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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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Medicinal Uses of Plants in Walafrid's Hortulus

Walafrid's Hortulus
Imagining the Hortulus

The plants of Walafrid's garden


The 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 rose, he 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 disclaimer).

  • Agrimony, 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 weapons.

  • 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 the body).

  • Betony, 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.

  • Catnip, 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.

  • Chervil, Anthriscus cerefolium: Used in moderation, prevents inflammation; a poultice of this with pennyroyal and poppy leaves eases belly pain.

  • Clary sage, Salvia 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.

  • Fennel, Foeniculum 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.

  • Horehound, Marrubium 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.

  • Lovage, Levisticum officinale: 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 ebulus, danewort.

  • Pennyroyal, Mentha 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.

  • Poppy, Papaver 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.

  • Radish, Raphanus sativus: Radish root eases heavy coughing, as do crushed radish seeds.

  • Rue, Ruta graveolens: Relieves pain caused by poison and expels harmful toxins.

  • Sage, Salvia officinalis: Provides a tonic drink. Walafrid calls sage Lelyfagus, from elelisphakos, the Greek name for cultivated (as opposed to wild) sage.

  • Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum: Heal fevers, stitches, and gout.

  • Gourds, Lagenaria siceraria: The inner flesh can be eaten, or if the fruits are allowed to dry, the gourds can be used as containers for wine.

  • Wormwood, 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.




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F.D. Drewitt


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