, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 4-15

Lettuce and the Sycomore: sex and romance in ancient Egypt

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Abstract

In ancient Egypt, lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac and was featured in the yearly festival of Min, an ithyphallic god of fertility and procreation. The Greeks considered it an antiaphrodisiac and its use as a soporific continued into this century. The sycomore fig has a highly specialized fertilization biology, but does not produce seed in Egypt for want of the proper species of wasp. Ripening has been hastened since ancient times by gashing the syconia. To the ancient Egyptians it was a sacred trysting tree inhabited by the goddess of love and was the focus of a body of love poetry. Some selected verses are presented.

Distinguished Economic Botanist’s address delivered 13 August 1985 at Twenty-sixth Meeting, Society for Economic Botany, meeting jointly with the Botanical Society of America at the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.