I'm assuming that the Gilgamesh myth is fairly distinct from the Mesoamerican Fountain of Youth and the Hindu Soma, but are there any corroborating myths or other research into the details of the plant in Gilgamesh?

The myth itself has the plant growing in or under water, and so has obvious connections with the lotus. Was the lotus a possibility for the time and region of the story?


6 Answers 6


The plant Gilgamesh found was not a lotus

(emphasis mine)

So Utanapishtim revealed to Gilgamesh another secret of the gods. Under the sea there is a wondrous plant, like a flower with thorns, that will return a man to his youth. Gilgamesh then opened the conduit, tied stones to his feet, plunged into the deep (Apsu), and retrieved the plant.

source: http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/49-99-0/mi-wtst.htm

Lotus doesn't grow underwater. Neither does it have thorns. Also, lotus growing in a sea is highly unlikely because it doesn't favor the conditions needed for the lotus to exist.

This is confirmed in another translation of the same text (emphasis mine).

Then Utnapishtim spoke unto Gilgamesh (and said): “Gilgamesh, thou didst come here weary; thou didst labour and row. What now shall I give thee, that thou mayest return to thy country? I will reveal unto thee, Gilgamesh, a mystery of the gods I will announce unto thee. There is a plant resembling buckthorn; its thorn stings like that of a bramble. When thy hands can reach that plant, then thy hands will hold that which gives life everlasting.”

source: http://www.jasoncolavito.com/epic-of-gilgamesh.html

So the plant Gilgamesh found was most probably a species of Rhamnus.

A myth related to the plant that Gilgamesh found is related to the snakes (emphasis mine):

At twenty double-leagues they then took a meal: and at thirty double-leagues they took a rest. And Gilgamesh saw a well wherein was cool water; he stepped into it and bathed in the water. A serpent smelled the sweetness of the plant and darted out; he took the plant away, and as he turned back to the well, he sloughed his skin.


This myth serves as an explanation to the skin shedding of the snakes. By implying (indirectly) that the snakes achieved eternal youth

  • 2
    So, I'm gathering that it was possibly a land plant that became inundated at the time of the flood and somehow this plant was able to adapt and remain alive. Jun 14, 2015 at 3:24
  • There is a parallel here with the Chinese White Snake legend. White Snake steals a magic herb which restores life!
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 20, 2021 at 0:18
  • 1
    @luserdroog, it could have been a story partially based on what the flood survivors had recorded about the location of the garden of Eden with reference to the rivers that had their endpoints in the Persian Gulf (in Genesis 2:10). Meaning that perhaps the location of that garden, with the "tree of life" (Genesis 2:9) ended up submerged under the waters in the Persian Gulf. The Gilgamesh had some other aspects in it too that was more like a fantasy, such as the those parts involving Huwawa.
    – user4762
    Jul 5, 2021 at 21:01

If we approach the myth of immortality not so literally but as an entheogenic experience of immortality, then the sea urchin is a good candidate. This is consistent with the other shamanic elements within the story. Ancient people could have easily seen urchins as plants and there is a euphoria causing chemical found in sea urchin eggs.

Now, if there is any real world geography in the story and Uruk is in the south and if he journeyed through the mountains then would have come to either the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea. What are the plants and animals in the waters in those regions?

  • 1
    I don't see Gilgamesh's magic herb as an entheogen. (Ruck once described entheogens to me as a a type of "chariot of the gods":) But my sense is we've typically associated them with magic plants that have psychotropic effects which lead to universal insights, such as the distilled barley mold ("gift of the hyperborians") used at Elusis. There, though, I think the insight was that life and death are interchangeable, where Gilgamesh is about eternal youth. But there could be said to be a connection via the concept of rebirth, which is the core of Persephone cycle.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 20, 2021 at 0:22

Polyidus of Corinth shares a similar story: "When a snake appeared nearby, Polyidus killed it with the sword. Another snake came for the first, and after seeing its mate dead, the second serpent left and returned with an herb which then brought the first snake back to life. With the herb Polyidus resurrected the child." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyidus_of_Corinth

The snake seems to have the proper sense for plants.

I would guess that the underwater, thorny sea plant might be a starfish such as crown-of-thorns starfish or a type of coral.


Possibly it was a box thorn plant. There are a number of varieties that live above and below the water

  • 2
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    Mar 10 at 11:00

sea urchinenter image description here

OR if looking for a true plant outside of water: soursop, durian and rambutan are all 'spikey' and have claims of anti-cancer properties BUT...the sea urchin spines do sting and they are high in protein and omega-3

  • I can't see this being the answer. The sea urchin is not a plant and modern discoveries like omega-3 would not explain the ancient myths.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 15, 2019 at 11:40

one of the plants was a seaweed from the Persian gulf and the other was Ephedra from the top of the Himalaya mountains! he actually constructed a diving suit to obtain the sea weed and an oriental plant with alkaloid tips sounds like Ephedra! I think his Demigod genetics could account for his long life. plus his Love for the Goddess Inanna

  • Welcome to the site, Jeff. Sources would greatly improve this answer.
    – Ken Graham
    May 31, 2021 at 5:45

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