12-Medvl-Herbs-art - 11/2/14
"A Dozen Medieval Herbs and How to Grow Them" by Baroness Sine ni Dheaghaidh, CP.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
A Dozen Medieval Herbs
and How to Grow Them
by Baroness Sine ni Dheaghaidh, CP
ANISE - Native to the Middle East. One of the oldest known herbs. Related to caraway, cumin, dill and fennel. In Ancient Greece valued as an aphrodisiac. Pythagoras in 6th Century BC recommended it as an antidote for scorpion stings. Romans introduced it into Tuscany and by the Middle Ages it had spread over most of Europe. Has always been popular as a digestive (Roman served anise-cakes after rich meals). Medieval travelers carried anise to put in evening drinks to help them recover from fatigue. Also used in form of comfits (coated with sugar) as a digestive. During reign of Edward I, a tax on anise helped defray expenses for repairing London Bridge.
BALM, LEMON (Sweet Melissa) - The name Melissa comes from the Greek for honeybee. Sacred to the temple of Diana and used medicinally by the Greeks some 2,000 years ago. Called "hearts delight" in Southern Europe and "the elixir of life" by the Swiss physician, Paracelus. He believed the herb could revive a man. Lemon balm was reputed to be among the morning teas imbibed in the thirteenth century by Llewelyn, Prince of Glamorgan, who lived to be 108, while John Hussey of England lived to be 116 after drinking it every morning for 50 years! It is said to dispel melancholy.
BASIL - From India. Regarded as sacred by Hindus. Much used for disinfecting where malaria was present. Pliny said basil was an aphrodisiac and was given to horses and asses during mating season. It was believed that it would not flourish unless the gardener hurled profuse insults at it during planting. The plant's Greek name basilikos (which means royalty) got mixed up with the Latin word basiliscus (which means basilisk, an evil dragon-like animal) and for ensuing centuries people thought that basil could either protect you from basilisks or could breed such monsters.
DILL - Native to Asia Minor and Europe. Common name derives from either Anglo-Saxon dylle or the Norse dilla, which means "to soothe or lull". In reference to calming infants with hiccoughs or colic, dill-water is still in use today. It was used by Egyptian doctors 5,000 years ago and remains of the plant have been found in ruins of Roman buildings in Britain. It had widespread usage during the Middle Ages and was well loved by the roving Norsemen.
FENNEL - Native to Southern Europe. Used by the Romans and Greeks. In the Middle Ages it was used to garnish fish: supposedly to help digest the fat. Used medicinally to induce sweating. Thought to have magic associations and was hung over doors on Midsummer's Eve to ward off evil spirits. Romans believed fennel seeds aided in sharpening vision and it was used as a symbol of victory. In the Middle Ages, seeds were chewed on fast days to allay hunger. Gerard referred to it as being useful for preserving the eyesight. Culpeper advised its use for those "that are bit with serpents or have eat...mushrooms".
GARLIC - Native to Asia. Grown by Anglo-Saxons. Name derived from Anglo-Saxon words gar, a lance, and leac, a leek, referring to the shape of the leaves. In Medieval Britain it was eaten in great quantities, often raw, causing William Shakespeare to comment unfavorably on its smell.
MINT - Native to all temperate areas. Was named for the nymph Minthe who was pursued by Pluto, God of the Underworld. When Pluto's wife, Queen Persephone learned of their trysts, she threw Minthe to the ground and trampled on her fragile, unfortunate body. Pluto, who wielded great power in matters pertaining to the afterlife, arranged for her to live on as mint. Culpeper believed that "it stirreth up venery or bodily lust". It was used extensively as a culinary herb by the Greeks, Romans and early Europeans. It was used also as a strewing herb and with salt for curing dog bites.
MUSTARD - Native to the Middle East. Known for thousands of years. Pliny listed 40 remedies based on mustard. English name from Latin mustum ardens meaning "burning must" , because the ground seeds were mixed with grape must. In the Middle Ages it was the one herb available most commonly to ordinary people. Mentioned in Shakespeare, Mustard-Seed is the name of one of the fairies in "A Midsummer Night's Dream', and in "Henry IV" Part 2, he refers to "Tewkesbury mustard", Tewkesbury being the center of mustard production for England.
PARSLEY - Native to the Eastern Mediterranean area. One of the oldest and longest used herbs. Described in a 3rd Century B.C. Greek herbal. Worn in Greece and Rome as a chaplet to absorb the fumes of wine and so to delay inebriation. Greeks decorated tombs with it. It was grown in Charlemagne's garden.
ROSEMARY - Native to the Mediterranean Coast. Named from Latin ros and maris meaning "dew of the sea". Has been associated with the mind and improving the memory, witness the famous line from Hamlet, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance". It was used at funerals instead of more expensive incense. Later it was associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as it was said that when she spread her sky-blue cloak over a rosemary bush to dry, the flowers of the bush turned blue to match her cloak. It was used by hunters to stuff into their prey after removing the entrails, thus keeping the prey from smelling badly. It was supposed to bring good luck, prevent witchcraft and has disinfecting powers.
SAGE - Native to the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Mentioned by Dioscorides and Pliny. Sage in the garden is said to prolong life. It is said to flourish in gardens where a woman runs the household. Was traded to the Chinese for tea. Belief that sage strengthened the memory.
THYME - Native to Greece. Was mentioned by Theophrastus, Horace, Virgil and Pliny. Ibn Baithar tells how thyme "kills lice, expels the dead foetus and when drunk with violet oil, clears the head." It was used in baths, for strewing, in broths and sauces, and to stuff goose and roasted fish. It was introduced to Briton by the Romans. Mentioned in a 10 Century Anglo-Saxon text. Recommended as a hangover cure.
How to Grow These Herbs
ANISE: Annual, full sun, can grow to 2 feet tall, white flowers that resemble Queen Anne's Lace. To harvest seeds: dry seed heads on paper or in paper bags to catch all the seeds. Use the leaves too, they also have anise flavor. * Tips* Use anise to bait mouse traps. Plant near coriander (it enhances its growth). Sow seeds outside as it transplants poorly. Uses: culinary, medicinal.
BASIL: Annual, full sun, tropical, tender, has white flowers, grows 1-2 feet tall, 18 inches wide. Grows quickly fromseed,transplantafterlastfrost.Hardenoffbeforetransplanting.Harvestleaves every week, pinch terminal buds to encourage branching. *Tip* Plant near tomatoes and pepper to enhance their growth. Uses: culinary, medicinal, domestic, fragrance.
BALM, LEMON: Hardy perennial, full sun to partial shade, 1-2 feet tall with greenish or white blossoms. Sow seeds shallowly in spring, thinning to 18-24" apart. Readily self-sows. To harvest, cut entire plant and dry quickly to prevent leaves from turning black. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, fragrance.
DILL: Hardy re-seeding annual, full sun, yellow-green to white flowers, grows up to 3 feet tall. Sow seeds outdoors in early Spring and keep moist. Do not plant near fennel: they cross, collect seeds as with anise. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, fragrance.
FENNEL: Semi-hardy perennial , full sun, grows up to 4 feet tall. Has small yellow flowers. Usually grown as an annual as the bulb is a wonderful vegetable! Sow seed outside in spring as it transplants poorly, collect seeds as with anise. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, fragrance.
GARLIC: Hardy biennial or perennial, full sun, grows up to 2 feet tall, resembles and onion, iris or tulips (depends on variety), white to pink blooms atop a central stalk. Plant cloves just below surface 3-4 inches apart. Dig bulbs and allow to dry on ground for a week or two, in a shaded spot Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, domestic.
MINT: Hardy perennial, full sun to moderate shade, grows 30 inches tall, with tiny pink or purple blossoms. Buy plants to get the best flavor as mints do not come up true from seeds. Rampant spreader, plant in sunken bottomless container to control. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, fragrance.
MUSTARD: Very hardy annual or biennial, full sun, grows 4-6 feet tall. Attracts same pests as cabbage. Collect and dry seeds when ripe. Uses: culinary, medicinal.
PARSLEY: Biennial grown as annual, full sun to partial shade, grows 8-12 inches tall, tiny yellow flowers. Grow from plants--seeds take to long to germinate. To harvest: cut entire plant 2 inches the ground and it will re-grow. May be grown indoors in pots. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic.
ROSEMARY: Semi-hardy, evergreen perennial, full sun, grows 2-6 feet tall, small pale blue to pink clusters of flowers , grows best in well drained soil. Start from plants, not seeds. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, fragrance.
SAGE: semi-hardy to hardy perennial, full sun, grows 1-2 feet tall, grows easily from seeds. Sow indoors 8-10 weeks before frost free date. But plants are easier. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, domestic.
THYME: Hardy perennial, full sun, grows 6-15 inches, lilac to pink blossoms, starts easily from seed. *Tip* Plant near eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes and mustard to repel cabbage worms and white flies. Uses: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, domestic, fragrance.
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Copyright 2011 by Jane Sellers, 7066 N. NC Hwy 109, Winston-Salem NC, 27107. <sinebee at triad.rr.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.