[Sca-cooks] herb seasoning question

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Thu Mar 1 07:32:01 PST 2007

On Mar 1, 2007, at 9:58 AM, Jadwiga Zajaczkowa / Jenne Heise wrote:

>>     Asafoetida, also called the Devil's dung. It is extracted from
>> silphium root. I am not sure whether some of my notes refer to  
>> silphium
>> or the extracts from the root: asafoetida, resin, juice or gum. The
>> Roman text and those of the ancients cite it as "silphium".
> Er... True silphium went extinct during the Roman period during the
> first century CE; a number of Roman texts refer to this fact.  
> Asafoetida
> was later used as a substitute, but it was still considered inferior.

Flower and Rosenbaum seem to share this view, more or less. I don't  
think it's as much matter of true versus non-true silphium, as  
different varieties (which may or may not be the same species, 1st- 
century taxonomy being what it was) being considered superior to  
others. Kinda like Umbrian black truffles being considered inferior  
to those from Perigord. I gather that the "true" silphium is the  
Cyrenaican variety, but that Armenian and Persian silphium, which  
were apparently what was used when the Cyrenaican variety became  
unavailable, were probably asafoetida. However, there's no way to  
tell, in theory, at least during the "known academic time" between,  
say, Pliny the Elder and F&R in 1958, what Cyrenaican silphium really  
was... one of the cool subplots of Lindsey Davis' "Two For The Lions"  
is Marcus Didius Falco's trip to North Africa with his brother-in-law- 
to-be, embarked on a get-rich-quick scheme involving a search for  
rumored Cyrenaican silphium growing wild among the rocks.

Now, in the mean time, I have, somewhere on the morass of my desk, a  
packet of seeds alleged to be of whatever modernly-identified plant  
species laserpitium actually was. I don't know if it's simply  
asafoetida or what, but I recall there was some discussion here a  
year or two ago, and someone (I think bear?) mentioned that laser had  
been rediscovered, this was its modern botanical name, and I found a  
place to order the seeds from. Hopefully there's more info on the  
seed packet (I think I have about a half-ounce of tiny little seeds).

So, who will help me grow silphium, asked the Little Red Hen?  
Assuming I can locate the seeds. Our balcony doesn't get that much  
sun, and any plants we grow are more or less under squirrel siege  


"S'ils n'ont pas de pain, vous fait-on dire, qu'ils  mangent de la  
brioche!" / "If there's no bread, you have to say, let them eat cake!"
     -- attributed to an unnamed noblewoman by Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  
"Confessions", 1782

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?"
     -- Susan Sheybani, assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry  
Holt, 07/29/04

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