Pliny the Elder, Natural History 21.70

Cyperos iuncus est, qualiter diximus, angulosus, iuxta terram candidus, cacumine niger pinguisque. Folia ima porraceis exiliora, in cacumine minuta, inter quae semen est. radix olivae nigrae similis, quam, cum oblonga est, cyperida vocant, magni in medicina usus. Laus cypero prima hammoniaco, secunda rhodio, tertia theraeo, novissima aegyptio. Qui et confudit intellectum, quoniam et cypiros ibi nascitur. Sed cypiros radice durissima vixque spirans, cyperis odor et ipsis nardum imitans. Est et per se indica herba, quae cypira vocatur, zingiberis effige; commanducata croci vim reddit. Cypero vis in medicina psilotri. Inlinitur pterygiis ulceribusque genitalium et quae in umore sunt omnibus, sicut oris ulceribus. Radix adversus serpentium ictus et scorpionum praesentis remedii est. vulvas aperit pota; largiori tanta vis, ut et expellat eas. Urinam ciet et calculos, ob id utilissima hydropicis. Inlinitur et ulceribus, quae serpunt, sed his praecipua, quae in stomach sunt, e vino ver aceto inlita.

Tiger nuts (cyperos) is a rush, just as we said, angular, white near the earth, black and solid at its top. The innermost leaves are slenderer than leeks, smallest at the top, among which is found the seed. The root resembles a black olive, which, when oblong, they call “cyperida,” and use it much in medicine. Praise for this [plant] is found first among those near the temple of Jupiter Ammon, second at Rhodes, third at Therae, and the worst in Egypt, which gives rise to misunderstanding, since tiger nuts are grown there, but, those are mostly hard in the roots and give off scarcely any aroma; the odor of tiger nuts [elsewhere] smells like nard. There is also an Indian herb, which is called “cypira,” that has the appearance of ginger and, when chewed, has the flavor of saffron. The power in medicine of tiger nuts is in depilation. It is smeared on hang-nails and sores of the genitals and for all parts [of the body] which are moist, such as mouth ulcers. The root is a good remedy for the sting of poisonous snakes and scorpions. In a drink, it opens the vagina; if too much is applied, it can prolapse these organs. It increases urine and expels kidney stones; thus, it is most useful for dropsy. When smeared topically on growing ulcers, such as those in the throat, they are mixed with wine or vinegar.

Currently, I am in the process of updating the beer dictionary, and I want to augment the “adjuncts” section. Thus, this post is not directly about beer. Instead, I further exploring the use of tiger nuts by Greeks and Romans.

In a previous post concerning a Theophrastus passage, we learned that tiger nuts can be found in Egyptian beer. I subsequently made a tiger nut beer. This beer was quite successful in that, as described by Theophrastus, I detected a slight increase in the overall sweetness. Now I see that, I should have been careful: too much tiger nuts, and I could have prolapsed an organ!

Although tiger nut beer was brewed by the common folk in Egypt (during Theophrastus’s time, at least), it appears that the included Egyptian tiger nuts were of the worst quality (or, just the worst quality by 70 CE). Unlike the Egyptians, the Romans do not seem to consider it a food-stuff; instead, it primarily had medicinal purposes.

Author’s Note
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
Our friend!


Image Source
WikimediaCommons, Blahedo



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