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  • Emma Ford

Medieval Medicines

Using plants from the middle ages as inspiration for the plant life in Kaharian

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Before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536, religious orders were responsible for dispensing herbal medicines. When villagers went to them for help they would have likely gleaned information about the cultivation and uses of herbal remedies. When the monasteries disappeared however, this early form of healthcare disappeared with them. The common folk had to rely on what they had learned from the monks and nuns and grow their own plants.

I'm not interested in post 1536, what interests me is the plants that were grown before this time.

A monastery’s infirmary herb garden grew specialist plants that were used in medieval medicine to help the body heal itself. Here are nine plants that you’d find there which you can still grow in your own herb garden today. Gardens dedicated to medicinal herbs alone were quite rare in medieval times, except in large institutions like monasteries. Medieval medicine was based on the notion of the body having four ‘humours’ related to the four elements: blood (air) was hot and moist phlegm (water) was cold and moist yellow bile (fire) was hot and dry black bile (earth) was cold and dry. It was the physician’s job to work out how to restore the balance of a person’s humours if they became ill, and so plants and herbs were ascribed properties to redress the balance. A cooling herb would be used if you were considered to have too much blood or yellow bile, for example.

Below is a list of plants I found in a gardening book, these are the sort of herbs that will be available in my created world.

Winter Savory Hardy evergreen shrubby perennial Grows in sun well drained coarse soil Cut flowers and leaves from soft stems

Parsley Hardy biennial Warm with shade Moist enriched soil Pick leaves throughout the year Used for face masks

Sage Hardy evergreen shrub Sun, light well drained soil Pick broad leaves in summer or before it flowers and dry slowly Reduces bleeding from minor abrasions

Pennyroyal Herbaceous perennial Sun or light shade damp soil Harvest sprigs Insect repellent

Sorrel Hardy herbaceous perennial Sun or light shade in well drained rich soil Harvest young leaves Eaten in large quantities poisonous, causes burns nausea, vomiting, shock, convulsions

Vervain Hardy herbaceous perennial Sun or partial shade, slightly chalky soil Cut leaves in summer Purification and cleansing tea

Spearmint Hardy herbaceous perennial Sun or light shade with shade at roots Pick leaves as needed can be dried Soothe anxiety, sleeplessness and stomach upsets

Feverfew Hardy herbaceous perennial Sun, well drained soil Young leaves used dry or fresh, dry flowers Relieve migraines

Chamomile Hardy evergreen perennial Full sun, moist but well drain loam Pick leaves before flowering, pick flowers to dry Add to baths to soothe, make relaxing teas

Hop Hardy deciduous climber Full sun well drained soil Pick tips in spring, pick female flowers in late summer/autumn Beer, flowers dried in sleep pillows

Basil Perennial but grows as half hardy annual in cold places Sheltered position sun light well drained soil Pick leaves and dry Prevent travel sickness, invigorating bath

Poppy Hardy annual Like disturbed soil Opium milk of poppy helps sleeplessness

Artemisia Deciduous shrub Hot sunny well drained Cut branches and dry in bunches Disinfectant

Clary sage Biennial or perennial Sunny well drained soil Leaves as needed dry leaves and flowers Eyewash, bath oil

Garlic Bulb Sunny well drained soil Late summer when leaves turn yellow, lift bulbs and dry Vitamins ABC, antiseptic

Liquorice Hardy herbaceous perennial Sunny well drained soil 3year old roots in summer or early autumn and dry Makes medicines more palatable

Marsh Mallow Hardy herbaceous perennial Open sunny, moist fertile soil Pick leaves and flowers as needed, pick flowers before open for drying, dig up roots and dry Roots make calming and soothing tea

Soapwort Hardy herbaceous perennial Moist rich loam, sun or light shade Dry flowers roots and leaves in late summer for winter use Lather to cleanse fabrics and wool, soothing and cleansing facial rinse Poisonous not to be consumed

Lavender Hardy evergreen shrub Pick flowers before fully open, pick leaves as needed Rinse to strengthen hair and prevent hair loss, soaps, perfume, honey, insect repellent

Santolina Hardy evergreen shrub Sunny hot or cold but not wet poor light well drained soil Pick leaves as needed Stimulant, antiseptic, insect repellent

Tansy Hardy herbaceous perennial Full sun light shade, well drained soil Pick leaves as needed Disinfectant for surfaces

Yarrow Hardy herbaceous perennial Sun or light shade well drained soil Pick leaves and flowers as needed use fresh and dry Soothing and relaxing teas

Eucalyptus Hardy and tender trees and shrubs Sunny sheltered dry or moist soil Pick and dry leaves as needed Antiseptic, stimulant, inhalant to help with respiratory illness, applied externally to cuts and burns, insect repellent

Holly Magical connections

Wolf’s bane/monkshood Used as a poison to kill wolves when applied to arrow tips or bait

Horseradish Cure for scurvy rheumatism and chilblains

Rocket Boiled root used to draw out bone splinters from wounds

Balm Beestings

Mint Purify water and air get rid of leas and lice, cure headaches, mad dog bites

Oregano Toothache, rheumatism, hayfever, dropsy(waterweight)


Coreopsis Yellow wool dye

Dyers chamomile Yellow dye, green if copper is added

Dyers greenweed Yellow dye, if combined with woad makes green

Madder Pink, Red-brown dye

Meadowsweet Roots make black dye, leaves make blue pigment

Perilla Seeds make red dye

Safflower Yellow dye, mixed to make orange and red on linen and cotton

Weld Yellow dye – leaves are best

Woad Rich blue dye

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