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Miracle Plant Rediscovered

Silphion cured diseases and made food tasty, but Emperor Nero allegedly consumed the last stalk. Now, a Turkish researcher thinks he’s found a botanical survivor.

Silphion plant discovered in Turkey
Silphion plant | Wikiwand

From before the rise of Athens to the height of the Roman Empire, one of the most sought-after products in the Mediterranean world was a golden-flowered plant called silphion. For ancient Greek physicians, silphion was a cure-all, prized for everything from stomach pain to wart removal.

For Roman chefs, it was a culinary staple, crucial for spicing up an everyday pot of lentils or finishing an extravagant dish of scalded flamingo. During the reign of Julius Caesar, more than a thousand pounds of the plant was stockpiled alongside gold in Rome’s imperial treasuries, and silphion saplings were valued at the same price as silver.

Ancient texts reveal it appeared to have vanished around 638BC, with historians marking it as the first recorded extinction of any species.

However, Istanbul University professor Mahmut Miski - whose field is pharmacognosy, the study of medicines derived from natural sources - now claims rumours of Silphion’s demise may have been exaggerated after he discovered what he believes are the last surviving vestiges of the plant, a thousand miles from where it once grew.

Miski found a similarly golden-flowered plant, Ferula Drudeana, in the foothills of Mount Hasan in central Turkey 40 years ago.

Decades of research have now led him to believe it is in fact the long lost Silphion.


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