In Horto Traditian

In the Traditian Garden, or  In Horto Traditian in Latin, is a page dedicated to capturing and sharing the research and other work we have done on environmental traditionalism, monastic herbalism, medieval horticulture and related issues all put on one page.  Some will be content we have published to the main page and some will specifically for this page.  We hope you enjoy it.

Looking for our histories of plant families and particular herbs?  Click here to go to the Offinicia.

Above: The Passion Flower (Passiflora) – a symbol of Christ’s passion and crucifixion, including his scourging, crowning with thorns, three nails and five wounds.  In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion:

* The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance.
* The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
* The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (less St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer).
* The flower’s radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
* The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail
* The 3 stigmata represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).
* The blue and white colors of many flowers often represent Heaven and Purity.

The flower has been given names related to this symbolism throughout Europe since that time. In Spain, it is known as espina de Cristo (“Christ’s thorn”). German names include Christus-Krone (“Christ’s crown”), Christus-Strauss (“Christ’s bouquet”), Dorn-Krone (“crown of thorns”), Jesus-Leiden (“Jesus’ passion”), Marter (“passion”) or Muttergottes-Stern (“Mother of God’s star”).


– A. Part One: Monastic Herbalism
– B. Part Two: In The Garden Of Charlemagne
– C. Part Three: In the Garden of Hildegard von Bingen (coming December 2018)


The Traditian Garden’s fall project will be to try to plant, grow and evaluate over twenty selections from Charlemagne’s list of beneficial plants.  The thoughts and research to date are contained in this table.  Comments and thoughts are welcome and can be sent to

20+ plants from Charlemagne’s time (~800 A.D.)

Plant x   Old School Use   Modern benefits   Notes

Plants from Chapter 70 of Charlemagne’s Capitulare de Villis in c. 800 A.D.

Britlas” so wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum L.)


– chives were used in water as an antiseptic and around the garden to control insects.
– their medicinal properties are similar to garlic, but weaker; which explains their limited use as a medicinal herb.
-chives are a mild antibiotic and effective antiseptic. They have decent amounts of calcium, phosphorous, sulphur, folic acid, vitamins A and C and are a mild anti-inflammatory. – chives were likely food more than medicine.
– we’ve had garlic/Chinese chives for years, they’re better but are Allium tuberosum not A. schoenoprasum.

Carvitas” so carrot


– believed eating carrots could aid conception.
– treat pleurisy and coughs
– treat bites from poisonous animals and spiders
– heal sores when ground leaves are mixed with honey
– ingredient to treat colic and dysentery as well as glaucoma
– source of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants, linked to lower cholesterol
– weight loss friendly, levels and improved eye health
– the carotene antioxidants in them have also been linked to reduced risk of cancer
– various articles on which colors are oldest but it’s hard to tell if similar modern carrots are from old heirlooms or new hybrids.
– for now we just have a seed tape with multiple colors some which appear older from Latin name.

so chervil


– for fluid retentionm cough
– digestion problems
– was eaten during Lent
– traditional to serve chervil soup Holy Thursday bec. its taste and smell are like myrrh

– diuretic, commonly used in Europe to treat high blood pressure by releasing fluids.

– no modern research has validated any other health claims for chervil

– used in French cooking, good with eggs.
– Roots are poisonous until cooked. Leaves are fine.
– we bought anthriscus cerefolium seeds, heirloom.

Cepas” so welsh onions

(allium fistulosum)


so onions

put this in same section.


– onions were used for headaches, snakebites, hair loss. Thought to attract and absorb infectious materials and was thus hung on doors, inside and eaten to prevent illness.

– during plagues, word spread that owners of onion/garlic shops did not catch diseases.

– Also: “End fasts with onions, and you’ll never get sick.”

– welsh onions are good for: eyesight, colds, headaches, heart problems, sores, to reduce fat accumulation and lower serum lipid.

– onions have antioxidants, phytonutrients and sulfur-containing compounds, they are a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin B9, vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

– “Red Welsh Bunching Onion” on Baker Creek webpage looks right for welsh onions. Perennial so that’s cool.

– onions: we’ll get various onion seedlings.

Intubas” so

– a very old crop plant used for centuries as food and medicine.

– the root was widely used as a stomach agent, and many ancient medical books recommend it for dropsy and liver and spleen diseases.

The juice was used for stomach issues, the leaves and flowers were applied on boils and infected wounds, gout.

– Prevents liver damage via its antioxidant properties, enhances digestive function.

– its anthelminthic properties can inhibit the growth of certain parasites and worms.

– antibacterial properties, can prevent fungal growth on the skin or within the body.
High in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and has the highest concentration of inulin of any other plant. Internal: Chicory contains inulin and oligofructoses that support probiotics.

– we’ll order seeds.

Cucumeres” so cucumbers


– early medieval references are likely snake melons. Cucumbers are shown in herbals by 1300 A.D. Snake melons, which did exist, were used to make a liquor.

– cucumbers are high in nutrients, antioxidents and many nutrients including C and K, potassium, magnesium and manganese. May help lower blood sugar.

– easy to plant, a bit harder to grow in hot Florida but plan to get some regular old cucumbers growing if I can’t find snake melons.

Fenicolum” so sweet fennel


– Pliny the Elder of Rome listed the fennel as treating 22 ailments.
– was believed it helped colds and coughs, aided digestion and weight loss.
– Charlemagne required it because of these general healing properties, which spread it throughout Europe.

– its fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and phytonutrient content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support heart health.
– contains good fiber which lowers cholesterol in the blood, decreasing the risk of heart disease.
– mmm-mmm. We bought Florence Fennel seeds, Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum apparently developed to bulb well. Are their two common varieties these days or no?

Febrefugiam”so feverfew

– the aspirin of the middle ages used for pain relief including asthma, coughs, colds, dermatitis, earache, fever, headache, insect bites, psoriasis, spasms, stomach ache, swelling, tinnitus, toothache, vertigo, and worms.

– People take feverfew today for the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches, for fever, arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, asthma, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and nausea.

– Feverfew is appropriately from the Latin febrifugia, for “to drive out fevers.”

Ficus” so fig


– the sixth century Greek author Anthimus prescribed figs for coughs and hoarse throats as did Nicholas Culpeper in his 17th century herbal.
– “Now Isaiah had said, ‘Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.’” – Isaiah 38:21

– figs contain lectins and antioxidants that seem to improve the human immune response.
– they are rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of vitamins A, E and K.

– we already have two fig trees that should produce for the first time this coming year. A panache/tiger fig and an LSU purple.


Nasturtium” so garden cress

– antiscorbutic, depurative, stimulant, vermifugal, for insect bites and insect repellent, stimulates appetite, was used for leprosy, garden cress water was used to “purify” hair.

– garden cress’ main use was always as an aromatic, slightly pungent plant, often eaten with butter on bread, or in cheeses.

– When consumed raw, cress is a high-nutrient food containing substantial content of vitamins A, C and K and several dietary minerals.

– These mean cardiovascular benefits, fights inflammation, helps prevent osteoporosis, protects the nervous system, helps fight anemia.

– related to watercress and mustard, sharing a peppery, tangy flavor and aroma.
– added to soups, sandwiches and salads for its tangy flavor.
– it can be eaten as sprouts, fresh or dried seed pods can be used as a peppery seasoning.

mentam” so garden mint


– most potent/soothing mint, aroma was considered a source of strength which would invigorate the spirit.
– has always been believed to have calming effects, was used in baths to comfort and strengthen the nerves.

– peppermint tea was used to treat nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, chills, fever and abdominal cramps. – still believed to have calming effects.
– can help treats digestion issues, colds and flu, depression-related anxiety, muscle and nerve pain, the common cold, indigestion, headaches, skin itching and infections and IBS.
– One study found peppermint oil to be as effective as Tylenol for pain relief.

– Need mint.

– Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and water mint so this may be right or it may be spearmint in Charlemagne’s time, but peppermint has similar but stronger medicinal properties, so I’m growing that regardless.

Ravacaules” so kohlrabi


– Cabbages (including kohlrabi) were generally considered a food staple since ancient times. While mainly a food in Europe it was believed to help with gout, colic, stomach issues, headache and the juice was drank to counteract the effects of poisons and toxic mushrooms.– Cabbage is nutrient-rich, particularly in vitamins B6, C and K, and minerals thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It may be anti-inflammatory, help improve digestion, heart health, blood pressure, and cholesterol.– Kohlrabi is one of several vegetables which mankind bred from cabbage, which is believed to have been domesticated in Southern Europe. All were food sources, but also considered beneficial in particular ways.

Adripias” so orach


– orach was used both as food and medicine, and it is one of Europe’s oldest kitchen herbs.

– ancient Greece used orach for ailments related to the “glands” and as a remedy for boils and shingles

– in the Middles Ages it was believed that the crushed leaves soaked in honey water could cure jaundice. Its extract was used as a spring tonic and remedy for fatigue and nervous exhaustion.

– externally, the crushed leaves were used as wraps for minor wounds, cuts, and scrapes and to remove warts.

– it has invigorating, diuretic, emetic and laxative properties but is less used today.

– it is a home remedy for sore throat and lung diseases and externally for gout.

– as a vegetable, it is less valuable than spinach but has less oxalic acid. It is used in France, in soups and stews. The young leaves can be eaten raw and used as an addition to salads.

– its small seeds are a good source of vitamin A and can be ground into a flour and used in soups, or mixed with flour in bread making.

– Annual. Member of spinach family.

– it is an easy plant to grow, and it thrives in normal garden soil and full sun. Red orach should be planted in partial shade as the leaves can become scorched. The plant grows rapidly, it can be sowed twice in a season.

– older leaves should preferably be boiled before eaten, as they are a bit rough and bitter. The leaves of the red orach turn green when cooked.

Pastenacas” so parsnip


– Charlemagne’s list was one of the first to distinguish carrots/ carvitas from parsnips.

– Used “against cold rheum (a runny nose), put bags containing hot powder of this herb on the head.”

– Used “against stomachache due to wind or coldness,” strangury, dysuria and kidney stone, against liver and spleen hardness or obstruction, and against excess fluid.

– they contain antioxidants which may potentially have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.

– the dietary fiber in parsnips is partly soluble and partly the insoluble type and may help prevent constipation and reduce blood cholesterol levels.

– We will buy parsnip seeds and see what we get and compare them to the white carrots we’re growing which are different species though the two were confused..

Pisos Mauriscos” so peas


– in medieval times, field peas, grains, cabbages and beans are mentioned as basic food staples that kept famine at bay. Not much on them as medicinals.– Peas are high in fiber, protein, vitamins A, B6, C, K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and lutein.
– planting “sugar snap” and “early perfection.”
– Peas are one of a very few plants that fix nitrogen into the ground.

Pepones” so pumpkin or melon
(Usually peopones is translated as pumpkin but all squash and gourds were undiscovered at this time–it was probably a large melon.)


– Pumpkin: Neither pumpkin nor its seeds were eaten in medieval times by Europeans like Charlemagne.

– Watermelon: The ancient Greeks praised watermelon for its healing properties, Pliny the elder referred to it as an “extremely cooling food.” By the 1300s Europe had paintings of watermelons with the red flesh of today.

– The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C in pumpkin all support heart health, it also has high antioxidant levels.
– Pumpkin seeds have omega-3, selenium, calcium, B vitamins and beta-carotene.
– Waternelon is anti-inflamm-atory, contains heart- and eye-healthy nutrients and vitamins A, B1, B5, B6, C, potassium, magnesium, carotenoids and citrulline.
– nothing fancy, bought modern jack o’ lantern, small sweet pumkin and watermelon seeds for the side yard.
– ironically watermelon is much older and its seeds have been found in Libya from 5,000 years ago, and even in King Tut’s tomb, though they have gotten less bitter and more sweet over the millenia.

Eruca alba” so rocket/arugala


– Used for coughs

– it was used to help with fevers, help sleep, suppress “empty dreams”, helps the stomach.

– was considered an aphrodisiac later in the Middle Ages and forbidden in monastery gardens.

– has high vitamin K and potassium which helps healing bones and muscles.

– has vitamin A and beta carotene which protect eyes

– is anti-inflammatory, has antioxidants and carotenoids, good for fighting cancer, good for eyes and liver; high fiber good for digestion, etc.

Rocket” is the British word for arugala, an Italian leaf plant that came to them via northern Italy and France. In the 1980s it become popular in US which got the word “arugala” more directly from southern Italy. It’s mostly used today as a higher-nutrient lettuce.

Ros Marinum” so rosemary


– rosemary was used to help alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory system, and promote hair growth.

– more generally it has been known since ancient Rome to help with memory.

– anti-inflammartory, anti-oxidant, a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamins B-6 and E.

– can help protect immune system, improve blood circ., promote eye health.

– it improves memory and strengthens joints/cartilage

– have three rosemary plants, will try to clean out/ weed during summer.

– rosemary tinctures have personally helped us with headaches.

so sage


– longtime remedy for tooth, throat and mouth inflammation and as a common tooth polish, gargle.

– to reduce perspiration.

– for coughs and hoarseness, muscle aches, nervousness, and as a general tonic for fatigue.

– stimulant, astringent, diuretic, expectorant, nervine, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, memory boosting, anti-microbial, and antioxidant, battles infection on all fronts.

– reduces perspiration, a tonic for nerves, fatigue.

– have a sage plant, will try to keep it alive during Florida summer.

– Bought some broadleaf sage seeds, same species.

Spinacea” so wild spinach


– since modern spinach didn’t reach Europe until centuries after 800 A.D. This is almost certainly a reference to wild spinach (spinacia tetrandra) and information on what medievals considered it good for is scarce. References to help with digestive issues are mentioned here and there.

– in any list of highly nutritious foods “dark leafy greens” are at or near the top, and spinach is one.

– it is high in nutrients and antioxidants, may benefit eye health, reduce oxidative stress, help prevent cancer and reduce blood pressure.

– we are likely to just plant spinach. Whatever nutrition there may have been in wild spinach is likely higher in modern spinach, but not will be learned as they do seem different.
– is in the amaranth family, related to beets and quinoa.

so summer savory


– for stomachs, throats, muscle inflammation

– now known for helping with coughs, sore throat, and digestion/intestinal issues and loss of appetite.– a peppery herb used in French cooking esp. in herbes de provence. Bought seeds: Satureja hortensis.

Dragantea” so tarragon


– a culinary herb that had limited medical use but was used by some to preserve food, calm the nerves, increase appetite, help with colic and to relieve rheumatism, toothaches and fatigue and generally calm the nerves.

– now known to have high antioxidant content which accounts for its help in preserving meats, it has proven anesthetic properties and likely did help toothaches and inflammation.
– tarragon is used to aid digestion, as a mild sedative, and as a heart disease prevention aid. tarragon tea is still used for insomnia.

– an aromatic perennial used for its licorice flavor. In Latin, dracunculus, means “little dragon” which aided a late medieval/ Enlightenment belief that it should treat snake bites (its roots appear serpentine). The flawed idea at this later period was that the shape of a plant reflected its use (the discredited “Doctrine of Signatures”.)

Sinape” so white mustard


– while always considered a culinary condiment, white mustard has also been long believed to be an aphrodisiac, it being the spicier cousin to brown mustard, and was often mixed with sweet wine.
By the 13th century culinary merchants in France sold mustard among their daily sauces. Pope John XXII of Avignon loved mustard so much that he created a Vatican position “Grand Moutardier du Pape” (Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope), and gave the job to a nephew near Dijon. Dijon soon became the mustard center of the world.

– the seed is antibacterial, antifungal, carminative, digestive, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, rubefacient and stimulant. The seed is seldom used internally as a medicine in the west. Externally it is usually made into mustard plasters (using the ground seed), poultices or added to the bath water. It is used in the treatment of respiratory infections, arthritic joints and skin eruptions etc. At a ratio of 1:3, the seed has an inhibitory action on fungus growth but can be an irritant to the skin.

– We have Florida broadleaf mustard seeds, Brassica juncea. Turns out these are brown mustard seeds. Need to get white mustard seeds.



Coming soon.




The Medieval Horticulture series of articles seeks to shed light on what was actually being done in the Middle Ages, which were not so “dark” as many think.  The simple act of growing of gardens for food and medicine has been pulled in many directions: towards astronomy, toward the idea that plants should treat the organs they look like, towards pagan and new age re-interpretations of medicinal herbs, towards political environmentalism, simple practitioners have been looked down on, looked askance at been declared superstitious.  This series of articles seeks to uncover what was really going on in the gardens of the faithful, and what it really meant.


A. Part One: Monastic Herbalism

Some say the monastics of the Middle Ages merely kept good records of the classical era, preserved them, copied them, and made use of them. Others say they developed many skills and a great deal of information themselves through trial and error. What cannot be doubted, though, is that monks and nuns of medieval times had records, gardens and medicines for the practice of herbalism. Indeed, they were the practicing masters of it, particularly the Benedictines, and they held and built this treasure of knowledge for over a millennium, with some continuing to do so to this day.

Sage, rue and rosemary.

Ancient Rome used herbs as part of its medical system. Indeed, the Roman Army took seeds with them along the way so they could plant and use them when they dug in at a particular location. The system itself came mainly from Greek discoveries, particularly Hippocrates and his followers, and it is well recorded that the Hippocratic humeral system was used by Ancient Rome. This system held that an excess or deficiency of any of four bodily fluids in a person, called humours, had a direct effect on their health and attitude. Herbs were among the things that they thought could restore balance to the humours. While the system was flawed in its foundational assumptions, the trial and error involved in it led to discovering many herbs and plants that helped the body to heal itself.

Rome fell of course, and the influence it had across Europe receded in the years that followed, with knowledge regarding traditions, medicines, infrastructure, and commerce slowly disappearing with it. Behind the scenes, though, monastics were forming their own communities away from the large cities to worship God. To live such a life, they had to do for themselves with the things that were around them. As the existing structures of civilization disintegrated, the monks and nuns slowly learned trades and skills to survive and thrive in their normally remote communities. Slowly their communities themselves would become the centers of learning.

St. Fiacre, a patron saint of herbalism

Among the many skills they practiced was herbalism—the use of plants material to support the healing function of the body. While knowledge and traditions could simply be wiped away in a generation or two, they retained some texts from the classical period. While some in the Middle Ages had the view that illness was punishment by God for some misdeed–and this supports the misinformed notion that the middles ages were a “dark” age of limited learning–the clear effectiveness of herbalism for many ailments strongly argued that God had supplied the help the people needed in the plant life around them, and this argument was difficult to argue with when the results were seen.

The progress of herbalism for monastics was a combination of retaining the knowledge from the classic period, which the monks and nuns excelled at; absorbing knowledge from other cultures they came into contact with; as well as trial and error with what they had around them, which often differed from region to region. Rather than darkness, the light supplied by the knowledge they developed about herbalism were the seeds of the later fields of medicine, genetics, botany, pharmacology and in many ways the results-oriented spirit of true science itself.

The best way to provide an initial overview of the topic is to survey the major historical events related to the topic including the major works copied, by hand by the monks, which slowly spread across Europe and Western Asia.

– “De Materia medica” (on Medicines) was a text about botany and plants and was written by the Greek physician Dioscorides Pedanios around 90 A.D.. He had traveled with the Roman armies as a doctor, learning about the herbs and other medicines of the cultures they encountered. It is one of the most influential compilations of medicinal plants ever, discussing over 700 plants believed to have healing properties. It lasted as a standard medical text for almost 1,500 years and was one of the first books published by the printing presses in the 1440s.

– At about the same time Pliny the Elder in Rome compiled his 37-volume Historia Naturalis with fourteen of its volumes dealing with botany and herbal medicine. Fifty years after Pliny passed, Galen of Pergamon (Claudius Galenus 131-200 A.D.), a Greek living in Rome became Rome’s leading physician. At heart he believed, as the ancient Greeks did, in balancing bodily humours but he also stressed combinations of herbs, minerals and animal parts as a part of that healing.

– “Physiologus” was an natural history book created in the second century in Egypt with unknown authorship. It spoke of plants but also described animals, stones and all aspects of nature. As a main source of knowledge in the area, the book became available in several translations, including Latin by 600 A.D.

– St. Gertrude was born in Landen, Belgium in 626 A.D. She was a Benedictine abbess at a monastery in Nivelles, Belgium and, along with St. Fiacre, is a patron saint of herbalists and gardeners, though she is most renowned as a saint of house cats. She died on March 17, 659, and March 17 is her feast day, the same as St. Patrick.

– St. Fiacre (fee-AH-krah) of County Kilkenny in Ireland is a patron saint of gardening, both vegetable and medicinal. He grew up in a monastery where he learned herbalism and his skill at it, together with his piety, were so noteworthy that it caused disciples to flock to him. Seeking greater solitude, he left and sought refuge near Meaux, France in a wooded area near the Marne River. Saint Faro, the bishop of that area at the time, gave him a dwelling in a forest in the province of Brie. The legend is that St. Faro offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day, and that St. Fiacre, instead of driving his furrow with a plow, turned the top of the soil with the point of his staff. He then cleared the ground of trees which fell to either side of him as he walked the area with his staff, and there he made his garden, built an oratory in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and built a hospice for travelers which developed into the village of Saint-Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. In his hospice he entertained visitors and patients, treating them himself with herbs and other natural items, and that at times it’s said he miraculously restored some to health more immediately. He died on August 18, 670 after years of prayer, mortification and labor in his garden. Visitors from Ireland and France would continue to come to his shrine for centuries after his death seeking healing and solace. His feast day is September 1.

– As can be seen, after Rome fell, the Benedictines quickly became the monastic masters of herbalism, already being focused on the mission of preserving knowledge. Among other things, they perfected the making of tinctures—suspending the essence of an herb in an alcohol base for medicinal and other purposes. Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.) so admired the Benedictine gardens and techniques that he ordered all monasteries throughout the empire to plant “physic gardens” to supply the monasteries and the empire with healing herbs.

The Plan of St Gall
The Plan of St. Gall with garden/infirmary section shaded.

– In 820 A.D. Swiss Benedictines designed an architectural drawing of the ultimate monastery with their Plan of St. Gall. It showed a physic garden that was to contain two dozen herbs including rosemary, rue, sage, fennel, fenugreek, dill, cumin, mint, savory, pennyroyal, rose and watercress. It is the only remaining major architectural drawing from the 700 years between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the thirteenth century, but it was never built. (Over a millenia later the infamous St. Gallen Mafia was centered in this same area.)

– Also in the 800s A.D. Bald’s Leechbook (also known as Medicinale Anglicum) was compiled in present-day England among the Anglo-Saxons, which apparently was largely uninfluenced by a few centuries of Mediterranean texts, making it unique. It listed herbs and the bark of many trees, and yes leeches, to be used in remedies.

– Walafrid Strabo (c. 808 – 849 A.D.), was a Benedictine monk, abbot and theological writer who lived on Reichenau Island in what is today Southern Germany. He wrote the “Hortulus” which was widely circulated. It was basically a detailed account of his experiences with his garden with descriptions of the various herbs he grew and their medicinal and other uses, which included the brewing of beer. He referred specifically to sage as holding the place of honor in his garden; then rue as an antidote for poisons and included melons, fennel, lilies, poppies, roses and many other plants.

– The knowledge of healing herbs from the classical era was also preserved and expanded on by the Arab nations with Ibn-Sina’s work the Canons of Medicine becoming available just after the turn of the millenium. Abulcasis (1197-1248 A.D.) wrote the Book of Simples, adding 200 healing herbs and poisons to the known lists. With the Crusades ongoing, the two cultures came into contact and knowledge of healing techniques was spread.

– A compilation of herbal healing methods was circulating by the eleventh century called De Viribus Herbarum Carmen. It was attributed to Macer Floridus who lived in the Loire area of France. It described the medicinal properties of 77 herbs and was written in Latin hexameter, a poetic verse that was most likely used as a memory device for those in the practice of medicinal herbs.

hildegardflipped– Benedictine Saint and Abbess Hildegard von Bingen’s first work was “The Book of Secrets in Nature and Creatures” (Liber Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum), written between 1150 and 1158. The final manuscript was lost after her death. Around 150 years later, several partial manuscripts were recompiled and it was then split into two treatises, the “Physica” and the “Causae et Curae.” The “Physica” was a history of natural remedies, which she intended for the public, and which contained a detailed section on plants. In “Causae et Curae” Hildegard describes healing and treatment methods more broadly, including consideration of the bodily humours, traditional creation teachings, and mystical beliefs.

    • In recompiling the Physica and Causae et Curae, parts of Hildegard’s original work were omitted or abridged by later writers, while other elements were added making the authorship hard to sort out in places. This tradition of ascribing things to the saint continues today as new-age beliefs are ascribed to her with the more orthodox aspects of her genius being pushed to the side. There can be no doubt, though, that she was a Christian mystic with a wide knowledge and an intellect second to none who continues to inspire to this day. While on lists of saints since the 1600s, she was officially canonized on May 10, 2012 by Pope Saint John Paul the Great and was declared a Doctor of the Church on October 7, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her feast day is September 17.

    • Herbs and spices mentioned in Hildegard’s works included: pepper, sage, aloe, mallow, anise, galangal, poppy, rose, rue, plaintain, yarrow, asarum, feverfew, betony, blackberry, wormwood, blessed-thistle, blueberry, boswellia, celery, cloves, dittany, fennel, flax, hazel, laurel, lungwort, milk thistle, mullein, vervain, myrrh, nettles, cranesbill, nutmeg, bindweed, pansy, spindle, white pepper, and winter wheat.

circa instans– The medical school of Salerno, in southwest Italy, flourished between the eleventh and early thirteenth centuries. It was influenced early on by translations of the Arabic works which were provided by Constantine the African, as well as works from the classical Greek and Latin medical sources. They produced works such as the “Antidotarium Nicolai,” a collection of medical recipes, and two collections describing nature and the healing properties of natural elements, the “Glossae Platearii” or “Liber iste,” and the “Liber de simplici medicina” (the book on simple medicine) or “Circa Instans.” The “Liber iste” and the “Circa instans” titles of each were derived from the first words of the works, similar to how papal encyclicals are titled to this day. Both works were attributed to Matthaeus Plateariuus, a medieval physician from the medical school at Salerno.

– In 1296 Marco Polo’s account of his travels in Asia renewed the European taste for spices, and the spice routes were reopened from the early 1300s to the mid-1400s. At that time the Mongols lost Western Asia to the Ottomans, who closed the overland routes. During those years pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, galangal and other Asian herbs and spices came West for use as flavorings and medicinals in Europe. The closing of the eastern spice routes and rising price of spices created a demand to look for sea routes to Asia to the west, which Christopher Columbus was attempting to find in 1492 when he landed in the Americas. He returned to Spain with the news of these lands and also with the seeds of a different type of “pepper” from the Caribbean Islands–the chili pepper, specifically cayenne (which, of course, has noted health benefits enjoyed to this day).

– The enlightenment periods in the differing countries of Europe in many ways marked the end of the Middle Ages and with it the appropriation of the knowledge of the monastic herbalists by the distinct, emerging fields of science. Modern “Herbals” were compiled and widely distributed via the printing press. At the same time, herbal remedies fell out of favor when they did not seem able to combat the Black Death and other plagues of the late middle ages.

    • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a Swiss physician who publicly announced his distrust of herbalism and the monastic and other healers who practiced it. He introduced the use of active chemical drugs (like arsenic, copper sulfate, iron, mercury, and sulfur) into medicine, and became a large proponent of the Doctrine of Signatures. The Doctrine of Signatures, the idea that herbs resembling various parts of the body were the right herbs to treat those body parts, oddly took herbalism off in a less fact-based direction than the monastics had typically done in the ages before.

    • Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) brought another “science” of the time to the study of plants and herbs: astrology. Astrological herbalists decided that herbs were somehow connected to different signs of the zodiac. They treated sickness by determining what sign or planet ruled over the part of the body that needed care and then used an herb thought to be related to that astrological sign in treatment. In short, the enlightenment and reason-based science of its time had a hand in wrongly harming the reputation of herbalism.

These errors would rise again in the modern age where herbalism became associated with new age medicine, holistic interpretations of medicine, and other neo-pagan influences. These often willingly included (and include) the flawed astrological or signature processes in determining herbal treatments and are to be avoided. On the other hand, pure herbalism not only kickstarted the legitimate fields of botany and medicine, but also genetics, literally formalized in many ways by a monk.

Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) “The Father of Modern Genetics” was an Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas’ Abbey in Brno. Mendel was born in a German-speaking family in what is now the Czech Republic and gained posthumous recognition as the founder of the modern science of genetics. Though farmers had known for millennia that crossbreeding of animals and plants could lead to certain favorable traits in the next generation, Mendel’s experiments with pea plants between 1856 and 1863 in the monastery garden of the abbey established many of the rules of heredity, including his noting of dominant and recessive traits regarding color, size, shape and the like.

Also noteworthy is Father Sebastian Kneipp (1821–1897), who was a Bavarian priest and one of the forerunners of the later, and rather problematic, naturopathic medicine movement. He is known most for his hydrotherapy (water-based) therapies but he believed that phytotherapy (healing with herbs and plants) was an important part of achieving health, and both were counted among his five principles. A student of his was Father Johann Kuenzle (1857-1945) a Catholic priest in Switzerland and a famous herbalist whose work “Herbs and Weeds” was published in 1911 and eventually sold over a million copies in Europe.

An important thing to note from modern science is the fact that certain combinations of medicines can unintentionally strengthen or weaken their effects. It is actually evidence of the efficacy of herbal treatments in a way, but it is a fact that if you are on pharmaceutical medicines of any kind you must do thorough research before taking an herbal supplement, tincture, salve or other remedy, including discussing it with your doctor. The combinations can render your medicines useless, or increase the effect to a lethal level. Similarly, allergies can have an effect, and everyone responds differently to different medicines, so always go very slowly and discuss each step with your doctor.

Salvia officinalis, or common sage.  The “salvia” has its root in the Latin verb salvare, referring to salvation. The “officinalis” refers to its medicinal use—the officina was the room in a monastery where herbs and other medicines were kept.

For some, in working closely with their doctors, they may find that the herbal treatment can replace the medicine. Indeed, pharmaceutical medicines are often statistically far more dangerous than most herbal treatments. For others, particularly those taking a variety of pills each day, it is probably best to avoid herbal medicine altogether since the effects of the combinations simply cannot be sorted out reliably.

Finally, consider that a sudden health trend is not the same as a time-tested herbal remedy. Trends are created with small studies, often funded by people invested in that particular cure, to generate the sudden purchase of some herbal or other “natural” product. If herbalism is the time-tested determination that a particular herb is good for a particular ailment, then herbal trends and fads are quite the opposite. One tried-and-true “old wive’s tale” is worth 100 health fads on their best day. (See 1,000-year-old onion and garlic eye remedy kills MRSA, A 1,000-Year Old Antimicrobial Remedy with Antistaphylococcal Activity, Medieval Medical Books Could Hold The Recipe For New Antibiotics stating: “For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the ‘Dark Ages,’ which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.”).

There are many subtopics that remain, including particular herbs and what they can treat, the different ways herbal remedies can historically be applied (salves, tinctures, extracts, pills), and a deeper look into the history of certain people influential in monastic herbalism. However, this first installment is already longer than intended, so it will have to be continued.

Definitely comment below on what you have researched or know, or parts of this history we haven’t touched on. It’s very much our intent to start a conversation about the traditions of Mother Church, and the monastic perspective on herbalism and history fits right into this category.

Coming in July 2018: Monastic Herbalism, Part II: In The Garden of Charlemagne

B.  Part Two: In The Garden of Charlemagne

In 476 A.D. the Emperor Romulus Augustus was overthrown by the germanic hordes and any order that the Roman Empire had brought to Europe for centuries was finished. The fall of Rome in the west would cast the former territories of the Empire into centuries of ignorance and squalor, we are told, particularly the areas farthest from it. This is the accepted history, and it is an enormous oversimplification.

Landtag beraet ueber Klage des Freistaats gegen den Laenderfinanzausgleich
“Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne” by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

Just a few decades later, after all, one of the germanic tribes, the Franks, were unified under one king, named Clovis I. Unlike the other tribes, which were mainly Arian, the Franks were Catholic due to Clovis’ wife insistence and his conversion on Christmas Day in 508 A.D.. The germanic tribes would continue their chaotic rule over much of the former Empire in the west, for a time, but in 768 A.D. a man named Charles rose to lead the Franks and re-establish order. Charles would go on to conquer the other tribes, and became Holy Roman Emperor. Even during his life he was referred to as “Charles the Great” which translates in French, of course, to Charlemagne.

Charlemagne was the oldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon. In 771 A.D. he became the sole ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Though the Franks were powerful, his particular military prowess grew the Frankish state into the vast Carolingian Empire (“Carol” being German for “Charles”), even Christianizing the Saxons to his east. Charlemagne continued his father’s friendly policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, from which they had threatened Rome, and he even led a strike into Muslim-occupied Spain. He reached the height of his power in 800 A.D. when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Rome’s Old St. Peter’s Basilica. His military prowess and his new title as Holy Roman Emperor began an era of peace, the Carolingian Renaissance, during which he promulgated regulations for the good of his empire, even pulling the wilds of western Europe back together for a time.

L.325, W.268, D.49
Cadamosto’s illustrated herbal explains that an angel advised Charlemagne to eat the thistle to be purged of poison.

The Capitulare de Villis was such an ordinance, issued around 802 A.D.. It had 120 chapters of laws regarding issues throughout his empire, including one intricately requiring and instructing all farmers on how to keep bees. Having just inventoried two of his royal estates and finding their systems and management lacking, Charlemagne moved in the Capitulare to reform those royal estates, which stretched from Germany to Spain. He included a requirement that the estates all grow particular beneficial plants instead of the unsystemized gardens they had grown before in order to help the lands around them.

That list, in Chapter 70 of the Capitulare, has given scholars insight into what were considered the best medicinal and culinary plants of that time, most of which were actually mentioned by Pliny the Elder of Rome (23–79 A.D.) centuries before in his work Naturalis Historiae Libri. This is not shocking however, since Charlemagne’s empire was at the early end of the Middle Ages, meaning much of his information would still be from Greek and Roman sources. All of the medicinal herbs cited in the Plan of St. Gall, drafted within decades of the Capitulare and intended to be in a grand Benedictine garden in Switzerland, are also listed in the Capitulare, confirming his thoughts as those of others in the know in his time.

List from ch. 70 of the Capitulare

Chapter 70 of the Capitulare details the plants that were required to be grown, with fines and penalties if they were not. Some are still considered beneficial today, some are not. The list reads: “It is our wish that they shall have in their gardens all kinds of plants: lily, roses, fenugreek, costmary, sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, kidney-bean, cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon, anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider’s foot, rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock, parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive, dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint, wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets, hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, chives, leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary. And the gardener shall have house-leeks growing on his house.” (Underlining added.)

Here we will examine three of the most prominent herbs of the time, which he required be grown at every manor house for the benefit of the empire: sage, rosemary and mint, and the important role they played from then until now.


Spikenard and saffron,
sweet cane and cinnamon,
with all the trees of Libanus,
myrrh and aloes with all the chief perfumes.
The fountain of gardens: the well of living waters,
which run with a strong stream from Libanus.
Arise, O north wind, and come, O south wind,
blow through my garden,
and let the aromatical spices thereof flow.

– The Song of Solomon 4:14

The desire of sage is to render man immortal”
– A late medieval treatise

sage2The name of Sage (its genus being salvia) is derived from the Latin word for salvation, a sure sign that it has been thought of as a beneficial herb for ages, indeed its species officinalis is derived from the name of the room in a monastery where the healing herbs were kept, and a number of herbs bear this species name, making clear their prominence which persisted for centuries.

Originating in the Mediterranean region and coming from the mint family, sage has been cultivated by mankind for millennia, and the ancient Greeks certainly knew of it, with Theophrastus and Dioscorides both writing about its benefits. Ancient Rome also certainly knew that sage had medicinal effects, and Pliny the Elder wrote of it on many occasions. Dioscorides was a military physician and Nero’s expert on herbalism, and he noted sage as one of the most appreciated and important herbs, using it as a decoction on wounds to stop bleeding, for ulcers, as a tea for sore throats and hoarseness, to help digest fatty foods and it had long been known as an aid in preserving meat.

The plant is normally a stunning grey-green, with a fragrance somewhere between the smell of pine and that of spearmint. While there are over 750 varieties of sage, there is no question that simple garden sage was of the highest culinary and medicinal importance throughout history. Southeastern Europe was always a predominant user of sage, and in the Middle Ages it was used to treat many maladies including fevers, liver disease, and epilepsy. In the form of a tea it was widely considered a pleasant and healthful beverage. One common belief from history (that has proven true in modern times) was that sage strengthened the memory, hence a “sage,” or a wise man, was one who had a long memory.

sage1Around the 10th century, Arab physicians wrote that sage could even extend life to the point of immortality, a belief that stuck with the herb for the coming centuries. After the Crusades, with the mixing of cultural beliefs that resulted, the association between sage and immortality began showing up in Europe where the French referred to the herb as toute bonne, meaning “all’s well.” Every country’s herbals recommended sage: an Icelandic book from the year 1000 A.D., Hildegard of Bingen, Ayurvedic physicians, John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper. Folk healers in colonial America used sage to treat insomnia, epilepsy, measles, seasickness and intestinal worms. As late as the 1920s, American medical texts recommended sage tea as a gargle for a sore throat and recommended sage leaf poultices for sprains and swelling.

Sage oil from the plant has a unique property from all other healing herbs–it reduces perspiration, which has been proven true in modern times. Several studies have shown that sage cuts perspiration by as much as half with the maximum effect occurring 2 hours after taking it. This explains how it got a reputation for treating fevers, with their accompanying sweating.

Like rosemary, sage contains strong antioxidants, which can slow spoilage, supporting its longest use as a preservative for meats. Further, British researchers have confirmed that sage inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, which is important since it may be able to preserve the compound which helps prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease in the human body.

Sage is a tried-and-true digestive remedy. The volatile oils have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle of the digestive tract. It relieves colic, gas, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, colitis, liver complaints, and worms, which were of course prevalent during the Middle Ages. Sage also acts as a tonic to the nervous system and has long been used to enhance strength and vitality. Studies published by a team of scientists in Kamakura Japan concluded that powdered sage or sage tea helps the heart by slowing the forming of blood clots, and is thus useful in the prevention and treatment of myocardial infarction and general coronary pain.

It is the tendency of many moderns to look down upon the poor people who had to survive the “Dark Ages” and its backward beliefs, and instead celebrate how much more sophisticated we are these days. Some basic study, though, would reveal that herbalism was in fact the beginnings of medicine, and that pharmaceutical corporations are looking for effective treatments with herbs to this very day. Those who would slander the Middle Ages would likely be much better off and more healthy if they were to plant some sage in their gardens and on a later evening, sip a bit of the herb that their ancestors treasured. (See also 1,000-year-old onion and garlic eye remedy kills MRSA, A 1,000-Year Old Antimicrobial Remedy with Antistaphylococcal Activity, Medieval Medical Books Could Hold The Recipe For New Antibiotics stating: “For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the ‘Dark Ages,’ which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.”).


Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out?

Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.

– Matthew 17:16 (DRB)

As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls,
not only because my bees love it but because
it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship.”
– St. Thomas More

rosemaryRosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody evergreen bush native to the Mediterranean and an ancient memory aid so well known that it became a symbol of remembrance over the centuries. It had “practical uses” such as when ancient Greek students wearing sprigs of rosemary on their ears or putting a wreath of it around their head went into exams with them, to the more symbolic use of laying sprigs of rosemary across a coffin or tombstone to show you will remember the deceased. The latter continued well into the medieval period and beyond. It was prevalent as a symbol at weddings (put in the couples’ wine so they will remember their vows) and in romance generally with Shakespeare’s Ophelia explaining to Hamlet, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember.”

Rosemary likely takes its name from the Latin ros maris, meaning “dew of the sea.” This is in reference to the herb’s preference for growing along the seashore. It was carried from the Mediterranean by the ancient Roman troops and planted as a medicinal herb for their use as far away as England. The Spanish believed that another Mediterranean native took refuge beneath a large rosemary bush to shelter herself and her young son as they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod. In honor of this brave, young woman, they believed, the plant came to be known as Rose of Mary, which was eventually shortened to the modern name familiar to us today. A similar story says that its flowers were white until the Virgin Mary spread a blue cloak over the plant, which turned its flowers blue.

On a more superstitious level, during the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to be capable of dispelling negativity. As such, it was tucked under pillows to thwart nightmares and visits from evil spirits. It was also burned in the house to keep the black plague from entering. Perhaps this association with protection is why rosemary is still common in incense used to cleanse sacred spaces. It was also used in the home as a symbol of family and for protection from disease, in addition to its pleasant scent.

rosemary bloomMedicinally, rosemary has uses old and new. In one of the earliest herbals printed in England, Rycharde Banckes recommended that one take the leaves of rosemary and “boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body.” Indeed, rosemary was once thought to be a cure for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was reputedly cured of semi-paralysis when she sipped a concoction of rosemary to ease her paralytic joints (and in another version to restore her youthful appearance). Hence, this rosemary and wine combination came to be known as the Queen of Hungary Water and was later used externally to treat skin problems, gout, dandruff, and for the prevention of baldness.

Nicholas Culpepper’s “Pharmacopeia Londoniensis” published in 1653 said that rosemary water was “an admirable cure-all remedy of all kinds of cold, loss of memory, headache, coma. It receives and preserves natural heat, restores body function and capabilities, even at late age. There are not that many remedies producing that many good effects.”

Rosemary was also used as a preservative for meats and other foods. We know now this was due to rosemary’s high anti-oxidant activity, but in medieval times people knew to wrap meats in crushed rosemary and sage leaves. The freshness was preserved and the smell and taste remained pleasant. Rosemary was also used to control pests such as mosquitoes, fleas (which we now know as the carriers of the plague) and moths. The uses were many.

Today, rosemary has proven to have many medicinal properties. For one, the plant contains salicylic acid, the forerunner of aspirin. Indeed, rosemary was once thought to be a cure for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. This may explain why massaging the its oil into joints effectively eases arthritic or rheumatic pain. It also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities, and is used by modern herbalists to treat a variety of skin disorders, including dandruff. Rosemary is also being studied for potential anti-cancer effects and in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

What may be most amazing about rosemary is how much the people of the Middle Ages got right through the process of trial and error, coming up with uses moderns now must confirm. Indeed, French hospitals burned Juniper berries with rosemary to fight poor quality air and prevent infection–far from benighted ignorance in a “dark” age, rosemary and sage have vindicated the reputation of medieval people in many ways, leaving those who still slander the age as the ignorant ones.


Every year thou shalt set aside the tithes of all thy fruits that the earth bringeth forth.

– Deuteronomy 14:22 (DRB)

Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cumin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone.

– Matthew 23:23 (DRB)

As for the garden of mint,
the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits,
as the taste stirs up our appetite for meat.”
– Pliny the Elder, ancient Rome

Photo by Kham Tran – – own work, CC BY 3.0.

Mint has been around a long, long time. It has been found at Egyptian burial sites dating to 1,000 B.C.. The ancient Hebrews would strew their synagogue floors with mint leaves so that their fragrance would scent and sanitize the air with each footstep. The word we use for it descends from the Latin word mentha, which is rooted in the Greek word minthe, and experts believe it probably derives from a now extinct pre-Greek language. Mint can mean one of over 18 species of the genus Mentha, or the entire, crowded family of Lamiaceae plants, which includes sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, savory and other species that likely all came from a common mint plant in the even more ancient past.

Known to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region, mint has been appreciated for its many benefits throughout history. Greeks used to clean their banquet tables with the herb and added it to their baths, while Romans used it in sauces, as an aid to digestion and as a daily breath freshener. And, as we know, “it” made it onto Charlemagne’s list of beneficial plants around 800 A.D.. But which mint was he referring to?

Charlemagne’s list actually says that the gardens at his royal estates must include both water mint and garden mint, which we know as spearmint. It does not list peppermint, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have this mint that is considered the most flavorful and beneficial mint of them all.

Peppermint, history dutifully tells us, was discovered about 1700 A.D. when the English biologist, John Ray, discovered it in his garden. He “discovered” it instead of “created” or “cultivated” it because it made itself. When water mint (Menthae aquatica) and spearmint (Menthae spicata) are grown together, they often naturally cross-pollinate and the result is peppermint. That is, if an insect brings the pollen from water mint and pollinates the spearmint’s flower, that flower’s seeds will be peppermint, not spearmint and not water mint (and vice versa). Peppermint has likely been with us for much longer than three centuries, it simply didn’t have a name. And Charlemagne required all of the royal gardens in his estates to have both–perhaps he more rightly deserves the credit for peppermint’s actual and unheralded creation. There’s no telling now.

While both water mint and spearmint are less strong than peppermint in medicinal properties and culinary taste, they are nonetheless medicinal and tasty in the same ways as peppermint.

Medieval monks drew on the herb for its culinary and medicinal properties, using it to calm the stomach, freshen the air and even as a tooth polisher. It quickly became a symbol of hospitality and welcome throughout Europe.

The strong aromatic nature of the mint family come from their high levels of oils uncluding menthol, thymol, citronellal, limonene and carvacrol, which also explain its rich flavors, long prized in cooking and also responsible for many of its relaxing and cleansing medical properties which have been set out into four categories over the centuries:

  • As a nervine for nervous system issues (anxiety, dementia, depression, headaches, insomnia).
  • As a digestive for digestive system issues (indigestion, gas, cramps, nausea, colic).
  • As an antimicrobial for the three types of infection issues (bacterial, viral, fungal).
  • As a cleanse for respiratory issues (infection, congestion, asthma).

In the Middle Ages, aromatic herbs such as those in the mint family were used as strewing herbs in homes, literally tossed around onto the floor during times of sickness and plague to combat the evil we now know as microorganisms. Modern day research confirms the antimicrobial action of these plants for illnesses such as colds, influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis, just to name a few.

In the modern age it is still used for many things, perhaps as many as it was back then. It is a soothing tea for stomach aches, indigestion or heartburn. A breath freshener, a respiratory cleanse, and a treatment for headaches. As with all of the plants in the mint genus it retains its anti-infection, and anti-microbial qualities and of course, is great in deserts. Indeed, ancient Romans and Greeks used mint to flavor cordials and fruit compotes, and a nice mint julep sounds quite good right about now.


“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen. And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre?”

– Mark 16:1-3 (DRB)

“Charles was the keenest of all kings to seek out and support
wise men so that they might philosophize with all delight.
Almost all of the kingdom entrusted to him by God was so foggy
and almost blind, but he made it luminous with the new ray of knowledge,
almost unknown to this barbarous land, with God lighting the way so it could see.
But now studies are growing weak, and the light of wisdom,
because it is less loved, grows rarer among most people.”

– Walahfrid, preface to the Vita KaroliMagni, c. 817 A.D.

Illustration from a Thirteenth Century publication of the Vita Karoli Magni. From St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Ms. Vad. 302 II, fol. 35v, 13th century manuscript.

From Einhard’s contemporary biography of Charlemagne, the Vita KaroliMagni (“Life of Charles the Great”), we know that Charlemagne died on January 28, 814 at the age of seventy. He was buried on that same day in the basilica he had built in Aachen, a German town near the border of Belgium and the Netherlands. A cultus of the people quickly rose and embraced his memory and under the rules of the time (which would change in the twelfth century) he has been accepted as “blessed” but was never canonized by a valid pontiff (all of Paschal III acts being deemed invalid) and thus the man who many have called the “Father of Europe” cannot be called a saint.

Nonetheless, the effects of Charlemagne’s actions still ripple through the ages, having effected politics, religion and, perhaps just as importantly in its own way, the plants people grow in their gardens.

For More See:
Dubin, Reese.
Miracle Food Cures from the Bible.
God. The Holy Bible, Douay Rheims edition.

Part One of the Medieval Horticulture series, Monastic Herbalism, is available here.
Part Three of the series, In the Garden of Hildegard, is expected in December of 2018.

The posts of Traditius appear one day earlier on his blog at