Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme – What Do They Mean in the Song, Scarborough Fair?

“Are you goin’ to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there,

she once was a true love of mine.”

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and ThymeIn Simon and Garfunkel’s song, Scarborough Fair, they make reference to 4 herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Have you ever wondered at the meaning of this line in the song, or why it was even included? It was the second line in every stanza; therefore, we have to assume it had some significance. But what was it?

In early times, herbs and flowers were often used as symbols of what someone wanted to say or how they felt about someone or something. Each of these herbs have a meaning. Let’s look at these meanings in reference to the song.

These herbs could symbolize virtues that the singer wishes his true love and he had – past, present and future. If they had had them in the past, they would perhaps still be lovers. They will need them in the present to overcome the obstacles they have each laid out for each other. And they will need them in the future, should they once again find their way back to each other.

In the song, each of the lovers ask impossible tasks of the other as a prerequisite of becoming lovers once more. This seems to indicate a bitterness – asking the impossible to gain merit … as a form of punishment or repentance. The very impossibility of the tasks would torment the soul of the one wishing to complete them.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Parsley is said to remove bitterness, physically as well as spiritually. It is also used to represent merriment. Once the lovers overcome the bitterness they feel, they then can look forward to their reunion should they find a way to complete the impossible tasks they have laid out for each other.

Sage symbolizes a long life, wisdom, and domestic virtue. This herb therefore represents what they once had as lovers – a domestic virtue; and what they need to accomplish the tasks each have laid out for the other – wisdom and a long life. In some cases, sage has also been used to symbolize strength, another virtue they will need if they are ever to be reunited.

Rosemary symbolizes faithfulness and remembrance. The lovers must remain faithful to themselves and to each other if they are to have a future together. Rosemary also helps them remember what they had so that they do not become discouraged by the impossible tasks they must now accomplish. By remembering what they had, they know what they are working towards.

Thyme represents courage, daring and activity. All of these virtues point to what it will take in order to complete the tasks so that they may once again be lovers. It will take courage and daring to face the tasks, along with much activity to complete them.

There have been additional songs that are very similar to this one, and many adapted from this one. Click here to see Simon and Garfunkel perform this song.

What do you think? Does this sound like a plausible explanation of why “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” were included in this song?


Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme – What Do They Mean in the Song, Scarborough Fair? — 11 Comments

  1. I have always loved this song.

    What an interesting look at the meaning of the different herbs. I had wondered if they were chosen randomly, or if there was some deeper purpose behind them.

    • Tracy – It is interesting to think that they may have been chosen for a deeper meaning. Flowers and herbs used to be frequently chosen for what they symbolized and often carried a hidden meaning. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. It’s so refreshing to read this informative discussion about the herbs.
    Interesting enough, I grow the ones that you mentioned. I appreciate this information, it’s really a wonder a blessing that you are sharing it with us.
    Due to a near fatal experience with “Fosamax” the drug for osteoporosis, I stopped taking all prescription drugs. I have been using supplements as an alternate to drugs, and have reaped satisfactory benefits. I would like to get some advice on what herb is beneficial for osteoprosis.

    • Alice, so sorry to hear about your experience with Fosamax. Unfortunately, your story is all too real and happens all too frequently. As I fight my breast cancer and look for ways to do so naturally – I will not do chemo or radiation – I understand all too well the drug industry’s stance of wanting to make us comply to what they have deemed best for us.
      I hope you come back often and look forward to seeing you again. Let’s work to get the news out – there are natural alternatives, you just have to dig for them.

    • I will write an article about foods high in calcium very soon for you, Alice. But in the mean time, check out Chia seeds. They are very high in calcium, omega-3′s, and fiber. They are a superfood and I will be writing about them soon as well.

  3. Being an avid cook, I had always assumed that this list of herbs were speaking of the aromas of the herbs most commonly used as a blend for fish seasoning. I have no reason for that but it helps me remember a super blend of herbs for either chicken, fish or even salads.


    • Thanks for sharing your opinion here, Fred. It could be … it could be. That is a good way to remember the herb combination, isn’t it? Blessings to you.

  4. I know someone who cured their stomach cancer 10 years ago by changing their diet dramatically, becoming religious Orthodox Christian, and eating noticeable amounts of dandelion root. There has been at least one article in the Toronto Globe & Mail about dandelion root being a possible cure for cancer, but that’s not the whole story.

    • I too am drinking dandelion root tea. I actually find it to be quite tasty, and it is an amazing liver purifier… making it an excellent choice in the battle against not only cancer, but many other diseases as well.

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