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A-Med-Garden-art - 7/29/02

 

"Recreating a Medieval Garden" By Brianna McBain.

 

NOTE: See also the files: A-Mazng-Herbs-art, gardening-bib, Pattrn-Gardns-art, Palladius-art, Herbs-Sm-Grdn-art, p-agriculture-bib, roses-art, seeds-msg.

 

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NOTICE -

 

This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

 

These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

 

Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.

 

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.

 

Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org

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Recreating a Medieval Garden

by Brianna McBain

 

    There were many types of medieval garden.  There were kitchen gardens, physic gardens, cloister gardens and the pleasure garden, or herber.  The pleasure garden was designed and planted with the intent of the effect upon the senses.  Plants were chosen for their visual beauty or their fragrance.

 

     Boccacccio, in his mid-fourteenth century book. The Decameron, describes a pleasure garden:  “After this they went into a walled garden beside the mansion…the sides of these walks were almost closed in with red and white roses, so that it was possible to walk in the garden in perfumed and delicious shade…in the midst of this garden was something which they praised even more than all the rest: this was a lawn of very fine grass…and in the midst of this lawn was a fountain of very white marble most marvelously carved.” (1)

 

     Albertus Magnus, (c1260) in his treatise, On Vegetables and Plants, gives instructions for setting out a pleasure garden.  The first requirement was a lawn.” for the sight is in no way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short.”  Around this lawn are to be planted “every sweet smelling herb such as rue, and sage and basil, and likewise all sorts of flowers, as the violet, columbine, lily, rose, iris, and the like.”(2)

 

The plan

     Seven years ago I set out to create the type of medieval pleasure garden that was common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  This presented many difficulties.                                                                                    First of all, there are no surviving examples of this type of garden.  Therefore my research is limited to studying reconstructed gardens, such as at the Cloisters Museum, or period illustrations and descriptions of gardens.  Period illustrations are often fanciful, showing all plants in full bloom simultaneously, (which is impossible) and one cannot be certain if the plant placement and order was proper, or done for the artist’s purpose.  Period descriptions are useful, and often contain lists of plants grown, but one must use caution.  Plants often had names particular to one locality or region, and it is difficult to be certain that what the writer describes is the same plant that we are picturing.

 

     As an example, this is how a fifteenth century herbal describes the common dandelion: “ Dens leonis is an herbe pat men clepe dendelyoun or lyonys toth. Pis herbe hast lewys lyk to hounys toth and it hast a yelwe flour and it hast non braunches but as the flour comyth of the rote with a lytyl braunche and it droppyth mylk quanne it is brokyn. Pe vertu of pis herbe is pat pe roote per-of is good to hele pe feuere cotydian sef it be drownkyn with wyn.”(3)

 

     Still, most pleasure gardens of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries shared certain characteristics and features.  The layouts varied, but they were nearly always symmetrical, with an orderly array of square or rectangular beds.  The central lawn contained a pond or fountain, and an arbor and trees shaded the borders.

 

   For the layout and construction of the garden itself, I began with the hardscaping, that is, the fence, stone walls, rock borders, pond, and other permanent features. There is a Celtic cross, which is a copy of a period cross in Leeds. Crosses were sometimes used to mark a place of sanctuary.  A small pond with a fountain was a feature of the medieval pleasure garden.  To control algae in the pond a small bundle of barley straw and lavender is added periodically.(4) I am not certain why this works but it seems to do so.  

 

Obtaining plants

     Another challenge is obtaining period varieties of plants.  I have found some sources that specialize in antique or heirloom varieties, which are among the oldest known strains.  We cannot be certain these are the correct period varieties, but it may be as close as we can get. At the end of this article I have listed some suppliers who may be of assistance in obtaining obscure varieties.  Other useful places for obtaining plants are historical sites and cemeteries. With luck, you may find plants that were planted there as early as the seventeenth century.  While not strictly period, it is a good bet that if they were brought over from Europe, they are descended from a period strain.   When taking plants from such a place, remember to obtain permission first.  If you are unable to locate a caretaker, as in an old abandoned cemetery, remember to take no more than ten percent of any variety, leaving enough of the plants undamaged so as not to unduly disturb the site.

 

Gardening methods

       To further complicate matters, I decided to limit myself to period methods of gardening.  The standard gardener’s tools: rake, hoe, shovel and wheelbarrow, have not changed much in appearance or function.  But gardening without chemicals or modern organic methods presented problems.  Through much trial and error I finally solved the problem of aphids by borrowing a neighbor’s flock of chickens and turning them loose in the garden for a time.  They dutifully devoured every insect in sight, and incidentally provided free fertilizer.  I can find no period reference to using this method, per se, but because the plans for many monastery gardens show the poultry yard adjacent to the garden, I can only conclude by its efficiency that it must have been done. (Caution: poultry guano is very acidic. Unless your soil is very basic, use this method sparingly.) Period methods of insect control also included strewing sawdust near anthills and cinders beneath broad-leafed plants to deter caterpillars.(5) I have also encouraged toads to habitat the stone walls, and put up a birdhouse in the style of a dovecote.  These, together with the fish in the pond, also help keep insects under control.

 

     Other useful sources of fertilizer were found in the pond sediment that must be removed periodically.   Horse manure is a good source of nitrogen and is available for free from local stables. (If you use this, take the manure from the oldest side of the pile.  The fresh manure may harbor parasites or “burn” your plants. ) It goes without saying that a compost pile is every gardener’s friend.  Most organic material can be recycled into good rich soil.  This is so easily done it should not be overlooked.

 

Watering

       Now, as for watering, obviously hoses are out. Surprisingly, modern style watering cans do not appear until late in period.  However, an early period alternative is easily constructed. A hole is made in the bottom of a clay pot, and this hole is then filled with shards of pottery or pebbles. When it is then filled with water, water will gently trickle out the hole. This may be carried to the beds, or, as was also done, hung on a stick and left.  This hole may also be stuffed with a rag, and then the clay vessel laid next to the plant for a period version of drip irrigation.(6)

 

Mowing

     Though I have until now used a modern lawn mower for this job, my research indicates that with proper practice, a scythe is actually faster and more efficient. It does require more labor and some skill.  I am currently contemplating the purchase of a scythe for this purpose.  I have obtained catalogs from dealers in the Amish country area who carry scythes similar to ones seen in period woodcuts.

 

Fences

     A fence was necessary for a garden. The primary purpose was to exclude animals from entering the garden.  However, in some cases, very high stone walls were used.  This is much more than would be needed for such a purpose, and in these instances, the purpose of the wall was to provide privacy in the garden, something that was very lacking in most areas of medieval life.(7)  

 

     Many types of fences were used to enclose the garden; Hawthorn hedges, willow pole, Hazel wattle, Oak trellis, split-wood palisade, or stone.  These fences could range in height from only a few feet to well above a man’s head.(8) In my garden I have used a three foot high palisade style fence.   Strictly speaking, it is not period; as it is made of resin, not wood.  However, my gardening chores currently take up so much of my precious free time that I did not want to have to paint and maintain such a long fence every year. It does simulate a wood fence, but requires no maintenance.

 

Plants

       In the rosebeds, I have two period varieties of medieval roses: Rosa Alba Semilplena  (The White rose of York) and Rosa Gallica Officinalis (The red rose of Lancaster). Their bloom time is considerably shorter than that of modern roses, but they also produce lovely hips in the fall. These are lovely roses, though a modern rose variety grows on the white arbor.  This was necessary, as I wanted a thornless variety for that area, for the protection of people passing through the arbor.(A medieval arbor would have been wider, and so the thorns would not have been an issue.)

 

     Near the pond is a stonewalled, raised herb bed.  This bed contains Rosemary, Parsley, Thymes, Sage, Basil, Fennel, Dill, Chives, Garlic, Leeks, and Chamomile. Mint and Pennyroyal, which are very invasive, are contained.  On the east side of the garden is a row of three raised  herb beds. Other herbs are kept in containers so that they can be moved as required, or brought indoors to winter over.

 

     At the end of this article I have attached a list of plants that I am using, and their medieval uses.  A full list of plants available and known to the medieval garden may be obtained by consulting the writings of period gardeners. Aelfric Abbas of Winchester, in his work, Colloquy (Nominum Herbarum), c995, lists over 200 species of herbs and trees.  The Fromond list, a garden inventory of 1525, lists nearly three hundred plants, herbs and trees.(9)  

 

    A Rowan tree was planted in the garden.  This was done in accordance with an ancient Scottish custom.  Rowan trees were often planted near residences, as they were believed to ward off witches.  A pair of Medlar trees were also added.  Their fruit can be used for preserves or in the making of wine.

 

     A dozen varieties of Scottish Heather fill a bed on the east side of  the garden, and a lavender bed is tucked into the corner. A shaded bench makes a cozy seat  with a stone table beside it.

 

Garden benches

     Benches of turf were used for seating in the garden.  These were either straight benches, or more commonly, U-shaped.  The latter allowed a table to be placed in the center of it after everyone was seated.  These benches, called excedra, were constructed of a stone shell, the hollow being filled with dirt and then planted with turf.(10)  These are difficult to construct and even harder to maintain as they will need daily watering to prevent them turning brown. They are also difficult to mow and trim.  Unless you are willing to dedicate a lot of time for these, I do not recommend them.

 

The Mary Garden

     Another feature of the garden is the Mary Garden.  This is tucked away in a corner.  In the periods of Catholic persecution, particularly during the latter part of the sixteenth century, devotions to the Virgin Mary were suppressed. Many Catholics responded to the removal of statues of the Virgin by planting a corner of their garden with plants they associated with Mary.(11) This became a secret form of devotion. Some of the plants they used were Lady’s Mantle, English Daisy (Mary’s Rose), Violets (Our Lady’s Modesty), Cowslip (Our Lady’s Keys), Bluebells, (Our Lady’s Thimble), and Columbine (Our Lady’s Slippers).  Other herbs and flowers, prior to the Protestant Reformation, also had names by which they were associated with Mary.  Many of these were found in monastery gardens.

 

     The garden bell is a reproduction of a fifteenth century chapel bell.  It contains the Latin names of the gospel writers and the symbols associated with them.

 

     This garden is still unfinished. (Is a garden ever really finished?) The work   progresses slowly in stages. Winters are spent planning, researching, and tracking down hard to find plants and seeds. In the spring, at least one major project and planting is scheduled. Summers are spent just maintaining and tending the garden. In the fall, herbs are harvested and dried to use in other projects, and the garden prepared for the winter.

 

     The author wishes to thank Baroness Mistress Elwynne Rowenna of Wentworth and the members of the East Kingdom Herbalists’ Guild for their kind support, encouragement, advice and assistance with this project.

 

Notes:

(1) Boccaccio, John The Decameron, (1620 translation) Easton Press, Norwalk, 1980

(2) Bayard, Tanya Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of the                                                                                Cloisters   Harper Collins, New York 1988

(3) Agnus Castus, a Middle English Herbal, c1430   Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri , Uppsala 1950

(4) Bayard, Tanya A Medieval Home Companion (an English translation of the 14th century Le Menagier de Paris) Harper Collins, New York 1991

(5) Ibid

(6) Landsberg, Sylvia, The Medieval Garden British Museum Press, 1996

(7) Wright, Richardson, The Story of Gardening Dodd, Mead & Co. New York 1934

(8) Landsberg, Sylvia

(9) Harvey, J.H. Medieval Gardens Shire Publications, Aylesbury, 1990

(10) Landsberg, Sylvia

(11) Foley, Daniel J, Mary Gardens article in The Herbalist publication of the Herb Society of America, 1953 reference the “Obedientary and Manor rolls” of Norwich Cathedral Priory in the 15th century

 

Sources:

Reconstructed Gardens:

The Cloisters Museum and Garden   Fort Tryon Park, NY 10040

Caramoor Center for the Music and Arts   Girdle Ridge Rd, Katohah NY

The garden of Holy Cross Monastery, New York

The New Renaissance Garden (Enid A Haupt Conservatory)

New York Botanical Gardens

Cornell Plantations,Robinson York State Herb Garden, Ithica New York

 

References:

Agnus Castus-A Middle English Herbal (c1430) Almqvist & Wiksells Bokrtyckeri, Uppsala 1950

A Medieval Home Companion (Engish translation of the 14th century Le Menagier de Paris) Tanya Bayard, Harper Collins, NY 1991

Brother Cadfael’s Herb Book, R. Whitman, Little, Brown & Co., London 1988

In A Monastery Garden E. and R. Peplow, David and Charles ,London 1994

In Pursuit Of Paradise: A Social History Of Gardens and Gardening  Jane Brown, Harper Collins, London 1999

Herbs For The Medieval Household For Cooking, Healing, And Divers Uses Margaret B. Freeman, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, NY 1943

Medieval English Gardens T. McLean, Collins, London 1994

Medieval Gardens J.H. Harvey, Shire Publications, Aylesbury 1993

Medieval Gardens Sir F. Crisp, Hacker, New York 1979

Men and Gardens Nan Fairbrother, Hogarth press, 1956

The Early English Kitchen Garden Mary Palmer Kelley, Garden History Assoc.

Columbia, S.C. 1984

The English Housewife Gervase Markham (c 1568) McGill-Queen’s University, Quebec, CA, 1994

Mary’s Flowers Vincenzia Krymow, St. Anthony Press, Cincinati, OH 1999

Restoring Period Gardens by J.H. Harvey , Batsford London, 1981

Sweet Herbs And Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of the Cloisters Tanya Bayard, Harper Collins, New York 1991

The Medieval Garden Sylvia Landsberg, British Museum Press, 1996

The Story of Gardening  ,Richardson Wright, Dodd, Mead & Co, New York 1934

The Unicorn Tapestries Margaret B. Freeman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974

The Herb Companion Vol 3, No 2 Jan 1991 article: Medieval Herbals Steven Foster

The Herb Quarterly issue 70 summer 1996 article Medieval roots of the Modern Garden N.S. Gill

 

Suppliers:

Heirloom Old Garden Roses

24062 NE Riverside Drive

St. Paul OR 97137

 

Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens,

Sylvan Lane

Westport, CT

(203) 227-4175

 

Heritage Roses

16831 Mitchell Creek Rd

Fort Bragg, CA 95937

 

Well-Sweep Herb Farm

205 Mt. Bethel Road

Port Murray, NJ 07865

(908) 852-5390

 

Select Seeds Antique Flowers

180 Stickney Hill

Union, CT 06076

1-800-860-9310

 

Perennial Pleasures Nursery

63 Brick House Road

East Hardick, VT 05836

(802) 472-5104

 

Seeds of Change Antique and Heirloom Herbs

PO Box 15700

Santa Fe, NM 87506  

1-888-627-3333

 

Plants Grown in My Garden and Their Medieval Uses

(Note:  The following is provided for information purposes only .The author does not advocate following medieval instructions for the uses and ingestion of herbs.)

 

Basil Ocimun basilicum: Basil was used in wine as a tonic for intestinal complaints, and was used fresh to season dishes.  It was also used for strewing on floors because it releases its strong fragrance when walked upon.  It was also believed to repel flies.

Bay Laurus nobilis: Bay oil was used externally to treat bruises and sore joints, and as an antiseptic.  It was also used to flavor soups and stews, and as a strewing herb to repel insects.

Betony Stachys officinalis: Also called “Woundwort” was valued as a general cure-all, particularly for healing wounds and sores.

Borage Borago officinalis:  Borage flowers were added to cups given to departing crusaders, as the herb was believed to promote courage.  Borage oil was used to treat kidney, bladder and bowel problems.  Borage lotion was used for sore eyes.  

Boxwood Buxux semper: (Caution! Poisonous!) Boxwood taken in small doses was used to treat malaria.  Boxwood oil was used for toothaches, and Boxwood oil for diarrhea.

Carnation : Primarily planted for its decorative and fragrant properties, carnations symbolized betrothal and marriage.

Chamomile Anthemis nobilis: Chamomile symbolized humility. Chamomile tea was used as a mild sedative for nervous complaints.

Chervil Anthriscus cerefolium: Chervil was used to treat liver and stomach problems.  Applied in a poultice, it was used to treat hemorrhoids.  The raw leaves stimulated digestion.  Both leaves and roots were used to season soups and salads.

Chives Allium tuberosum: Chives were used for flavoring and to soothe the inflammation of insect stings.

Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris: (Caution! Poisonous!) Mainly grown for decorative purposes, it was also used in an antiseptic for sore mouths, and externally for common skin diseases.  It was also used to treat the plague.

Cowslip Primula veris: Cowslip leaves and flowers were eaten in salads.  The flowers were made into Cowslip wine, mead, and vinegar.  The flowers were also eaten sugared. Cowslip tea is a mild sedative and was used for headaches, insomnia and nervous problems.  It was believed to cure palsy.  A distillation of Cowslip was used in cosmetics as it was thought to remove wrinkles.

Daisy Tanacetum cinerarifolium: Daisy ointments were used for all types of aches and pains.  Chewing the leaves was reputed to cure mouth ulcers.  The leaves were often added to salads. The daisy represented innocence. It was also thought to curb lust.

Dill Anethum graveolens:   Dill was used to treat flatulence and colic in babies.  The seeds were chewed to sweeten the breath. It was also used to season vinegars and as a pickling spice.  It was also added to love potions and hung up to ward off ‘the evil eye’.

Fennel Foeniculum vulgare:  Fennel was used to produce a yellow dye, and to scent cosmetics.  Fennel tea was believed to remove wrinkles. It was used as a strewing herb, and its sweet smell was believed to ward off evil spirits.  It was used liberally as a cooking herb.  People also chewed the seeds to alleviate hunger on fasting days.  It was believed to be an antidote for many poisons, as well as an aphrodisiac.  Fennel oil was used to treat constipation.

Feverfew Chrysanthemum parthenium: was used to reduce fevers and alleviate headaches.

Garlic Allium sativum : Used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Heather Calluna vulgaris: Heather was used to flavor ale, and in tanning to produce a yellow/orange dye.  Favored by beekeepers, it yields a superior honey. It was also used for thatching and bedding.  Preparations of Heather were also used for kidney and urinary infections, and to treat arthritis pain, and as a mild sedative.

Horehound Marrubium vulgare: Horehound was used to flavor wines, liqueurs and ales.  Mixed with honey, it was used to treat chronic coughs.  It was also used to clean milk pails, and repel flies.

Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis: (Caution! Pregnant women should not take Hyssop!) Hyssop was a popular strewing herb, and was planted near cabbages to repel whiteflies. The flowers were eaten in salads, and the leaves were added to soups, stews, and meat dishes. The oil was used to flavor liqueurs.  Hyssop was also used to expel intestinal worms, but in large doses can cause an abortion.  Hyssop tea is good for colds and coughs, and a poultice for treating bruises. A Hyssop compress is useful when applied externally to herpes virus sores.

Iris Iris florentina: Iris petals were used to make pigments for painting, and perfume was derived from the roots.

Juniper Juniperis communis : (Caution! Pregnant women should not take juniper berries!)  Juniper berries were eaten to produce an abortion.  They were also used to treat kidney problems. Juniper branches were strewn on floors or burnt to sweeten a room. Oil of Juniper berries were used for stomach ailments, and to flavor liqueurs, and added to marinades and stews.  The wood was also burnt to smoke meat

Lady’s Mantle alchemilla vulgaris: This herb was named for the cloak of the Virgin Mary, and was thought to have magical powers. At dawn, its leaves collect huge drops of dew, which the alchemists called “celestial water”. This plant was also used to treat many female ailments, and to staunch bleeding and treat wounds. The leaves yield a green dye.

Lavender Lavandula officinalis: Lavender was used for its fragrance as a strewing herb.  It is also an insect repellent. Lavender oil is a strong antiseptic and has antibacterial properties, and was used to treat cuts, bites and stings.  It was also used to soothe the nerves and relieve depression, insomnia, and headaches.  Lavender flowers were sugared and eaten.  Lavender leaves were eaten in salads and stews.

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis: Often used in remedies for fainting and dizziness. It is also an ingredient in liquors. The dried leaves add flavor to soups and sauces.

Lovage Levisticum officinalis: also called “love parsley”. A cure-all, mostly used for digestive problems.

Madder Rubia tinctorum: Madder is used to produce red dye.  It was also used to treat jaundice.  Some early sources stated jaundice could be cured merely by looking at this plant, or by wearing an amulet of it.  The roots of it were also used externally to treat bruises and wounds.

Marjoram Origanum vulgare:  This plant produces a red/purple dye.  It was also used in a variety of medicines for indigestion.  It was a popular strewing herb, used for preserving and disinfecting.  It was worn by bridal couples, as it symbolized joy, and was used to scent winding sheets, and planted upon graves.

Marigold Calendula officinalis:  A medieval symbol of enduring love.  The flowers were used for bee stings.

Medlar Mespilus germanica: A tree traditionally planted in herb gardens, its fruit was made into preserves, and used to treat diarrhea and to staunch bleeding.

Mint Mentha aquatica:  Mint is antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic, so it was used for a variety of ailments.  As a strewing herb it is a natural insect repellent.

Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris: used as a poultice for swellings and ulcers.

Pansy Viola tricolor: The tri-colored flowers symbolized the Holy Trinity.  Its French name, ‘Pen see’, meant thought, thus the plant also represented thought of the beloved.

Parsley Petroselinum crispum: Fresh Parsley leaves were chewed to sweeten the breath.  It was also used to treat menstrual problems, urinary infections, and to stimulate the appetite.  It was added to sauces, salads, soups and pottages. The stems produce a green dye. Superstition held that it was unlucky to give away or transplant Parsley.

Periwinkle Vinca minor: Was used to treat bites and stings, and carried as a talisman to protect against marital discord and the influences of evil spirits.

Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium: (Caution:Pennyroyal should not be taken by pregnant women!) Pennyroyal was often used as a remedy for cramps and intestinal worms. It can also induce an abortion..  

Primrose Primula vulgaris: also called ‘the keys to Heaven’, this is an early spring bloomer.  Distilled primrose water was used to calm mad dogs.

Rose Rosa Gallica officinalis:  Rose water was believed to strengthen the heart and was used to treat bronchial infections, coughs and colds.  Rose petals were eaten in salads, or sugared, or used to flavor vinegars, jams, and syrups.  Rose oil was used in perfumes and cosmetics.

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis:  Rosemary was used as a strewing herb to repel insects and moths.  Placed under a pillow, it was believed to ward off bad dreams.  It was burnt as incense and used in cosmetics and perfumes.  A symbol of remembrance and friendship, it was carried by bridal couples.  It was used to flavor many dishes, salads and wines.  It is an antiseptic, and was used externally for eczema and sores and wounds.  Taken internally, it was used to improve liver function and relieve flatulence. (Caution! Taken in extremely large doses, Rosemary can be poisonous!)

Rue Ruta graveolens:  Rue tea was used to expel intestinal worms. (Caution! In large doses, rue is poisonous.  Handling the leaves may cause blisters. Pregnant women should not take Rue!)  Rue was a symbol of sorrow and repentance. Brushes of Rue were used to sprinkle holy water during many rituals and masses. The phrase, ‘Rue the day’, came from the custom of throwing Rue in your enemy’s face to curse them. Rue was also believed to improve vision and even bestow ‘the second sight’ on those who took it regularly.  Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo both claimed that the herb improved their vision.

Sage Salvia officinalis: Sage has antiseptic and astringent properties.  It was associated with longevity.  A medieval proverb said, “ He that would live for aye, must eat Sage in May.”  It was also a symbol of prosperity, and sage growing profusely in the garden was a good omen.  It was used for colds, coughs, headaches, and menstruation problems.  It was thought to cleanse the blood, and was recommended to women to prevent miscarriage.  Sage tea was used for sore throats, laryngitis, and mouth and gum sores.  It was eaten in salads, soups, pottages, and cheeses.  It was also used to season wines, liqueurs, and vinegars.   It was used to season fatty meats such as pork and duck, and made them more digestible.

St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum :  St. John’s Wort was named for John the Baptist, as the red spots on the leaves were said to appear on August 29th, the anniversary of his death.    Some sources also claim the herb is named for the Knights of St. John, who used it to treat sword wounds.   It was also used to treat epilepsy, depression and stomach complaints.  Superstition held that if you stepped on the plant after sunset you would be carried away by the faeries.  With alum, the herb yields a yellow dye, or with alcohol, a violet dye.

Strawberry, wild Fragaria vesca: Strawberry leaves were though to have many healing properties and were an ingredient in a wide variety of medicines.

Savory Satureja hortensis: (Caution! Pregnant women should not take this herb!)  Savory tea was used to stimulate the appetite, to soothe sore eyes, relieve flatulence and bowel complaints, and as a gargle for sore throats.   It was used as a seasoning in many dishes, but was especially popular in bean dishes as it prevented flatulence.  It was also used as a strewing herb. Its astringent and antiseptic properties made the tea useful for diarrhea and sore throats.

Soapwort Saponaria officinalis: When crushed and boiled, this plant produces a mild soapy liquid, good for washing delicate fabrics.

Sorrel Rumex scutatus : Sorrel was a common vinegar seasoning, and sorrel tea was useful when applied to sunburn and skin ailments, because of its astringent and cooling properties. It was also used to remove stains from linen, and to curdle milk.  It yields a yellow or green dye.  

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare:  (Caution! Pregnant women should not take this herb!)  Tansy leaves were wrapped around meat as a preservative and fly repellent.  Tansy is a symbol of immortality. Its disinfecting and insect repelling qualities made it a popular strewing herb.  Tansy tea was a popular general tonic.  Externally it was used for bruises and varicose veins.  The flowers produce a yellow/orange dye.

Thyme Thymus serpullum: ( Caution! Pregnant women should not take thyme!)Thyme symbolized death, and superstition held that thyme could be smelled where a murder had been committed.  Thyme also represented bravery, and was sometimes given as a favor by ladies to their knights.  It was burned and strewn to repel insects, and put in wardrobes to repel moths.  Thyme was believed to be a faerie flower, with the power to make them visible to humans.  It was eaten in salads, and used to season meat dishes, soups and stews, and even cheeses and omelettes.  The fragrance of thyme was reputed to cure epilepsy, and prevent nightmares.  It has antiseptic and disinfecting properties and was used for colds and coughs. Thyme tea was used as a hangover cure, and for throat and mouth and gum infections.

Valerian Valerian officinalis:  Valerian juice was used to calm nerves, and to treat epilepsy.  The dried roots were used as a spice and perfume.  It was reputed to be an aphrodisiac.

Violets Viola oderata: Violets were a symbol of purity and humility.  Violet tea was used as a mild laxative, and for treatment of colds, coughs, and many other ailments.  Violet oil was used for headaches, depression, insomnia and catarrh.  Violets yield a purple dye.

Water lily Nymphaea alba: A symbol of purity of heart.  It was used to reduce sexual desire.

Woad Isatis tinctoria: (Caution! Woad is poisonous if taken internally!) Woad was used extensively as a blue dye.  It is an astringent and useful to staunch bleeding.  Early Celts painted themselves with the leaves before going into battle.  Its properties may actually have been useful in this regard.

Woodruff Asperula oderata: A pleasant strewing herb.

Wormwood Artemisia Absinthium : Caution! Wormwood is the base of the (now illegal) liqueur, Absinthe. It can cause powerful hallucinations, delerium, and in some cases, insanity.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium :  also known as bloodwort, or soldiers’ woundwort, it was used to staunch bleeding, reduce fevers, and heal wounds.  The stems were also sometimes used for divination.  Yarrow tea is useful as a hangover remedy.

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Copyright 2002 by Donna Mitchell. <thistlecross  at rcn.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.

 

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate 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.

 

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Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org