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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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Gardened or Gathered?
The Plants of the Anglo-Saxon Herbarius Apuleii

The manuscript known today as Cotton Vitellius C. iii contains, among other things, an early Anglo-Saxon Herbarius Apuleii, or Herbal of Apuleius. Copied sometime between 1000 AD and 1066 AD, it discusses plants and their medicinal properties, and also provides information on where to obtain 61 different plants.

By studying these brief descriptions of plant habitats, we can learn a little about early gardens. But such inferences come with the following caveats:

  • Medieval herbals may be (and often are) copied word for word from herbals created in other locales,  so the habitats described may not be anywhere near the scriptorium where the herbal was penned.

  • Plant identifications are tentative.

  • Anglo-Saxon terms used to describe habitats are often ambiguous.

With these cautions in mind, it is nonetheless interesting to examine what Pseudo-Apuleius has to say about plants and where to find them. Habitat information is provided in a highly standardized format, usually beginning with the formula byþ cenneþ, "is produced":

Ðeos wyrt þe man
betonicam nemneð
heo byþ cenneþ on
mædum 7 on clænum
dunlandum . 7 on
gefriþedum stowum


This plant the people
name betony.
It is produced in
meadows & in cleared
hilly land & in
protected places.
Terms used in Pseudo-Apuleius that refer to land forms include:
  • Beorg - Hill, mountain, barrow, tumulus

  • Dun - Hill, slope

  • Mor - Moor, wasteland

  • Munt - Mount, mountain

  • Ofer - Riverbank, seashore

  • Stow - Place, spot, locality, stead

Terms designating smaller units of land include:
  • Æcer - Field, land that has been seeded

  • Feld - Opposite of dun; level land, field, pasture

  • Hus stede - Housestead, toft, curtilage

  • Land - Land, property, estate, cultivated land, rural (not urban)

  • Mæd - Meadow, field mown for hay (as opposed to feld, pasture, which is grazed)

  • Stede - Place, spot, locality, site

  • Wyrttun - Garden

Elements found in the landscape include:

  • Bærwe - Grove, bower

  • Broc - Brook

  • Dic - Dyke, a raised bank, or
    the trench beside a dyke

  • Hege - Hedge, fence

  • Hrof - Roof, summit, highest part

  • Mixen -  Dung heap, dung, midden

  • Wag - Wall, usually of a building

  • Weg - Way, path, road

  • Weall - Wall, often of a building or a town

Adjectives that describe land forms or units include:
  • Began – Cultivated or tilled

  • Clæn – Cleared, reaped, bare

  • Dihglum - Secret, concealed, retired, shady

  • Fæniht - Fenny, marshy, muddy

  • Fæst – Secure, enclosed

  • Fæt – decorative, shining, thin; or fat, oily

  • Fuht - Moist, damp, humid

  • Gefrithian– Guarded, secured, protected

  • Halig - Sacred

  • Hat - Hot

  • Heard - Hard, stiff, unyielding

  • Sandig - Sandy, dusty

  • Smethe – Smooth, leveled

  • Stanig, stænig - Stony, rocky

  • Strang - Strong, flourishing, fertile

  • Swith - Strong, flourishing, fertile

  • Ufeweard - Upward, upper

  • Unsmethe - Not smooth, rough, uneven

  • Wæt - Wet

  • Willa, wella, wylla - Well, spring, fountain

  • Witherrædum - Unpleasant, rough, wasteland

  • Wynsum - Pleasant

Plants and habitats

The table below lists the plants found in habitats that might conceivably be considered "gardens." Often a plant "byþ cenneþ" in more than one habitat, so plant names repeat.


In æcerem, a field, or land that has been seeded, you will find:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name


Nædrw wyrt

Bistortis officinalis

In beganum landum
or beganum stowam, cultivated land -- which might be either a garden or a larger agricultural field -- many plants are found, and some are familiar in gardens still:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Alkanet Ancusa Anchusa tinctoria
Beebalm Beowyrt Melissa officinalis
Calendula Sighilweorfa Calendula
Coriander Coliandre Coriandrum sativa
Cyclamen Slite Cyclamen hederafolia
Ground pine Hypericon Ajuga chamæpitys
Hare's lettuce Lactuca Lactuca leporing
Henbane Henne belle Hyoscamus niger
Knot grass Unfortrædde Polygonum aviculare
Mallow Hocleaf Malva sylvestris
Military orchid Hreafnes leac Orchis militatris
Moneywort Centimorbia Lysimachia nummularia
Spurge Laurel Gythcorn Daphne laureola
Tormentil Seofen leaf Potentilla erecta
Wild lettuce Wudu lectric Lactuca
Yarrow Achillea Achillea millefolium
Yellow sweet clover Melitus Melilotis officinalis
Wormwood Wermod Artemesia absinthium

Clænum dunlandum, clean or cleared hilly land, might also refer to cultivated fields or to gardens, and here are found three plants today associated with gardens:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Betony Betonica Betonica officinalis
Calendula Sighilweorfa Calendula officinalis
Strawberry Strewoberian Fragaria vesca

In fæstum landum, guarded fields or “guardens," are found:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Birthwort Smero wyrt Aristolochia clematita
Black medick Heort clæfre Medicago lupulina
Cockspur grass Attorlathe Echinochloa crus-galli
Yellow-wort Curmelle Blackstonia perfoliata

Felda, fields or level land (as opposed to dunland or hilly land); a feld may be cultivated, fallow, or wild. The plants found here are a mixture of what today we consider garden flowers and wildflowers:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Comfrey Galluc Symphytum officinale
Gorse Gorst Ulex europeus
Lady's mantle Leonfot Alchemilla mollis


Mersc mealuwe

Althea officinalis

Meadow buttercup Cluf wyrt Ranunculus acris

In gefriþedum stowam , a fenced or enclosed place, you can find:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name



Stachys betonica


A hus stedum, a housestead or toft, is the habitat of:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Hop trefoil


Trifolium campestre


Efor fearn

Polypodium vulgare


Smeþum landum, smooth or cleared land, perhaps a garden,  grows:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Dyer’s bugloss

Ancusa Anchusa tinctoria



Verbena officinalis


Strangum landum, rich, fertile or fertilized land, is home to:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name



Blackstonia perfoliata


Wiþ wagas, wiþ weallas, against, around, or upon walls, could perhaps refer to enclosed gardens, but more likely (looking at the plants named) here meaning other stone walls, are found:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name

Cockspur grass Attorlathe Echinochloa crus-galli
Felted thistle Wudu thistle Carduum acanthoides
Ground elder


Sambucus ebulus
Groundsel Grunde swylige Senecio vulgaris
Hemp Henep Cannibis sativus
Pellitory Dohlrune Parietaria officinalis


Aizon Hylotelephium telephium
Watercress Cærse Nasturtium officinale


Wynsumon stowum, a pleasant place; Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History (5:12) uses stowe wynsumnesse to translate amoenitatem loci, an enclosed garden. Pseudo-Apuleius says such a garden produces:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name


Beowyrt Melissa officinalis


Centimorbia Lysimachia nummularis


Wyrttunum and wyrt beddum are gardens, and here you can find:

  Common name

In Apuleius

Scientific name



Ulex europeus



Hyoscamus niger


Rosmarina Rosmarinus officinalis

Comparing the habitat information provided by Pseudo-Apuleius with what we know today is also interesting. When habitat information is consistent, we can be more comfortable in our identification of a modern plant with a plant named in the herbal. If habitat information conflicts, a plant's identity is more open to question.

Click here to compare modern habitat information with
that provided in Pseudo-Apuleius


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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
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F.D. Drewitt


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