Silphium is an extinct plant which once grew in North Africa. In the ancient Mediterranean, it was used as a seasoning, perfume, medicine, aphrodisiac, and contraceptive.
It was the main trade item from the city of Cyrene in what is now Libya. Silphium was so important to Cyrenese trade, the plant was stamped onto their coins. Some of those coins show only the seed pods of the plant, which are heart shaped – and some people speculate this may be where the now ubiquitous heart symbol originally came from 💚
No one knows what silphium really was. Its extinction was likely caused by some combination of overharvesting and climate change.
In Peri Phyton Historia, an ancient text from around 300 BC, the Greek scholar Theophrastus wrote that silphium couldn't be cultivated, despite many attempts. This leads some archaeobotanists to think that silphium may have been sensitive to soil chemistry (like huckleberries), or perhaps it was a hybrid which only grew locally.
Incidentally, while silphium may have linked the heart shape to sexy and/or romantic things, it wasn't the first plant-based heart shape in ancient history.
The peepal tree (also known as the sacred fig) has heart shaped leaves, which led to stylised heart shapes being used in artwork by the Indus Valley civilisation, in what's now Western India. The Indus Valley people were one of the first human civilisations.
@InvaderXan learning a cool thing about ancient plants was a great way to wake up this morning, thank you 😊
Sunbeam City is a anticapitalist, antifascist solarpunk instance that is run collectively.