On this great, green planet of ours there are innumerable species of plants, many of which have remarkable abilities and uses in the world of medicine, healing, even magic. There are countless known plants with many purported or proven properties that we have already discovered, and there is without a doubt others yet to be uncovered out in the remote places of our world, with abilities we may not yet even be able to imagine. Some of these have been spoken of in accounts and tales from the past, speaking of incredible effects and powers, but for which we are left with no answers as to what sort of plants they were or whether they still exist or not. These are the accounts of strange plants which are said to have existed that had some very potent and beneficial uses indeed, but which seem to have vanished into the tides of time.
One common theme of plants with supposed mystical qualities is the promise of immortality, and this has been pursued throughout the centuries in cultures all over the world. In ancient China, the search for some elixir of immortality using plants and herbs as an ingredient was a major passion and goal of alchemists across the land, and many of them believed that they had actually found it. In texts dating back to as early as the 5th century there was mention of an elixir of life that utilized as a key ingredient one version of a mysterious mushroom known as the Lingzhi, which translates more or less to the rather unimaginative-sounding “Supernatural Mushroom.” It was said that if one particular type this mushroom were consumed in the proper ratio with other herbs it would impart immortality and completely halt the aging process, but it is unknown just what the recipe was or what exact species of mushroom it required.
Some traditional medicine practitioners, alchemists, and sorcerers were said to know of remote locations on Mt. Penglai where the mystical and very rare mushroom grew. Only these esoteric masters knew where the mushrooms were, what they looked like, how to cultivate them, and what the exact recipe for the elixir was, and it was supposedly a jealously guarded secret they would divulge to know one, even Emperors throughout the ages. Many men of power ended up searching for the mushroom on their own, sending out massive expeditions in search of it with only a vague idea of what it looked like, but it is unknown if they ever found it or worked out a way to make the legendary elixir of immortality work. Although various species of mushroom are indeed used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, the true identity of this species of Lingzhi and is actual effects remain a mystery.
In Hindu lore there is another legendary drink variously called Amrita or Soma, which was said to grant immortality and which was crafted from some sort of unknown plant. The concoction was often claimed to be drunk by the gods as a means to achieving their everlasting life, and although rare there were occasionally mortals who had managed to brew the drink and gain immortality as well. The thing is, while there are numerous instances in ancient Hindu texts of mortals ingesting Amrita, it is a complete mystery as to what kind of plant was used, other than the cryptic allusions to it growing in the mountains. Equally mysterious and lost to time is how to prepare it, other than fragments such as that it must be pounded into a pulp and filtered through wool at some point, with some accounts saying it should be mixed with the milk of a cow. Other than this, the ingredients and preparation of Amrita have faded into the sands of time.
Botanists have speculated that the plant from which Amrita was derived from could have been one that produces hallucinations or altered states of consciousness, perhaps something similar to psilocybin mushrooms, also commonly called “magic mushrooms,” with several species of such mushrooms having been proposed as the ingredient of Amrita. Others have argued that the plant was more likely a plant in the Ephedra genus, which produces chemicals similar in nature to methamphetamines, which are called Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine, and which are used in the traditional medicines of many cultures. Ephedra is also common in the regions where Amrita was popular. Vessels that have been claimed to have been used for mixing Amrita have shown trace amounts of Ephedra in them, as well as opioids and cannabis, which would have certainly gotten someone pretty high, if not made them immortal. Whatever Amrita was made of or whether it really worked we will probably never know.
One of the most versatile and mysterious of lost plants with phenomenal properties was an herb known as silphium, which was revered throughout the ancient Roman Empire and was so rare and sought after that it was worth more than its weight in gold. Silphium reportedly looked fairly nondescript, with stumpy yellowish leaves, fennel-like stalks, thick roots, and small yellow flowers, but its uses and properties were nearly legendary. It was considered to be a wonder medicine, purportedly able to cure and heal all manner of afflictions and diseases or protect from poisons, and it was claimed to be an effective birth control method, as drinking its sap was said to “purge the uterus.” Ironically it also made for a potent aphrodisiac, with its heart-shaped leaves thought to have popularized this shape as a symbol of love, and its uses extended out to making perfumes, feeding it to livestock to make their meat much more tender, preserving food, and as a food itself, with the stalks roasted, sautéed, boiled, or eaten raw.
The herb was so beloved and valued in ancient Rome and the surrounding regions that it was widely written of in song, poems, and literature. The value of silphium was raised even more due to the fact that for some reason it could not be successfully cultivated or farmed, with gathering it in the wild the only way to obtain it, although no one knew why. Silphium made a fortune for the city of Cyrene, at modern Shahhat, Libya, which was the only area where the plant was known to grow, with the city even having the herb printed on their currency.