ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian plants: Vegetables
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Vegetables

Lettuce     The ancient Egyptians grew a wide variety of vegetables: Onions, garlic, leeks, lettuce, radishes, choriander, cabbages, cucumbers, watermelons, melons, raphanus, a wild radish tasting like turnip, beans, chick peas, lupins, lentils and peas. They were grown in little garden plots, adjacent to the house and required quite a bit of effort as they had to be watered regularly, and were thus very labour intensive.
The vintner carries his shoulder-yoke. Each of his shoulders is burdened with age. A swelling is on his neck, and it festers. He spends the morning in watering leeks and the evening with corianders, after he has spent the midday in the palm grove. So it happens that he sinks down (at last) and dies through his deliveries, more than one of any other profession.
    Leeks are occasionally depicted in tombs and mentioned in lists of offerings, and it is easier to believe pAnastasi III, when it states that leeks were grown in Piramesse than that the grain silos there reached the skies.
There are onions and leaches from the tr-fields and lettuce from the dd-garden
pAnastasi III [[1]]
    Leeks may have generally been wholesome, but when appearing in magic spells they take on ominous qualities. A snake charm just gives this warning:
Beware of his leeks!
Snake charm, CT377 [[2]]
    The nature of the dng-plant, also mentioned in the pAnastasi III is, like that of many other plants of which little more than their Egyptian names are known, unclear
The dng-plant has the taste of honey in the moist fields
pAnastasi III [[1]]
The dng may have been pumpkins or melons.
 
    Lettuce was considered to be a symbol of fertility and the cos lettuce especially was associated with the god Min. The god Seth was partial to it. In the Contendings of Horus and Seth the gardener told Isis: "He doesn't eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce."
    The seeds of lettuce and raphanus were pressed to extract oil. The lettuce oil was used in cooking while the badly smelling raphanus oil was employed in medicine.
In Egypt the radish is held in very high esteem, on account of the abundance of oil that is extracted from the seed. Indeed, the people of that country sow this plant in preference to any other, whenever they can get the opportunity, the profits derived from it being larger than those obtained from the cultivation of corn, and the imposts levied upon it considerably less: there is no grain known that yields a larger quantity of oil.
Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book 19, Chap.26
    Not everybody seems to have liked the natural taste of the radish:
In Egypt, too, the growers sprinkle nitre over them, the roots being remarkable for their mildness. The salt, too, has the similar effect of removing all their pungency, and when thus treated, they become very similar in their qualities to radishes that have been boiled: for when boiled they become sweet and mild, and eat, in fact, just like turnips.
Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book 19, Chap.26
    Onions and garlic were also extensively used in medicine, lettuce, dedicated to the fertility god Min, was thought to increase virility:
Seth, great in virility, the son of Nut, said: "As for me, I am Seth, greatest in virility among (the) Ennead...
....
Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth's gardener: "What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?" So the gardener told her: "He doesn't eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce." And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus.
    The antibacterial qualities of the onion were exploited in mummification. Onion rings were at times packed into the wrapping and the eye lids were covered with them.
    According to Pliny onions were divine in Egypt
Garlic and onions are invoked by the Egyptians, when taking an oath, in the number of their deities.
Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book 19, Chap.32
To this the editors of the Natural History, John Bostock and H.T. Riley, added:
The inhabitants of Pelusium, more particularly, were devoted to the worship of the onion. They held it, in common with garlic, in great aversion as an article of food. At Pelusium there was a temple also in which the sea-squill was worshipped.

Picture source:
[  ] Lettuce on broken stela: Min, Petrie Museum website
 
Footnotes:
[1] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig => Literarische Texte => 4. Satiren, Miscellanies, Brieflehren => Late-Egyptian Miscellanies => pAnastasi III = pBM EA 10246 (Miscellanies) => Rto 1.11-3.9: Brief mit Loblied auf Piramesse
[2] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Projekt "Digital Heka", Universität Leipzig => Schlangenzauber Mittleres Reich => Sargtexte und Verwandtes => Särge MR (CT) => B2Bo => CT377
 

 
 
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