gift. The jar shattered into a million pieces and the perfume disappeared into the ground only leaving the fragrance for a short while before it was taken away by the wind.
The youth was terrified, lost his consciousness, and fell into the broken jar, cutting himself blood spurting.
King Cinyras, watching the event, went furious and lifted his sword to kill the unconscious bleeding youth.
To save him Aphrodite stood up in front of the poor boy, protecting him with her own body.

When she turned around to see to him she saw that the youth had transformed into a fragrant herb – origanum vulgaris. The smell filled her nostrils, and carefully she lifted the newborn herb into her arms and floated through the air all the way to the home of the goods, Mount Olympus. There she planted oregano in a mountain crack.

Oregano “the mountain joy” was born this day. Aphrodite never returned to visit king Cinyras.

The birth of Aphrodite

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510), tempera on panel, 278.5 x 172.5 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.



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Marcus also Wrote about Fish Sauce

Marcus also Wrote about Fish Sauce


Martial the Roman poet

Marcus Valerius Martialis

Marcus Valerius Martialis was a poet who lived in Rome in ancient times. He was born between AD 38-41 in a Roman colony in Hispania (Spain) and died in Rome between AD 102-104. He is known as the creator of the modern epigram. Epigram originally means inscription. It is a brief and clever statement  and therefore easy to remember.


“What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge


In AD 80, Martial, as we call him today, published  his first work, a small volume of poems to celebrate the consecration of the Colosseum called  Liber Spectaculorum (On the Spectacles), but he would later be best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan.

Colosso Roma

Photo by Andreas Tille (CC)

Some of the epigrams are devoted to scenic descriptions, but most are about people of all classes and occupations, emperors, public officials, writers, philosophers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, gladiators, slaves, undertakers, gourmets, spongers, senile lovers, and revolting debauchees.

Martial also wrote about one of the most popular condiments of ancient Rome: Garum

“Accept this exquisite garum, a precious gift made with the first blood spilled from a living mackerel.”

Garum is a sauce made of fat fish and herbs, or as Martial writes – with blood from the fish. The Greeks were the first to make garum and the name garum derives from garos (also garon), the fish originally used by the Greeks in about the fifth-century BC to make the sauce of the same name.

Mosaico Napoli National Archaeological Museum

Detail from a mosaic found in the Villa Arianna, and now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples


According to the book “De medicina et de virtute herbarum” by the Roman writer on horticulture Quintus Gargilius Martialis this is how to make garum:

“Use fatty fish, for example, sardines, and a well-sealed container with a 20-30 litre capacity. Add dried, aromatic herbs with strong flavors, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others, making a layer on the bottom of the container. Then put down a layer of fish (if small, leave them whole, if large, use pieces) and over this, add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for 20 days. After that, it becomes a liquid.”

Seven small fishes

Garum containers

Two amphoras for garum, photo by Claus Ableiter (CC)

Pliny, in his Natural History, XXXI.93 describes garum as

“…consisting of the guts of fish and the other parts that would otherwise be considered refuse; these are soaked in salt, so that garum is really liquor from the putrefaction of these matters”

Which version would you prefer? Maybe you will want to give this version a try:

To make a contemporary version of garum you can boil a liter of grape juice, reducing it to a tenth of its original volume. To this add two tablespoons of anchovy paste and ca 1/4 tsp dried oregano.


Posted in Personalities, Recipes Fish | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Fork Goes from Tuscany to France

A Fork Goes from Tuscany to France

Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de’ Medici was born in Florence, Italy on April 13th, 1519. At the time her family was the most important in Tuscany, and had been so for a long time. Since the Medicis were a family of fame, several well-known artist painted their portraits, and e.g. in the palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence Caterina could, as we still can today, admire portraits of her ancestors incorporated in the fresco “The Journey of the Magi”.

Benozzo Gozzoli's ''Journey of the Magi''

Benozzo Gozzoli's ''Journey of the Magi'', Fresco in the Medici-Ricardo Palace, Florence (1459–61)

Benozzo Gozzoli

Benozzo Gozzoli, self-portrait, detail of the fresco ''Journey of the Magi''



Benozzo Gozzoli painted the fresco between 1459 and 1461, and he also included his self-portrait. He is the guy with his name written around the rim of his cap.


In 1533, when Caterina was fourteen, she went to France to marry Henry, second son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France.



In her luggage Caterina  brought with her her own fork and spoon, enclosed in a box called a cadena.

This was something new for the French, but Caterina herself was well used to eating with a fork. By the 11th century, the table fork had made its way to Italy. Before that people were reliant on the spoon and knife as the only eating utensils, but most people ate their food with their hands, calling for a spoon only when needed.


Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de' Medici

Catherine de' Medici, as Queen of France. "Her mouth is too large and her eyes too prominent and colorless for beauty", wrote a Venetian envoy as Catherine approached forty, "but a very distinguished-looking woman, with a shapely figure, a beautiful skin and exquisitely shaped hands".

The ancient Greeks used the fork as a serving utensil, but it was not commonly used as such in Western Europe until the 10th century.

Caterina became, under the gallicised version of her name, Catherine de Médicis, Queen consort of France as the wife of King Henry II of France from 1547 to 1559, but she did not have a happy marriage. Henry preferred his mistress Diane de Poitiers to Caterina.
When Henry died Caterina was thrusted into the political arena as mother of the frail fifteen-year-old King Francis II. When he died in 1560, she became regent on behalf of her ten-year-old son King Charles IX. After Charles died in 1574, Caterina played a key role in the reign of her third son, Henry III. He dispensed with her advice only in the last months of her life. Caterina died on January 5th, 1589.


Assorted forks. From left to right: dessert fork, relish fork, salad fork, dinner fork, cold cuts fork, serving fork, carving fork. Photo by Mark A. Taff.








I hope you now got inspired to use a fork – here is a recipe for a salad which includes some typical Italian ingredients which  taste delicious together. The salad is named in honor of Caterina.

Insalata Caterina di Toscana


  • Arugula
  • Red onion
  • Red cabbage
  • Romaine lettuce


  • 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 part balsamico vinegar
  • Crushed garlic
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Wash the arugula and cut into smaller parts. Slice the onion into thin slices. Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage and use a cheese slicer to make thin slices. Wash and cut the lettuce.

Mix the dressing, add to the salad and toss.


Insalata Catarina di Toscana

Posted in History, Personalities, Recipes Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Carrots and Anise

Carrots and Anise


Around the end of the 12th century Seville was home to the Arab Andalusian agriculturist  Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Al-Awwam Al-Ishbili.
He is known as Ibn al-‘Awwam, the author of the famous treatise on agriculture, Kitab al-fila-hah, one of the most important medieval works on the subject.
In this book he describes both red and yellow carrots – among a lot of other topics.


Famous treatise on agriculture, Kitab al-fila-hah, one of the most important medieval works on the subject.

Kitab al-Filahah al-Andalusiyah - Libro de agricultura - The Book of Andalusian Agriculture by Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Muhammad ibn al-Awwam al-Ishbili (d. 1185). Translated into Spanish and annotated by Joseph Antonio Banqueri. Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1802. (Yale University).

Encyclopedia Britannica writes:

The book “consists of 35 chapters dealing with agronomy, cattle and poultry raising, and beekeeping. It deals with 585 plants; explains the cultivation of more than 50 fruit trees; and includes many valuable observations on soils, manures, plant grafting, and plant diseases. Much of the material was derived from Greek and Arabic literature, especially from the treatise on Nabatean agriculture of Ibn Wahshiyah, but Ibn al-‘Awwam made many additions to the accumulated knowledge and experience of his Moorish contemporaries.”

Islamic ceramic tile 12th centuryThe carrots as we know them today probably came to Europe from the Orient in the 8-10th centuries. In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots. Orange-colored carrots first appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century.
Anise is one of our oldest herbs. (You can read more about anise on my page about anise). Anise-seeds are sweet and very aromatic, distinguished by their licorice-like flavor.

Carrots and anise make a delicious combination, and if you like the taste of licorice, I recommend that you give this a try:

  • Carrots, as many as you would like to eat
  • Anise-seeds
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Parsley (optional)

Peel the carrots and slice them.  In a pan, melt the butter, add some olive oil, and fry the carrot slices. It doesn’t take long, I find the carrots best if they retain some crispness. Add anise-seeds. Taste.  Add salt and pepper.

Sprinkle some parsley on top and serve.

Enjoy!Anise and carrots


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Easter, the Easter Bunny, and How to Color Eggs with Dyes Made of Herbs

Easter, the Easter Bunny, and How to Color Eggs with Dyes Made of Herbs

Good Friday, Crucifixtion

The Crucifixion by Theophanes the Cretan, Middle 16th century, Holy Monastery of Stavronikita, Mount Athos, Greece.

Today the Christians of the world observe Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary.
A legend tells that the egg merchant Simon of Cyrene was forced by the Roman soldiers to leave his eggs on the side of the road to help Christ carry the cross. When he returned from Calvary to pick up his eggs, he found that they had been colored and decorated.
Another legend tells about Mary Magdalene. She placed a basket of eggs at the foot of the cross, and the eggs were dyed red with the blood of Christ.
The early Christians of Mesopotamia were the first to use colored eggs at Easter, but the tradition can be traced back to an early rite of spring practiced by the ancient Egyptians and Persians. An egg is a symbol of new life, and that is what we seek when we go hunting for eggs on Easter morning. The term Easter originate in the Old English word E-astre or E-ostre, which was the name of the month of April in earlier times. E-ostre was the name of a Pagan goddess, for whom feasts were held in honor during  springtime.


Ostara or  E-ostre

Ostara, xylograph by Eduard Ade (1835–1907) after "Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess E-ostre/Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light, and animals. Germanic peoples look up at the goddess from the realm below.


Jacob Grimm, a 19th century scholar, proposed that E-ostre was known as Ostara among the pre-Christian people in continental Europe, and later linguists have identified Ostara with the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, Ausõs or in Latin: Aurora. The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring. The goddess would make her earthly appearance in the form of a rabbit; hence the Easter bunny.
In Colonial America the settlers brought with them, from their native countries, the custom of dying eggs, using berries, roots and herbs.



2 easter bunnys



It is easy to use herbs for coloring eggs. Here is how to do it:
First – wash the eggs in mild soapy water to remove any natural waxy coating.
To make the dye you bring water to boil, add dried herbs and white vinegar in the following proportion – according to how many eggs you want to color:

1 cup water
1 tbsp dried herb
1 tbsp white vinegar

Bring water, herbs, and vinegar to a simmer, and let it boil for ca 30 minutes. The longer it boils, the darker it gets.
Add the eggs, which should be at room temperature, and continue heating for 20 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool before you place the pot in the refrigerator for the color to deepen. When the eggs have reached the wanted color (remember they look darker wet than dry), remove them from the pot and dry. If you want extra shine, rub the eggs with vegetable oil and buff.

Colors – this is suggestions, experiment with other herbs (or berries/vegetables)

easter eggs found by the easter bunny

  • Yellow: Chamomile
  • Green: Rosemary
  • Purple: Hibiscus flowers
  • Red: Dandelion root
  • Brown: Juniper berries or Fennel


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