When we leave flowers on a grave, we leave lilies, roses or other kind of common flowers. Sometimes, they’re fashioned into a funeral wreath. Most people don’t know is wreaths date back thousands of years! But ancient Greeks used vegetation to honor both victories and the fallen dead, and today, their Olympic olive wreaths are still familiar. But once something was different, in fact, in ancient Greece, the most potent way to show love for the dead was with a wreath of celery.
Back then, it was a very different celery. Native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, wild celery had thin stalks and a bitter flavor, and it was only later that farmers bred celery to have sturdy stalks and a sweeter flavor.
Its strong smell and dark color struck ancient Greeks as associated with the Underworld and death.
So, celery became an essential part of burials and funeral rites. In ancient Greece, celery covered graves, and the dead were often crowned with it. Historians writes that celery was the most common plant used for the purpose, and they have hypotized various theories as to why the dead needed to be garlanded. It’s possible that they had faced life with courage, and deserved to be buried as heroes, or to the dead were given heroic crowns “to add dignity and lustre to the proceedings.” Furthermore, other writers considered celery off-limits as an everyday food, because it was consumed at funeral banquets.
In lexicon, the phrase deisthai selinon, in english “to need celery,” didn’t mean that the person needed to eat more vegetables, but It meant someone was close to death.
Furthermore, celery was long considered able to ward off evil spirits in Europe, and also parsley maintained a dark reputation. It is a similar plant, in fact celery and parsley are both in the Apiaceae family.
Once was dedicated to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, grumpy farmers later claimed that slow-germinating parsley seeds needed to visit the devil nine times before they deigned to grow!