Herbs are a symbol of all that cures and brings back to life, since they restore health, virility and fertility. ‘To Christians, medicinal herbs owed their efficacity to the fact that they were first found on Calvary. To the ancients, herbs owed their curative properties to having been discovered first by the gods’. According to Mircea Eliade, simples derive their properties from a celestial archetype which is a manifestation of the Cosmic Tree. The mythical place of their discovery or of their birth was always a centre, like Calvary, mentioned above.
Through the properties attributed to them, simples display the belief that all healing must derive from some gift of the godhead, as does all which concerns life.
Generally speaking, herbs are often the means whereby deities of fertility make themselves visible. Herbs ease childbirth, increase the procreative powers and ensure fecundity and wealth. Such were the reasons for going so far as to recommend animal sacrifice to plants.
One of the Breton names for ‘herb’, louzaouenn, still retains in the plural the ancient meaning of ‘medicine’. Primitive Celtic physic made great use of medicinal herbs and the tradition originates from myth, since herbs were the foundation of the curative properties of the Fountain of Health (Slante) of the Tuatha De Danann, in the story of the battle of Mag Tuired, spells being merely a secondary means. The symbolism of herbs is linked with that of fountains.