The Officina was the name of the storeroom of a medieval monastery where medicines and other needed substances were kept. Officina is a contraction of the Latin word opificina, from “opus” (work) and “facere” (to do). In modern times, the word for such a room would become “pharmacy.”
You may know that plants are often referred to by their binomial, the two-word description of their genus and species. When Carl Linnaeus began use of the two-name system in his 1735 work Systema Naturae, he gave the name “officinalis” to plants with a long-established medicinal, culinary, or other use–with officinalis meaning something that is found in an officina. So Salvia officinalis is the type of sage that is found in the medicine storeroom, or what we call garden sage today. There are today a great many plants with officinalis as their species name — see theOfficinalisentry on Wikipedia for a list.
Because beneficial plants are very much part of the monastic and medieval traditions of the faith, a daily part of the lives of the saints and our ancestors in the faith, and a significant part of the beauty of God’s creation, we are expanding our In Horto Traditian (webpage, Facebook page) presence by beginning a page with entries on different plants of interest. On the menu at the top of our page it will be called On Herbs, but in reality the page will be named the Officina. The page will talk about our mission and activities in this area and will direct readers to our entries on plant families and our histories of particular herbs, spices and vegetables. On all pages there will be space for comments by our readers.
It is a world where the average person does not know what the plants that feed them every day even look like, a world where many would not know how to grow a beneficial herb if you handed them the seeds and pointed them to the soil, where people have stopped being responsible stewards of the environment and instead started ignorantly worshiping it. The relationship of humankind and nature is a long one, with faith-based traditions that must again be brought to the attention of the distortion-filled modern world.
With this in mind, the Traditian Order opens its page on our site containing information on nature, the environment and the politics and misinformation that surround these isssues. On our site you will now find In Horto Traditian, a page dedicated to collecting our articles and information about what the faithful have been taught, learned and need to know about nature, horticulture and environmental traditionalism (which will also be the title an August column of Traditius). In addition, we have started up a Facebook page, also called In Horto Traditian, for discussion of these issues. Finally a guild is being formed for interested members of the Order to join to help learn, defend and pass on these traditions.
Please check out these resources and let us know what you think!
Medieval Horticulture, Part 2: In The Garden of Charlemagne. A sequel to: Medieval Horticulture, Part 1: Monastic Herbalism
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.
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.
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.
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.