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Basil, seen flowering above, became a symbol of love in Italy. Men would wear a sprig of basil behind their ears to announce their intended marriage.

Feeling a little frisky this summer? It might have something to do with your herb garden.

Throughout history, herbs have been signs of love and devotion. Long ago, brides in Athens wove mint and marigolds into their garland and wreaths. Roman brides incorporated wheat into bouquets to ensure their groom’s fertility. During Medieval times, European brides used strong-smelling garlic and chives to prevent spirits from disrupting their happiness.

Romance and pollination, love and butterflies, it can all start in the garden.

This spin on herbs began when the Lewisburg House and Garden Club asked me to be their guest and speak on the topic of herbs. Well, these ladies are experienced gardeners who don’t need me to tell them basil needs sunlight to grow.

So, after a late night conversation and a little research I decided on love and pollination with herbs. It was a fun afternoon; we laughed and shared stories about herbs and bear cubs.

Ancient Greeks and Romans thought of basil with hatred. Greeks believed its purpose was to drive men insane. Later in history, basil became a symbol of love in Italy. Men would wear a sprig of basil behind their ears to announce their intended marriage.

Folklore is that a young man who accepted basil from a young woman was destined to fall in love with her.

The ancient Greek meaning of thyme was courage. The herb represented elegance and, eventually, chivalry. A spring of thyme in a bouquet says devotion for young love or long friendships in more recent times. This sun-loving herb attracts more bees than any other plant in my garden.

Often called the pizza herb, oregano was used in Elizabethan time to create good luck and good health. Ancient Greeks believed it was the herb of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, who created oregano to bring joy to her garden.

It was used in magic spells to bring happiness and health. It was even thought that eating oregano would encourage labor in pregnant women close to their delivery date.

Fennel, admittedly not my favorite herb, was eaten by Roman gladiators to give them courage in battles. Fennel’s history dates back to Pliny (AD 23-79), the Roman author of “The Naturalis Historie” or “The Natural History.”

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Pliny believed snakes rubbed against the fennel stems and bulbs to improve their eyesight after shedding their skin. (Snakes- another reason for me not to love fennel.) Often used as an appetite suppressant, ancient monks drank fennel tea and chewed on the seeds to keep their tummies quiet during extended religious services.

Modern meanings of fennel include flattery, and it is a nice addition to bouquets or even special romantic dinners.

Webster Dictionary defines an herb as “a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season” and “a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.”

Although not often thought of as an herb, yarrow is one of the oldest medicinal plants. Medieval Europeans used yarrow to summon demons or to exorcise them; because of this, it became known as the herb of protection.

Now, yarrow means everlasting love. The spicy flower that can be used to scent bathwater.

Yarrow contradicts itself in the garden, repelling deer and attracting good insects. The wild yarrow you see on the roadside and in a meadow has white flowers. The garden cultivated varieties can be yellows and reds.

Patchouli is associated with passion. A native to South Asia, the plant has long been used in essential oils for relaxing and stimulation. Being the herb of passion when dried and tucked into sachets or pillowcases, it is said the rich earthy scent will entice (cough cough) romantic feelings.

Last by not least is lavender. Originally from the Mediterranean region, lavender has been used in cooking and herbal remedies since biblical times. I have lavender sachets tucked under my guest room pillows.

It is also used it bubble baths, lotions, candles, and spritzes. Meaning devotion and undying love, lavender makes sweet smelling wedding confetti. I have even seen lavender cookies, cakes, and teas.

If you were wondering about the bees and butterflies, they love herbs. Let a few of your basil plants flower, same with oregano. Where there is an herb bloom, there will be bees and butterflies doing their pollination thing — and that makes the garden a happy place.

Tend to your garden and cast your spells responsibly because yes, romance and pollination, love and butterflies, it can all begin in the garden.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at You can contact her at

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