Peonies were among the earliest known medicinal plants, and they were named after Paenon, legendary physician to the gods of ancient Greece. Plyni wrote:
“The most anciently discovered herb is the Peony which still keeps its discoverer’s name.”
People once believed that apart from their remarkable curative properties, peonies had the power to keep away evil spirits and storm. They were also said to bestow long life.
Necklaces of seeds were worn to counter shameful diseases like leprosy, lunacy, epilepsy and chronic nightmares, and the roots were also worn by children to help them cut their teeth. But digging them up was a dangerous undertaking, like digging up mandrakes. Peonies were said to shriek as horribly as they were uprooted that anyone nearby would die. The safest way to gather them was therefore thought to be to tie a dog to the plant and let the animal pull it up.