IX: Savin Juniper

Savin brides for Roman brothers.

IX: Savin Juniper
Savin juniper. Photo by S. Rae.

Good morning. Today is nonidi, the 19th of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la sabine, an ornamental shrub full of poison.

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This shrub is a trunk-less version of an evergreen cypress with berry-like cones. It's often used as a bordering ornament because it's hardy and animals don't want to eat it or even touch it. Every part of the plant is poisonous due to a high level of terpenes, and its only known medicinal use is as an abortion drug, which is how it got its 19th century nicknames of "bastard killer" and "cover-shame."

There's a region of Italy called Sabina that's in the mountains just northeast of Rome. In ancient times, during the pseudo-mythical founding of the Roman state, the mountains were home to a distinct peoples known as the Sabines. Romulus, the Roman founder who is said to have killed his brother for insulting his plans for the city, was concerned that his followers were too predominantly male, and that his new city would not have enough women to increase the population.

So he forcibly took women from the Sabines. This fabled incident, known as the Rape of the Sabines, weirdly inspired artists for thousands of years, all the way up to becoming a beloved Hollywood musical.

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