History of the Carrot Part Two
Origins and Development - Neolithic to AD 200
Chapters in the history rooms: Full History - "If History without Chronology is
dark and confused, Chronology without History is dry and insipid."—Abiel Holmes.
A rich association has existed between people and roots throughout the centuries
and before the development of "civilized" societies. This relationship was most
often one of dependence on roots as a source of food, then medicine, in the case
of carrots it was the reverse and they were initially used for the medicinal
properties of their seeds. Sometimes because of their appearance, colour, odour
or actual (or perceived) medicinal properties roots were given a special
importance by ancient peoples.
To unravel the long history of the Carrot you have to go back
a very long way. Fossil pollen from the Eocene period (55 to 34 million years
ago) has been identified as belonging to the Apiaceae (the carrot family).
It is considered that the carrot dates back about 5,000
years ago when the root was found to be growing in the area now known as
Afghanistan. . It is said that
Temple drawings from Egypt in 2000 BC show a purple plant, which
some Egyptologists believe could have been a purple carrot. Although Egyptian
papyruses containing information about treatments with seeds from plants were found in
pharaoh crypts but there is no direct or documentary reference to carrot.
Historians believe the ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated carrots, they are
mentioned by Pliny the Elder and were prized by the Emperor Tiberius.. However
most ancient writings from Asia Minor, Greece and Rome do not mention carrots
even though wild carrots have a long history of presumed medicinal use. Parsnip
is often mentioned in the writings and often the words for parsnip and carrot
were initially interchangeable. In classical writings both vegetables seem to
have been sometimes called
pastinaca yet each vegetable appears to be well under cultivation in
Throughout the Classical Period and the Middle Ages writers constantly confused
carrots and parsnips. This may seem odd given that the average carrot is about
six inches long and bright orange while a parsnip is off white and can grow 3
feet, but this distinction was much less obvious before early modern plant
breeders got to work. It is thought that the orange carrot was developed and
stabilised in the 16th century probably in the Low Countries. Its original colour varied between
dirty white and pinkish purple. Both vegetables have also got much fatter and
fleshier in recent centuries, and parsnips may have been bred to be longer as
well. In other words early medieval carrots and parsnips were both thin and
woody and mostly of a vaguely whitish colour. This being the case, almost
everyone up to the early modern period can perhaps be forgiven for failing to
distinguish between the two, however frustrating this may be for the food
historian. (The Road to Domestication and the colour orange is
discussed here with some compelling images from way
plants were not confused on purpose, but since we have in many cases only the
written word, if the Medieval writer called plants "pastinaca", without
reference to colour in particular it is impossible to know if they were carrots
Chapters in the history rooms:
Full History - "If History without Chronology is dark and confused, Chronology without History is dry and insipid."—Abiel Holmes.
A rich association has existed between people and roots throughout the centuries and before the development of "civilized" societies. This relationship was most often one of dependence on roots as a source of food, then medicine, in the case of carrots it was the reverse and they were initially used for the medicinal properties of their seeds. Sometimes because of their appearance, colour, odour or actual (or perceived) medicinal properties roots were given a special importance by ancient peoples.
To unravel the long history of the Carrot you have to go back a very long way. Fossil pollen from the Eocene period (55 to 34 million years ago) has been identified as belonging to the Apiaceae (the carrot family). It is considered that the carrot dates back about 5,000 years ago when the root was found to be growing in the area now known as Afghanistan. . It is said that Temple drawings from Egypt in 2000 BC show a purple plant, which some Egyptologists believe could have been a purple carrot. Although Egyptian papyruses containing information about treatments with seeds from plants were found in pharaoh crypts but there is no direct or documentary reference to carrot.
Historians believe the ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated carrots, they are mentioned by Pliny the Elder and were prized by the Emperor Tiberius.. However most ancient writings from Asia Minor, Greece and Rome do not mention carrots specifically, even though wild carrots have a long history of presumed medicinal use. Parsnip is often mentioned in the writings and often the words for parsnip and carrot were initially interchangeable. In classical writings both vegetables seem to have been sometimes called pastinaca yet each vegetable appears to be well under cultivation in Roman times.
Throughout the Classical Period and the Middle Ages writers constantly confused carrots and parsnips. This may seem odd given that the average carrot is about six inches long and bright orange while a parsnip is off white and can grow 3 feet, but this distinction was much less obvious before early modern plant breeders got to work. It is thought that the orange carrot was developed and stabilised in the 16th century probably in the Low Countries. Its original colour varied between dirty white and pinkish purple. Both vegetables have also got much fatter and fleshier in recent centuries, and parsnips may have been bred to be longer as well. In other words early medieval carrots and parsnips were both thin and woody and mostly of a vaguely whitish colour. This being the case, almost everyone up to the early modern period can perhaps be forgiven for failing to distinguish between the two, however frustrating this may be for the food historian. (The Road to Domestication and the colour orange is discussed here with some compelling images from way before 1500).
plants were not confused on purpose, but since we have in many cases only the
written word, if the Medieval writer called plants "pastinaca", without
reference to colour in particular it is impossible to know if they were carrots
believed that the Carrot originated some 5000 years ago in Middle Asia around
Afghanistan, and slowly spread into the Mediterranean area. The first recorded carrots
(ad 900 Afghanistan)
were mainly purple or yellow, with some white or black - not orange. The Orange
colour, so familiar today, was not clearly mentioned until the 1500's although some interpretations
of early manuscripts and drawings therein, leave that possibility open.
Since most vegetables leave little archaeological trace, it is difficult to construct a complete picture of what was grown in prehistoric times. Many of those recorded in classical literature are likely to have been grown in earlier times, and green and root vegetables native to Europe were gathered long before they were brought into cultivation. Occasional discoveries of seeds show that cabbages were grown in southern England in the Bronze Age and oil-seed rape, turnips, and carrots in the Iron Age; celery, carrots, cabbages, and turnips were also among the plants used by the Neolithic and Bronze Age inhabitants of the Swiss lake villages
Carrot seeds have been found in prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings in Ronbenhausen giving clear evidence of human consumption. There is however no evidence of cultivation at this stage, more likely they were used for medicinal purposes. Similar findings appear also in ancient Glastonbury. Neolithic people savoured the roots of the wild carrot for its sweet, succulent flavour.
One of the first written pieces of evidence come from Theophrastus (371-287bc) - the father of botany. His two surviving botanical works, Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, were an important influence on medieval science. Theophrastus states, in the ninth book of his History of Plants, that carrots grow in Arcadia, but that the best are found in Sparta. Much of the information on the Greek plants may have come from his own observations, as he is known to have travelled throughout Greece, and to have had a botanical garden of his own; but the works also profit from the reports on plants of Asia brought back from those who followed Alexander the Great:
The ancients liked a good dose of vegetables in their pillls! - archaeobotanists have found after analyzing plant DNA in Greek-made pills from a 130 BC shipwreck. Archaeological researchers have started to analyse the drugs found onboard. Using the GenBank genetic database as their guide, they have found that the pills appear to contain carrot, parsley, radish, alfalfa, chestnut, celery, wild onion, yarrow, oak, and cabbage.
Geneticist Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park says that many of the ingredients match those described in ancient texts. Yarrow was meant to slow blood coming from a wound, and carrot, as described by Pedanius Dioscorides, a pharmacologist in Rome, was thought to ward off reptiles and aid in conception. Read more here.
Early written references come from the early Romans. Mithridates VI, King of Pontius (120bc-63bc) was in constant fear of poisoning. The king is said to have taken a potion daily to render his body safe against danger from poison, this contained the seeds of the Cretan carrot.
He concocted one of the most well-known antidotes in antiquity, called mithridatium, possibly with the help of his court physician Crateuas). Experimenting with different formulations and trying them out on condemned prisoners, he compounded various antidotes to produce a single universal one, which he hoped would protect him against any poison. A hundred years after the death of Mithridates, 100 years later, Celsus (see below) recorded the formulation, which comprised thirty-six ingredients, all of which are derived from plants, except for honey to mix them and castor to enhance the aroma. The concoction is estimated to have weighed approximately three pounds and to have lasted for six months, taken daily in the amount the size of an almond. Celsus said "Against poisoning, a piece the size of an almond is given in wine. In other affections an amount corresponding in size to an Egyptian bean is sufficient. "
Krateuas (Crateuas) 120 B.C. was physician in ordinary to Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus (died 63 B.C.). Krateuas described as well as illustrated plants. Some fragments of his writings have been recognised in the Anicia Codex of Dioscorides in the Vienna State Library to which reference has been made later in the Carrot Museum - the first Orange carrot illustration.
An examination of the pharmacology of Mithridates' original formulation shows
a conscious effort to select plants thought to be useful, many of which have a
strong scent and are from the family Apiaceae: Cretan carrot, assafoetida
("gum"), galbanum, sagapenum, opopanax, parsley, anise, hartwort ("saxifrage").
They do, in fact, reduce inflammation.
When King Mithridates was defeated by the Romans they got the recipe for Antidotum Mithridates, a universal antidote created by Mithridates himself. Emperor Nero let his physician Andromachus study the antidote. Andromachus changed a few ingredients, most importantly he added snake flesh and increased the amount of opium. The antidote got the name Theriac derived from the Greek which means 'wild or venomous animal', it is also called triacle (modern day treacle). It was originally concocted to cure snake bites, later it became an antidote for all poisons. Theriac had a very complicated formula and failure to follow the recipe with fresh and precisely measured ingredients meant that the concoction did not work.
Carrots, parsley and wild onions were among the samples preserved in clay pills on board the merchant trading vessel that sank around 120 BC. It's believed the plants were used by doctors to treat intestinal disorders among the ship's crew. Such remedies are described in ancient Greek texts, but this is the first time the medicines themselves have been discovered. Read more here.
The use of carrot seeds is recorded in the famous work "De medicina" by Aulus Cornelius Celsus written between 25bc-50ce . A carrot poultice was used at the time - see modern version here.
Celsus was a Roman encyclopaedist, known for his medical work, De Medicina, which is believed to be the only surviving section of a much larger encyclopaedia. The De Medicina is a primary source on diet, pharmacy, surgery and related fields, and it is one of the best sources concerning medical knowledge in the Roman world. (read the translation here). It is a disputed question whether the author of the work was a practising physician or not. It may be remarked in passing that in ancient times there was not such a sharp distinction between the professional and the amateur as there is to‑day. The amount of medical knowledge was not so great as to be out of the range of an ordinary, educated man of average intelligence. On the one hand, it may be said that a work so complete and so accurate as the De Medicina must have come from the pen of a man with professional experience. On the other hand, several reasons may be urged making the other view more probable.
The seeds of Daucus Creticus; Athaminta Gretensis, Cretan or Candy carrot is mentioned in an ingredient of an antidote,( II. 56). It also included, amongst other things, poppy, parsley, pepper, acacia and saxifrage. The ingredients were pounded and taken up in honey.
"Against poisoning, a piece the size of an almond is given in wine. In other affections an amount corresponding in size to an Egyptian bean is sufficient."
Greeks and Romans Carrots were well known to both the Greeks and Romans.
During the first century, the Greeks cultivated a variety of root crops that included leeks, onions, radishes, turnips, and a poorly developed variety of carrots. The unpleasant tasting carrots were rarely eaten but were applied medicinally. Though the Greeks excelled in cultivating many food plants, they never succeeded in developing the carrot into a flavourful vegetable. Even Galen, the 2nd century physician at the court of Marcus Aurelius, stated that the wild carrot is less fit to be eaten than the cultivated variety. They cultivated carrots in their kitchen gardens. These varieties are thought to have been 'forked' with white roots, not unlike the roots of today's wild carrot.
The Romans often ate carrots raw, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar or they cooked them with a sauce made from cumin, salt, old wine and oil. The Romans invading Britain in the second century AD brought leeks, onions, garden carrots, garlic, fennel, mint, thyme, parsley and coriander to name but a few. The Greeks called the carrot "Philtron" and used it as a love medicine to make men more ardent and women more yielding. The Carrot is mentioned by Greek and Latin writers under various names however it was not always distinguished from the Parsnip and Skirret, which are closely allied to it. The name Pastinace was used for both at the time of Pliny the Elder and is based on the verb pastinare - to dig up. Galen in the 2nd century attempted to distinguish the two by giving the wild carrot the name Daucus Pastinaca.
The Greeks had three words each of which could be applied to the properties of the carrot: "Sisaron", first occurring in the writings of Epicharmus, a comic poet (500 B.C.); "Staphylinos", used by Hippocrates (430 B.C.) and "Elaphoboscum", used by Dioscorides (first century AD).
Hippocrates (460-359 BC) The physician and scholar is well known and revered as the father of modern medicine and formalised many herbal cures. Less known is the stress he placed on diet in maintaining health. In medical science, people basically thought the mind and the body was an inseparable thing and the moral view of disease was that diseases were a punishment for a sin. On the other hand Hippocrates saw that diseases occur by natural causes. Having lived just shy of a century at a time when life expectancies were much less, he clearly understood the importance of a healthy diet.
The assertion of Hippocrates, a doctor from Cos Island in Greece and that of his followers remains and his complete works have commanded universal admiration for a long time as the highest scriptures in the field of medical science. Even today the sublime spirit of Hippocrates serves as pattern for others, so every person seeking for the occupation of doctor is bound to swear the Hypocratical oath at least once.
Hippocrates said "Let food be your medicine and medicine your food". In the following description of cooking methods, his primary concern is to counteract the potentially harmful effects of strongly flavoured foods with the ultimate goal of easing their digestion and passage through the body. He also reveals some of the basic preferences of ancient Greek cuisine.
He also said "The powers of foods severally ought to be diminished or increased in the following way...Take away their power from strong foods by boiling and cooling many times; remove moisture from moist things by grilling and roasting them; soak and moisten dry things, soak and boil salt things, bitter and sharp things mix with sweet, and astringent things mix with oily." For example, foods like cabbage, carrots and turnips were boiled several times, fish or lamb would have been grilled, and an herb like sorrel would have been dressed with oil.
Pedianos Dioskourides, also known as Pedanius Dioscorides, probably lived between 40CE and 90CE in the time of the Roman Emperors Nero and Vespasian. A Cilician Greek, he was born in Anazarbos (now Nazarba, near Tarsus) within the Roman Empire of the day, and today in Turkey. A learned physician, he practiced medicine as an army doctor, and saw service with the Roman legions in Greece, Italy, Asia Minor, and Provence in modern-day France. His military years provided opportunities for studying diseases, collecting and identifying medicinal plants, and discovering other healing materials. Dioscorides compiled his medical treatise at the suggestion of a fellow-physician, Areius. He had access to the library at Alexandria, and may have studied at Tarsus. He recorded many plants previously unknown to Greek and Roman physicians, and made an effort to describe not only their qualities and remedial effects, but also something of their botany and living morphology including roots, foliage, and sometimes flowers. Although not as naive as many other herbal writers, he showed little scientific interest concentrating rather on the practical uses of plants and sometimes giving only brief descriptions, perhaps from other primary sources. In all he described some one thousand remedies using approximately six hundred plants and plant products.
Dioscorides probably wrote his great herbal in about 64CE (according to Pritzel 77CE). These medicinal and alimentary plants number about a hundred more than all those (medicinal or not) known to the great botanist Theophrastus, and described in his fine botanical work, the Enquiry into Plants, some two centuries before.
"Ye root ye thickness of a finger, a span long, sweet-smelling, edible being sodden [boiled]. Of this ye seed being drank...and it is good for ye [painful discharge of urine] in potions, and for ye bitings and strokes of venomous beasts; they say also, that they which take it before hand shall take no wrong of wilde beasts. It cooperates also to conception, and it also being [diuretic], both provoketh [poison], and being applied; but the leaves being beaten small with honey, and laid on, doth cleanse rapidly spreading destructive ulceration of soft tissues." (Mitch, 1998)Read more about the Greek Herbal of Dioscorides here.
Columella (1st century AD) briefly mentions the carrot. He talks of the field parsnip and a cultivated variety which bears the name and which the Greeks called "staphylinos". He also mentions that the unopened flowers were collected and stored as herbs. Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus - (b. 1st century AD, Gades, Spain) was a Roman soldier and farmer who wrote a twelve volume treatise on all aspects of Roman farming and extensively on agriculture and kindred subjects in the hope of arousing a love for farming and a simple life. He became in early life a tribune of the legion stationed in Syria, but neither an army career nor the law attracted him, and he took up farming in Italy.
Tiberius Claudius Nero (42BC-37AD), second Emperor of Rome, was, according to Pliny the Elder, so much in love with the carrot root that he ordered it to be brought yearly from the Castle of Geluba standing on the river Rhine in Germany. Pliny the Elder called him tristissimus hominum, "the gloomiest of men".
Apicius Czclius, (ad 14-37) a wealthy Roman merchant of the reign of Tiberius, whose real name was Marcus Gavio, was the greatest expert of gastronomy in antiquity and devoted his life and own money to the art of cooking. He taught haute cuisine under Augustus and Tiberius and enjoyed the reputation of a wealthy and decadent gourmet.
Stories of his legendary wealth and excesses abounded and he passed in to history as a kind of croesus of the kitchen. Apicius is primarily remembered as a deranged, sadistic and extravagant tyrant. The historian Aelius Lampridius depicts him feasting on flamingo's' brains, the heads of parrots, sow's udder and vegetables seasoned with precious jewels. #His work "De Re Coquinaria" (on cookery) is the most important cooking treatise in Latin. It is divided into 11 Chapters and reveals the evolution of taste in terms of food and lifestyle of the Roman upper class up to the Fall of the Roman Empire. This work is reputedly the oldest cookbook in the world and captures for all time the essence of what was best in the art of Roman cooking. Chapter III of Apicius' book was "The Gardener - Cepuros - Vegetables". This chapter describes meals eaten across civilised Europe during the centuries of Roman domination. They constitute the foundations of western cookery, shorn of food additives and artificial preservatives.
These recipes specifically include carrots:
1. Caroetae Frictea: oenogaro inferuntur - which was fried carrots served with oenogerum.
2. Aliter Caroetas: sale, oleo puro et aceto - Another method: (raw or cooked) with salt, pure oil and vinegar.
3. Caroetas Elixatus: concisas in cuminato oleo modico
coques et inferes. - Boil the carrots and chop. Cook in cumin sauce with
a little oil and serve - for those who have colic.
|Here is what appears to be a carrot, accompanying
olives and a little bowl of dip, from a wall painting in a Roman tavern in
Ostia (Caseggiato del Termopolio). Compliments of Bill Thayer (Lacus
Curtius) the real expert on Roman antiquities.
See his site here.
In Roman times more civilized early Mediterranean communities knew about the carrot and supplies were specially imported from Germany for the table of Tiberius. The Romans often ate carrots raw, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar or they cooked them with a sauce made from cumin, salt, old wine and oil. The Romans invading Britain in the second century AD brought leeks, onions, garden carrots, garlic, fennel, mint, thyme, parsley and coriander to name but a few. Roman soups could be quite complicated affairs. Perhaps the oldest surviving soup recipe in the world appears in Apicius' fourth century cook book, based on the notes of a cook who had died three centuries earlier. The soup in question is Pultes Iulianae, or Julian Pottage, and the recipe is as follows:
First prepare a wheat gruel by boiling up some pre-soaked wheat with water and a little olive oil, and stir vigorously to thicken. Then pound up half a pound of minced meat in a mortar, with two brains, some pepper, lovage and fennel seed, and add wine and liquamen (fermented fish sauce, a little like modern South East Asian versions). Cook the mixture in a metal vessel, add some stock, and add the result to the wheat gruel.
The Romans transported and stored their liquids, including their much prized wine and oil (for cooking carrots) in vessels called amphorae. These were large, two-handled pottery jugs often in red brown sandy ware. (The word amphora is Greek for "two ears".) In Roman times the amphora was used as a unit of liquid measure containing 2 urnae, 8 congii, or 48 sextarii (the latter, equivalent to a pint). One amphora thus equalled about 6 gallons or 24 litres. The amphora was also used as a measurement of ship tonnage, equivalent to 80 Roman pounds. Literally millions of pottery amphorae were used in commerce throughout the empire. Vessels and shards of Roman amphorae, commonly found at archaeology sites, thus serve as a ready means of tracing the spread of the wine trade in and beyond the empire (for example, in Britain and Gaul prior to Caesar). Interestingly enough one amphora is called the carrot amphora because of its shape!.
The lower class Romans (plebeians) might have a dinner of porridge made of vegetables, or, when they could afford it, fish, bread, olives, and wine, and meat on occasions.
Apicius was the classical glutton, his colossal banquets eventually drove him to bankruptcy and suicide, but he left behind a cookbook so prized that it has been preserved, in numerous editions, down to the 21st century. The Martial Epigrams quote: "After you spent 60 million sesterces on your stomach, Apicius, 10 million remained. An embarrassment you said, fit only to satisfy mere hunger and thirst. So your last and most expensive meal was poison. Apicius you never were more a glutton than at the end."
The Latin word "sphondyli" has two meanings in the work of Apicius. Sometimes it refers to carrots or artichokes and in others it refers to mussels. The ancients cultivated the species "Heracleum Sphondylium" which is the parsnip a similar plant to carrots.
Apicius wrote two cook books and a special book on sauces and his name is linked to several culinary inventions.
Emperor Caligula (A.D. 37-51) a renowned crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes, including attempting to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul. He is purported to have once ordered the senate to convene and then fed the entire he assembled dignitaries a banquet only of carrot dishes, believing their aphrodisiac powers would get people in the mood and produce a delightful orgy for his viewing pleasure
The Roman emperor Caligula, believing these stories, forced the whole Roman Senate to eat carrots so he could see them "in rut like wild beasts."
Pliny the Elder, (A.D. 23-79) a Roman Historian and scientist refers to a plant grown in Syria resembling a parsnip, called in Italy Gallicam and in Greece Daucon. Pliny's rich encyclopedia "Naturalis Historia" (Natural History) deals with medicinal plants and described their therapeutic effects. Pliny's work includes a discussion of all known cultivated crops and vegetables, as well as herbs and remedies derived from them.
Pliny said: "There is one kind of wild pastinaca which grows spontaneously; by the Greeks it is known as staphylinos. Another kind is grown either from the root transplanted or else from seed, the ground being dug to a very considerable depth for the purpose. It begins to be fit for eating at the end of the year, but it is still better at the end of two; even then, however, it preserves its strong pungent flavour, which it is found impossible to get rid of." In speaking of the medicinal virtue he adds "the cultivated form has the same as the wild kind, though the latter is more powerful, especially when grown in stony places. Pliny called its root "pasticana gallica" : "food for Gauls", but it was not eaten as a vegetable prior to the Middle Ages.
Pliny speaks of four kinds of wild carrot (Daucus), some of which “grow everywhere on earthy hills and cross-paths” having “leaves like those of coriander, a stem a cubit high and round heads”.
In Latin, pastinaca refers to the parsnip or the carrot. Related words in that language are pastinare, 'to dig', and pastinum, a two-pronged digging fork or dibble, which probably lent its name to these vegetables because they so often formed forked roots in the ground. In archaic English pastinate, means 'land prepared for planting'. Pliny also said "It has become quite a common proverb that in wine there is truth."
Pliny died in A.D. 79 while observing the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In A.D. 77 he wrote the first encyclopaedia, Historia Naturalis, in which he "set forth in detail all the contents of the entire world." . It was composed of 37 books on natural history in all its phases including meteorology, zoology, geography and botany. This work contains a large amount of information found nowhere else. Headless people were among the many marvels it reported. He reported that it involved 2000 volumes but if so, most have been lost. This work had a profound influence on biology throughout the Middle Ages and practically until the end of the 18th Century. In fact it was the basis for the encyclopaedias of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Konrad of Megenberg and others.
The drawing of a Pompeii wall painting now destroyed (Pittore di Ercolano, vol 2, p52,pl8) depicts four bunches of vegetables. Helbig (1868, no 1669) identified a bunch of asparagus, various radishes, and two bunches of yellow Ruben (carrots). (Source:The natural history of Pompeii - By Wilhelmina Mary Feemster Jashemski, Frederick Gustav Meyer). The leaves of Wild Carrot, and many flowering umbels were found in the carbonised hay at Oplontis (a town close to Pompeii).
Read an extract from a translation of Pliny's Natural History here. Showing references to carrot and the remedies to bodily ailments it recommends.
It is Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 20-c. 70) who catalogued over 600 medicinal plant species during his first century travels as a roman army doctor and who accurately describes the modern carrot. The Greek herbal of Pedanios Dioskurides, latinized as Pedanius Dioscorides (20–70 CE), is entitled Peri Ylis Ialikis (PYI) and latinized as De Materia Medica, On Medical Matters, was written about the year 65. It was destined to be one of the most famous books on pharmacology and medicine but is also rich in horticulture. This non-illustrated work contained descriptions of about 600 plants, 35 animal products, and 90 minerals emphasizing their medicinal uses.
The third book of Dioscorides the Greek – Roots - sets out an account of roots, juices, herbs, and seeds — suitable both for common use and for medications. Read more on the next page including some translations of his work and illustrations of the Orange Carrot. Here
He was from Anazarbus, a small town near Tarsus in what is now south-central Turkey. As a surgeon and physician with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, Dioscorides travelled through Italy, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, recording the existence and medicinal value of hundreds of plants. He compiled an extensive listing of medicinal herbs and their virtues in about 70 A.D. Originally written in Greek, Dioscorides' herbal was later translated into Latin as De Materia Medica.
Dioscorides knew three kinds of Daucus, the third of which could be probably identified with the wild carrot, having “coriander leaves, white flowers, top and seeds similar to dill and terminal umbels like parsnip.”
It remained the standard reference and authority on medicinal plants for over 1500 years. Dioscorides said that the Greeks used carrot leaves against cancerous tumours. He may have learned his medicine by practical experience while in the legions and he most certainly relied on an earlier work by the physician Crateuas. His work describes some 600 plants and their possible medical use. Pedanius Dioscorides described the carrot as a panacea for a number of problems. "They say that reptiles do not harm people who have taken it in advance; it also aids conception," he wrote around 60 AD.
Dioscorides wrote "Ye root ye thickness of a finger, a span long, sweet-smelling, edible being sodden [boiled]. Of this ye seed being drank...and it is good for ye [painful discharge of urine] in potions, and for ye bitings and strokes of venomous beasts; they say also, that they which take it before hand shall take no wrong of wilde beasts. It co-operates also to conception, and it also being [diuretic], both provoketh [poison], and being applied; but the leaves being beaten small with honey, and laid on, doth cleanse rapidly spreading destructive ulceration of soft tissues." He recommended the seeds of Wild Carrot for the relief of urinary retention, to stimulate menstruation and to "wake up the genital virtue." Read more on the next page including some translations of his work and illustrations of the Orange Carrot. Here
Claudius Galen of Pergamum
(130-200?) was the most outstanding physician of antiquity after
Hippocrates. He served at the court of Marcus Aurelius. Galen's medical writings
(comprising nearly a hundred treatises) became the standard source of medical
knowledge for centuries. His experimental work was pioneering: he demonstrated
the function of the nervous system by cutting animals' spinal cords at different
points and observing their resulting paralysis. He was the first to consider the
diagnostic value of taking a subject's pulse, and was the first to identify
He also studied the heart and urinary system, and proved that the arteries are full of blood. He believed that blood originated in the liver, and sloshed back and forth through the body, passing through the heart, where it was mixed with air, by pores in the septum. His anatomical studies on animals and observations of how the human body functions dominated medical theory and practice for 1400 years. Galen was born of Greek parents in Pergamum, Asia Minor, which was then part of the Roman Empire.
A shrine to the healing god Asclepius was located in Pergamum,
and there young Galen observed how the medical techniques of the time were used
to treat the ill or wounded. He received his formal medical training in nearby
Smyrna and then travelled widely, gaining more medical knowledge. In about 161
he settled in Rome, where he became renowned for his skill as a physician, his
animal dissections, and his public lectures.
From the Collection Bertarelli, Milan Medicatrina, A Clinic Scene (left).
The name Carota for the garden Carrot is found first in the writings of Athenaeus (A.D. 200), and in the book on cookery by Apicius Czclius. It was Galen the Greek physician (second century A.D.) who named the wild carrot Daucus pastinaca (adding the name Daucus) to distinguish the Carrot from the Parsnip, though confusion remained steadfast until botanist Linnaeus set the record straight in the 18th century with his system of plant classification.
The scientific name he gave the carrot is Daucus carota, the parsnip Pastinaca sativa.
Although human dissections had fallen into disrepute, he
always stressed to his students the importance of practicing on humans and
recommended that students practice dissection as often as possible. Galen
believed everything in nature has a purpose, and that nature uses a single
object for more than one purpose whenever possible. He maintained that "the best
doctor is also a philosopher," and so advocated that medical students be
well-versed in philosophy, logic, physics, and ethics. To learn more about Galen
visit this site.
It is said that the Roman invaders fed carrot broth to their female hostages in hope of unfettering their straight-laced demeanor!
The breakdown of the Roman Empire resulted in social disturbances, destruction of the large cities, and a general decline in culture, a period often referred to as the Dark Ages. This is evidenced in the deterioration in the accuracy and content of plant illustrations. Scribes continued to reproduce and embellish previous manuscripts, rather than observing and representing the existing native plants, and a dogmatic scholasticism that stifled original investigation.
The carrot was certainly cultivated in the Mediterranean area before the Christian Era, but it was not important as a food until much later. There is a long gap of about 900 years between the writings of the Greeks and Romans of the first to third centuries and the next clear records about the carrot.
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