Growing heirloom plants
Resources for gardeners
Wyrtig - In early sources
Many thanks to the
for providing this image from
747 f. 52,
c. 1300 CE.
Growing lilies in your garden
The Madonna lily, Lilum candidum,
may have been the first flower to be cultivated in gardens. It is pictured,
from as early as 1500 BCE, in several murals found in the
Minoan palace of Knossos, for example as seen here, against a
The Old Testament tells us that images of
shoshannah, lilies, graced the columns of the Temple
of Solomon; and in the Song of Songs, written c. 900 BCE, the lily
symbolizes the poet's beloved:
Sicut lilium inter
sic amica mea
As the lily among thorns
so is my beloved
among the daughters...
A garden enclosed, my sister,
a garden enclosed
a fountain sealed
Lilium candida bulbs may have traveled to western Europe via
Phoenician traders. In classical times, Roman mythology held that
the first lilies grew where Juno's milk spilled as she nursed
the infant Hercules, and thus the lily became the flower of mothers.
Archeologists find evidence of lilies near the sites of many legion
camps in Britain, and A.M. Coats wonders, in her Flowers and
Their Histories, if soldiers may have used lilies to make a balm
for their sore feet.
In spite of the sensuous imagery of
Song of Songs, in the early days of Christianity the white lily
became the flower of the Madonna, and symbolized purity.
Legend says that when the Mary was taken bodily into heaven,
all that remained behind in her tomb were roses and lilies. St.
Catherine had a vision in which she was met by angels wearing
garlands of sweet-smelling white lilies, lilies that had been
without scent until God rewarded Catherine's holiness by giving them
their wonderful fragrance (thereby also converting her father). St. Etheldreda of Ely holds a single white lily.
The lily appears, along with the rose,
in the plant lists of most monastery and cathedral gardens. It is
found in the enigmatic riddles of the Exeter Book. In the medieval herbals,
lily flowers and bulbs were called upon for the treatment of a variety of skin disorders --
burns, bruises, wrinkles, infections, rashes, and baldness. Walafrid
recommends it for snakebite as well as for contusions in his
Đas wyrt man lilie 7
oðrum naman lilium nemneð...
Herbarium of Apuleius
This plant some [call] lily and
others take it [that it is] named lilium ...
Herbarium of Apuleius,
ðæt is clæn drohtnung;
...lily, that is pure living ...
rose, that is martyrdom...
Aelfric's Homilies, II.546, 2
Drince he lilian wyrttruman awylledne on wine...
He should drink lily roots boiled
Leechdoms II, 90: 13
Aftir ðe gentil and goldene
roses ri3tfullich shal folowe next ðe silueryn lilies, ðe whiche, if
ðei ben likned to ðe roses, ne 3euyð nat stede neiðer in sauour ne
fairness, and in many cases ðe lelie is profitable to man as ðe
rosis for medycynes.
After the noble
and golden roses rightfully shall follow next the silver lilies, the
which, if they be likened to the roses, give way neither in
fragrance nor in fairness, and in many cases the lily is also as
helpful to people as roses for medicines.
For ðe face: Þe
lelye rotes soden and stamped and medlid wið smallage or wið wex or
botere wole strecche oute all ðe ryuelynges of ðe face and do a-wey
alle ðe frekelys of ðe skyn if it be oynted ðer-wið.
For the face: The lily root, boiled
and mashed and mixed with smallage or with wax or butter will smooth
out of the wrinkles of the face and do away with all the freckles of
the skin, if it be anointed therewith.
Þeah ðe lilie sy .
leof mon-cynne .
beorht on blostman .
ic eom betre
ðonne heo .
Answer: the rose, from
...Though the lily is
beloved of mankind
bright in blossom
I am better than she...
is lilie and rose
ber to bearneacenum wife…
gif heo nimð
lilian he cenð cnyht
gif heo nimð
rosan heo cænð
Take then two plants
That is, lily and rose;
Bear them to the pregnant
If she takes the lily, she
carries a boy;
If she takes the rose, she
carries a maiden.
Leechbook III, 144
Lilia quo versu candentia, carmine quove
jeiunae macies satis efferat arida Musae!
Quorum candor habet nivei simulachra
Dulcis odor silvas imitatur flore Sabaeas.
Non parius candore lapis, non nardus
ordore lilia nostra premit nec non
Se perfidus anguis igenitis collecta
dolis serit ore venena,
Pestifero caecum per vulnus ad intima mortem corde feram mittens
Commacerare gravi, succosque
Si quod contusum est summo liventis in ore ponatur
tum iam dinoscere vires magnificas huiusce datur medicaminis
ultro.\Haec etiam luxis prodest constusio
Shining lily, what verses, what song of praise
can my meager,
emaciated muse bring forth?
You have radiance, shining like
The sweet fragrance of Sabean forests* is
reproduced by your flowers.
Neither shining Parian marble,
nor fragrant spikenard, can compete with our lily.
If the perfidious serpent cunningly engenders and
spews venom from its mouth
Sends pestiferous death from
into the chambers of your heart
Pound lily promptly,
Pulverize heavily, drink the juice in Falernian
If that juice you apply to the
livid punctures of
you’ll discern the great potency
imparted by this remedy.
This also benefits contusions on
Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus
*Sabaean forests were a source of
Many plants have
been used in past and present times for medicinal purposes, and as
one of the focuses of Wyrtig is the history of gardening, these uses
are discussed here. However, common sense
requires that you consult your family physician or other
health care provider before using any plant materials for medicinal
purposes. The old saying that "A doctor who treats him- (or her-)
self has a fool for a patient" is no less true in herbal medicine
than in any other branch of the healing sciences. Herbal remedies
should not be used by the uninformed; medical advice should be
sought before using any herbal remedy.