from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a plant, thought to be extinct, used in ancient Greece and Rome in cooking and as a contraceptive.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. An umbelliferous plant the juice of which was used by the ancient Greeks as a food and medicine: called in Latin laserpitium. (See laser, laserpitium.) It has been variously identified, as with Thapsia Garganica.
  • n. [NL. (Linnæus, 1752).] A genus of composite plants, of the tribe Helianthoideæ and subtribe Melampodieæ.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. tall North American perennial herbs


Sorry, no etymologies found.



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  • "The comedies of Plautus (ca. 254-184 BC) and Terence (ca. 195-ca. 159 BC) are sprinkled through with references to seasonings (condimenta), one of their stock characters the boastful cook who can reel off all the exotic flavors at his disposal: Cilician saffron, Egyptian coriander, Ethiopian cumin, and, most tempting of all, silphium of Cyrene. This North African aromatic, ultimately harvested to extinction, turned Roman gourmets weak at the knees.*

    *By the middle of the first century AD, Nero could acquire just one specimen, apparently the last. Thus to his many crimes must be added an extinction."
    --Jack Turner, _Spice: The History of a Temptation_ (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 74

    November 30, 2016

  • "Beyond it lay overgrown beds and plants John had never set eyes on before: tall resinous fronds, prickly shrubs, long grey-green leaves hot to the tongue. Nestling among them he found the root whose scent drifted among the trees like a ghost, sweet and tarry. He knelt and pressed it to his nose.

    ' That was called silphium.' His mother stood behind him. 'It grew in Saturnus's first garden.'"

    John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk, p 88

    November 10, 2012