In medieval times the placenta was said to nurture an unborn child in body and soul. An unborn child was only supposed to lie there, so the placenta was also called "the bed of the child." According to an old European custom, many parents believed that the placenta had a spiritual affinity with the life energy of the tree. Many parents of diverse backgrounds want to respect and appreciate the child's organ. As a symbol of gratitude many of them plant a young tree over the placenta. In some traditions, an apple or pear tree is planted over the placenta, an apple for a girl and a pear tree for a boy. In Switzerland the custom is to choose an apple tree for a girl and a nut tree for a boy. The grandmother traditionally determines which kind of tree matches well with the individual newborn because she has may years of knowledge of life in the family. Today using the placenta in some way is gaining in popularity and is common in many places, the tradition of burying the placenta is still alive now.
In addition to the placenta, in France, the umbilical cord is believed to guarantee the child good manual and mental abilities when the child carries it in their pocket or school bag. In Europe and Africa the dried cord was kept underneath the child's pillow or tied to the bed. In the Amazon, one tribe turns the cord into a bracelet decorated with beads to be chewed on when teething.
Historical illustrations can be found as proof that in many cultures, mothers and other people in the community had eaten raw or cooked placenta for healing and to improve hunting abilities.
In southern Germany, in the 16th century, a piece of placenta was added to the mother's first postpartum meal. The custom of offering a woman chicken broth with a piece of the placenta for her first meal after giving birth is still alive in many European regions. According to inventory lists of pharmacies in the end of the 19th century, "a jar of placenta powder" was kept in stock in all town pharmacies. It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century did the use of placenta powder gradually diminish.