by Jason Ledger

In ancient Greece parsley was believed to be sacred and the symbol of fame and joy. It could not possibly be used for such a plebeian purpose as food when it adorned the head of the great Heracles on ceremonial occasions. This belief fell into oblivion but the custom of using it as decoration has been retained to this day, albeit in somewhat different form.

The fresh leaves of the curly variety are used to decorate window displays by butchers and fishmongers. Parsley did not become a culinary herb until the Middle Ages when Charlemagne had it raised in his vegetable gardens, after which it rapidly became an essential part of all vegetable dishes. It reached England in the 16th century and was brought to America by the settlers.

The reason is simple – the fresh fruits are inedible because of their unpleasant bitter flavour. This hitter flavour disappears only after lengthy immersion in water that is changed repeatedly, or after pickling in brine for several months. How and when this treatment was discovered we do not know, nor do we know whether our taste was enriched by chance or by man’s ingenuity.

There are many species of wild poppies but the opium poppy has never been found growing in the wild. In all probability it was bred from the wild species P. setigerum, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a useful plant for many reasons. The pharmaceutical industry processes the juice (opium) which exudes from cuts on the unripe capsules, and obtains morphine and many other opium alkaloids from the empty, dry capsules. The ripe seeds yield the edible oil called `olivette’ by the French and a lower quality industrial oil used in synthetic dyes.

Parsley is a biennial herb native to the Mediterranean region. It is propagated by seeds that germinate several weeks after sowing. A leafy rosette is formed in the first year; this may be picked from June until winter. The second year it produces a flowering stem up to I m (3 ft) high and after the seeds have ripened it dies.

The olive is raised commercially nowadays throughout the whole Mediterranean region. In the 16th century it was introduced to South and Central America and to California

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