Medicinal Uses of Plants in Walafrid's
Imagining the Hortulus
plants of Walafrid's garden
materia medica of early medieval times were primarily
botanical, and many of our modern drugs are still derived
from, or created to mimic, plant materials. Walafrid studied
the medicinal uses of plants, and for all of the plants
he describes, except the
provides information on their uses in healing. His comments
are summarized below, provided as a matter of interest and
not as recipes for therapeutic use (see
Agrimonia eupatoria: Mashed and taken
in drink, Walafrid tells us, it sooths the stomach; made into
a poultice with vinegar, it heals wounds from steel
Ambrosia, probably mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris:
When taken as a drink, Walafrid tells us, “tantum quae
sanguinis hausta absumit, quantum potus ingesserit almi”
it removes as much blood from the body as it has added
in liquid. (In other words, it balances the humors in
Stachys betonica: Fresh or dried, it is an
excellent tonic to prevent ill health; you can heal a septic
wound by applying crushed fresh betony.
Nepeta cataria: Mixing its juice with oil
of roses creates a salve that closes wounds and reduces
scarring; it also smoothes skin and restores hair lost
due to infection.
Celery, Apium graveolens:
Ground celery seed is good for painful urination; eating
the plant and its roots will speed digestion; taken in
water with vinegar can cure nausea.
cerefolium: Used in moderation, prevents
inflammation; a poultice of this with pennyroyal and
poppy leaves eases belly pain.
sclarea: In hot water sweetened with honey,
it is like a potion of strong spices.
Costmary, Tanacetum balsamita: Its roots help
digestion and ease constipation.
vulgare: Eases gas and relieves constipation,
and is also good for coughs.
Gladiola, Iris germanica: Dried, pulverized iris
roots in wine are good for bladder pain; they are also
used to stiffen linen cloth and make it smell sweet.
vulgare: Good for chest pains, and as an
antidote for aconite poisoning.
Lily, Liliam: As a remedy for snake venom,
macerate lilies and mix with Falernian wine; rubbing
mashed lilies on snakebite, and on bruises, is healing.
Seeds and leaves are thought to cause eye injury, but
seeds blended with other herbs are apparently safe.
Melon or cucumber, Pepones:
The shining white flesh is easy to chew, and cools the
body when it is eaten.
Mint, Menta: One kind is a remedy for hoarseness;
another, harsher tasting, and larger, resembles
pulegium: Used as a drink or as a poultice
can heal a sick stomach; and to turn to local folklore,
Walafrid tells us, stick a twig of pennyroyal behind
your ear and the hot sun won’t make you dizzy.
somniferum: Can relieve the pain of a stomach
ulcer; poppies, he tells us, take their name from the
sound the seeds make as they are chewed.
sativus: Radish root eases heavy coughing, as
do crushed radish seeds.
Rue, Ruta graveolens:
Relieves pain caused by poison and expels harmful
Sage, Salvia officinalis:
Provides a tonic drink.
Walafrid calls sage Lelyfagus, from
the Greek name for cultivated
(as opposed to wild) sage.
Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum:
Heal fevers, stitches, and gout.
The inner flesh can be eaten, or if the fruits are
allowed to dry, the gourds can be used as containers for
Artemisia absinthium: Can lower fevers; relieves
headaches and dizziness when made into an extract used
to rinse the hair and cool the scalp, and the head
should also be wreathed in fresh leaves.