The Heart As Symbol for Love and Valentine’s Day

Whether or not you celebrate il giorno di San Valentino, or Valentine’s Day, you’re probably seeing a lot of hearts around today. And flowers and chocolates and all kinds of traditional symbols of this day of love.

But why the heart?

Ancient Egyptian HeartAncient Egyptians believed the heart (ib), rather than the brain, was the center of wisdom, emotions, memory, soul, and the key to the afterlife–and most of us know that “heartache” really does describe the pain of love lost–but the shape of the human heart really looks nothing like the heart shape that we all know today.

So where does it come from?

Well Tears for Fears came pretty close to the answer in 1989 when they sang about Sowing the Seeds of Love. Who knew?

Silphium coin from Cyrene on WikipediaSee the coin on the right? It’s from Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony in what is now Libya, and depicts the seed pod of silphium, a member of the fennel family that is now extinct. The crop was extremely important to the Cyrenian economy–so much so that much of Cyrene’s currency featured this plant believed by the Greeks to have been a gift from Apollo following a flood in 7 B.C.

Silphium was used in cooking and was also a kind of miracle herbal remedy for cough, sore throat, fever, indigestion, aches, pains, and more.

What does this have to do with the heart as a symbol of love?

Heart on Tile on Flickr

Well, up until its extinction in the 2nd century, silphium was also the most effective herbal contraceptive. Soranus, the noted Roman gynecologist, advised women to drink silphium juice mixed with water every month because “it not only prevents conception but also destroys anything existing.”

Could silphium have been the world’s first morning-after pill?

We’ll never know for sure since all subsequent attempts at growing silphium have failed, but it seems that the seed pod’s image lives on, ironically perhaps, in our symbol of love–the heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Love Thursday!

39 Beans of Wisdom to “The Heart As Symbol for Love and Valentine’s Day”
  1. 02.14.2008

    Happy V day!

    Pasticcera’s last blog post..Not Exactly Wordless Wednesday

    Thanks! Hope you’re enjoying your day πŸ™‚

  2. Fascinating post! Happy Valentine’s Day, Sognatrice!

    Absolute Vanilla… (and Atyllah)’s last blog post..Happy Valentine’s Day and a meme

    Thanks! Hope you had a lovely day as well.

  3. 02.14.2008

    Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too! Thanks for the great historical info.

    Lois Lane’s last blog post..Love Thursday – Valentine’s Day

    Thanks Lois…any time πŸ™‚

  4. 02.14.2008

    Very interesting! THanks for sharing and happy V-day!

    Diane Mandy’s last blog post..February 14: Self Love Day

    Thanks Diane; hope you had a great day!

  5. birchsprite

    Well I never… you learn something new every day!!

    Cheers for the info!


    birchsprite’s last blog post..Last weekend

    Glad you enjoyed, and thanks!

  6. 02.14.2008

    Interesting facts! Happy Valentine’s Day, Michelle!
    I love the stuffed animal. Is that a giraffe? So cute!

    Giulia’s last blog post..Week in Review

    Yes a giraffe it is πŸ™‚

  7. Bipolarlawyercook

    Very interesting– I always find herbology interesting, medicinal and culinary. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Bipolarlawyercook’s last blog post..One perfect rose– Love Thursday, and Happy Valentine’s Day

    Glad you liked it BLC, and thanks πŸ™‚

  8. 02.14.2008

    Happy Valetines Day, Michelle. Interesting about the silphium. On an episode of ROME, I remember one of the slaves gave a pregnant girl some herbal concoction that she got from an herbalist. She got sick, lost the baby and died. Maybe the work of silphium????

    My Melange’s last blog post..So, what’s in a name?

    Interesting. The woman wasn’t supposed to get sick and die though! Hmm….

  9. 02.14.2008

    Wow. How interesting. Those ancient Greeks, Itellyawhut!

    This is my first participation in ‘love thursday’; I hope you’ll stop by for a visit!


    Secret Agent Mama’s last blog post..By: Laura from the Fringe

    I know…who woulda thought?! Love your Love Thursday btw πŸ™‚

  10. 02.14.2008

    okay, now THAT was interesting! First I learn all about nutella, now about heart symbols and Valentine’s Day. I can always depend on you for a fascinating post!

    kacey’s last blog post..The Perfect Husband

    Oh I’m always full of something around here Kacey πŸ˜‰

  11. 02.14.2008

    Just wanted to say hi, as I have been lurking mostly since the new year. I love your new blog – you put so much work into it and it looks great. Anyhoo… just wanted to wish P. and you a Happy Valentine’s Day! :o)

    Jenn’s last blog post..Blog Makeover

    Hi Jenn, nice to see you! Thanks for the compliments and for the Valentine’s wishes. Hope you had a lovely day as well!

  12. 02.14.2008

    Once again, you’ve enlarged my understanding! Happy Valentine’s Day!

    anno’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday: Valentine’s Day Cookies

    Glad you liked the info, and I hope you had a great day with those cookies πŸ™‚

  13. 02.14.2008

    Honestly, lady, sometimes you’re just like Cliff Clavin! (But cuter, of course. And I’m going to assume your pants aren’t consistently too short.) πŸ˜‰

    Stefanie’s last blog post..Bachelor #3

    Well I never thought I’d ever be compared with such an icon of American television, so wow–thanks! And no, being 5’2″, my pants aren’t usually short πŸ˜‰

  14. 02.14.2008

    Made the mousse, got the prosecco in the fridge, who knows I might even put the heating on! Have a happy day.

    amanda’s last blog post..Vladimir and the villagers

    OK if the heat is going on, I know it’s a special night πŸ˜‰

  15. 02.14.2008

    Interesting. I’ll have to check out the additional history – with a title like that, who could resist?!

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

    Susan’s last blog post..And the winner of the Celebrity Loves drawing is…

    Hah, I agree about the title πŸ™‚

  16. Happy Valentine’s Day Michelle!

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..This Phyllis Hyman song sums up a typical Valentine’s Day for this Ragazza.

    Thanks Bella!

  17. 02.14.2008

    I’ve always thought that the ‘heart’ was a slightly icky association.
    Best wishes

    Maddy’s last blog post..St. Valentine

    Well no internal organ is really warm and fuzzy, so if we had to pick one…. πŸ˜‰

  18. 02.14.2008

    That was a great, post, Michelle! I had no idea from where the “heart” symbol originated. Very cool!


    Christina Arbini’s last blog post..Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Happy to provide info! Hope you had a great day πŸ™‚

  19. 02.14.2008

    That was an interesting read, I didn’t know that, have a lovely Valentines Day…ciao

    rositta’s last blog post..Happy Valentines Day – February 14

    Thanks Rositta πŸ™‚

  20. 02.14.2008

    Learn something new every day!

    nikkipolani’s last blog thursday: she loves me not

    My pleasure!

  21. 02.14.2008

    This was fascinating! I had no idea about silphium.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday: Jen’s Chocolate Custard

    I didn’t either before I starting looking; glad you liked it πŸ™‚

  22. 02.14.2008

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

    Britt-Arnhild’s last blog post..The Wedding Day

    Thanks! Hope you had a great day too!

  23. A Novelist

    Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxox Novelist πŸ™‚

    A Novelist’s last blog post..Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Thanks! And also to you and John!

  24. 02.14.2008

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Sofia (my 10-month-old) and I went around the house this morning taking pictures of the different hearts we had for my post today.

    Buona Giornata!

    Lisa’s last blog post..Love is a many splendid thing

    What a lovely way to celebrate!

  25. 02.14.2008

    I always enjoy learning these things, and I love your photos.

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

    melody’s last blog post..Love Rocks

    Thanks Melody! Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  26. 02.14.2008

    Always educational! Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Karina’s last blog post..Thursday Thirteen #42

    Thanks! Hope you had a fabulous day πŸ™‚

  27. 02.14.2008

    OH…I just love the history of all the symbols we use so freely…I was a research hound when I got married so that I could really only include the things in my ceremony that meant something to me….

    Happy Valentine’s Day!!

    sadira’s last blog post..Happy Valentines Day…

    What a great idea for your wedding; I just may take your lead on that one πŸ˜‰

  28. 02.14.2008

    That ancient Egyptian heart would make an amazing salt shaker!!!

    Janet’s last blog post..T #107: Happy Valentine’s Day*!

    Hah, would indeed πŸ™‚

  29. Buon San Valentino a te, sognatrice !

    Welshcakes Limoncello’s last blog post..A BILINGUAL LUNCH

    Grazie πŸ™‚

  30. Great post! Great minds must think alike. I posted about how hearts came to be a symbol for VD today too! I guess hearts are on everyones mind today!

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy’s last blog post..Easy Almond Brioche for a Special Valentine’s Day Breakfast

    Great minds indeed; what a great recipe today!

  31. 02.15.2008

    Goats huh? I’ll take the chocolate and flowers.
    This was SO intriguing! I didn’t know any of that, and it was great to learn, thanks!

    Happy Valentines to you sweet lady!
    I hope it’s a very good one!

    big hugs from us too

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..Happy Valentines!

    Ciao bella! Hope you had a lovely day full of chocolates and no goats πŸ˜‰

  32. Gil

    Hope that you all had a very Happy & Romantic Valentin’s Day. Thanks for another great history lesson. You are too smart.

    Well thanks Gil, although I think I’m more curious than smart per se πŸ˜‰

  33. 02.15.2008

    Bon Saint Valentin pleine d’amour!

    poppy fields’s last blog post..Mimosa

    Grazie mille!

  34. 02.15.2008

    Happy Valentines Day to you too! Hugs from all of us!

    Ambra Celeste’s last blog post..Danger!

    Thanks! Abbracci to you as well πŸ™‚

  35. SabineM

    what great research and info!
    HOpe you had a nice Valentine’s day!

    SabineM’s last blog post..Earth Hour March 29th

    Thanks Sabine; hope you had a great day too πŸ™‚

  36. Daniel

    Awesome post — very interesting. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Thanks Daniel; hope you had a nice day as well πŸ™‚

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