In ancient mythology, Ambrosia is sometimes the food, sometimes the drink, of the gods. The word has generally been derived from Greek a- ("not") and mbrotos ("mortal"); hence the food or drink of the immortals. A. W. Verrall, however, denies that there is any clear example in which the word ambrosios necessarily means immortal, and prefers to explain it as "fragrant," a sense which is always suitable. If so, the word may be derived from the Semitic ambar ("ambergris") to which Eastern nations attribute miraculous properties. W. H. Roscher thinks that both nectar and ambrosia were kinds of honey, in which case their power of conferring immortality would be due to the supposed healing and cleansing power of honey. See also Ichor.
Derivatively, the word Ambrosia (neuter plural) was given to certain festivals in honour of Dionysus, probably because of the predominance of feasting in connection with them.
The name Ambrosia was also applied by Dioscorides and Pliny to certain herbs, and has been retained in modern botany for a genus of plants from which it has been extended to the group of dicotyledons called Ambrosiaceae, including Ambrosia, Xanthium and Iva, all annual herbaceous plants represented in America. Ambrosia artemisiofolia is the common American ragweed that brings so much misery to allergy sufferers with its anemophilous pollen. Ambrosia maritima and some other species occur also in the Mediterranean region.
There is also an American beetle, the Ambrosia Beetle, belonging to the family of Scolytidae, which derives its name from its curious cultivation of a succulent fungus, called ambrosia. Ambrosia beetles bore deep though minute galleries into trees and timber, and the wood-dust provides a bed for the growth of the fungus, on which the insects and larvae feed.
This article was originally based on content from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.