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The bulbs, in common with those of many Liliaceous plants, are edible and nutritious. They were in ancient times eaten, both raw and cooked, as Dioscorides related, and form a palatable and wholesome food when boiled. They are still often eaten in the East, being roasted like chestnuts, and Linnaeus and others considered that they were probably the 'Dove's Dung' mentioned in the Second Book of Kings, vi. 25, as being sold at a high price during the siege of Samaria by the King of Syria, when 'the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung was sold for five pieces of silver.' The Greek name, Ornithogalum, signifies the 'birds' milk flower.' The plains of Syria and Palestine are sheeted in spring with the white flowers of a species of Star of Bethlehem, the bulbs of which are used as food, and are still called by the Arabs, 'Dove's Dung,' a name in common use among them for vegetable substances. Bochart tells us that the Arabs give this name to a moss that grows on trees and stony ground, and also to a pulse or pea, which appears to have been common in India. Large quantities of the bulb, it is stated, were parched and dried and stored at Cairo and Damascus, being much used during journeys, and especially by the great pilgrim caravans to Mecca.
In Lyte's Dodoens (1578) it is described as 'the white filde onyon,' growing in plenty near Malines. In Turner's Herbal (1548) it is not mentioned, but in Gerard's six species are enumerated. He says: 'There be sundry sorts of wild field Onions, called "Starres of Bethlehem," differing in stature, taste and smell, as shall be declared,' and calls them 'the Star of Hungary,' 'the Lesser Spanish Star,' 'the Star of Bethlehem,' 'the great Arabische star floure,' etc.
Though there are numerous species in this genus, only one is truly native to Great Britain, the spiked Ornithogalum, O. pyrenaicum (Linn.), and is not common, being a local plant, found only in a few counties. It is abundant, however, in woods near Bath, and the unexpanded inflorescence used to be collected and sold in that town under the name of 'Bath Asparagus,' and was cooked and served as a vegetable.
A leafless stalk, about 2 feet high, rises from the bulb, bearing greenish-white flowers in a long, erect spike.
(The homoeopaths make a tincture from the bulbs which is useful in some cases of cancer.)
No deja de ser sorprendente como la etimología popular pervive a lo largo de los siglos e incluso milenios. En el s. I se denomina a esta planta "Ornitogalo", que significa literalmente "leche de pájaro" de órnithos=pájaro y gála=leche. El mismo nombre por el que en la actualidad aún se conoce. La mencionan Dioscórides y Plinio. Dioscórides indica que "su raíz es bulboide, se come cruda, cocida y asada". (Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Espanol)
"Dove's dung" is a biblical name for a herb called star of bethlehem. The botanical name of the most common species is Ornithogalum umbellatum. As is often case with herbs of long time use, it has many colourful local names such as eleven-o'clock-lady, jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, john-go-in-bed-at-noon, nap-at-noon, peep o'day, six o'clock flowers, sleepy Dick, and so on. Most of the names refer to the fact that the white star-shaped flowers open when the sun is out.
Today, star of bethlehem is grown mostly as an ornamental in gardens, But it is closely related to onions and chives and in biblical times the bulbs was considered to be a nutritious food plant and a delicacy. The bulbs are roasted in the Middle East where they are still called "dove's dung".
THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM: AN ASTRONOMICAL AND HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
By Susan S. Carroll
The Star of Bethlehem is one of the most powerful, and enigmatic, symbols of Christianity. Second perhaps only to the Cross of the Crucifixion, the importance of its role in the story of the Nativity of the Christ child is almost on a par with the birth itself. However, the true origin of the Star of Bethlehem has baffled astronomers, historians, and theologians for the past two millennia....