"An apple a day keeps the doctor away"

The Apples of Iðunn

By —— Bio and Archives--August 31, 2016

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The aphorism, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was coined in 1913 but similar advice first appeared in print in 1866, both based on a proverb from Pembrokeshire, Wales “Eat an apple on going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” But the Norse got there first.

In the mythology of the northern Germanic peoples, the goddess Iðunn distributed apples to the Æsir at their evening feasts that enabled them to remain ever youthful. But, not for the first time, we are getting ahead of our story.


Iðunn the Beautiful, Lady of Youth, was daughter of Ivaldi the Earth Dwarf. She married the skaldic god Bragi, god of poetry and music, son of Odin and Gunnlod. He had a very long beard and was very wise. When not listening to her husband’s never-ending bragr, or poetry, she tended the verdant grounds surrounding her golden palace in Asgard, the abode of the gods.

In her garden there grew a magical apple tree the branches of which were ever weighed down with shiny, golden-red fruit, epli. None but the care of Iðunn would produce such and none but she could harvest the apples of youth. Indeed, the goddess name—usually Anglicized as Idunna amongst others—translates as ‘The Rejuvenating One.’

Each and every day the fair goddess would pluck the apples, dropping them into her eski, a storage box made of ash wood. Alas, not only confused with Norse nomenclature, many an artist enthralled with those far-off times has chosen instead to depict the lovely Iðunn with a basket of fruit . . . No matter how many she harvested, the tree bore still more for her the following day to distribute that evening at the gathering of the gods. And so it came to pass that the Æsir stayed ever youthful, no matter what calamities befell them.

Alas, modern medical scientists, no respecters of mythology, have pounced on the pomology. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor demonstrated an apple a day failed to keep the doctor at bay, far less than aging—although it did keep the pharmacist away, they reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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