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



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Wyrtig - In early sources

Lily. Many thanks to the British Library
for providing this image from
747 f. 52, c. 1300 CE.






In early Sources...


Madonna lily
Lilium candidum






Growing lilies in your garden


Medieval Names for the Lily


Lilia betwux lilium; lilian; lilie, lilige; lilie; lilii, lilium; lilium, lilje

Capitulare de Villis


Herbarium Apuleii

Lilian, lili; lilie, lilium


Lilige, Lilian


Lilian, lilie

St. Gall


Walafrid Strabo


lilies at Knossos

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 red background.

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 spinas
sic amica mea
inter filias...

As the lily among thorns
so is my beloved
among the daughters...

Illuminated letter

Hortus conclusus soror
mea sponsa
hortus conclusus
fons signatus

A garden enclosed, my sister,
my spouse,
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 the 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 Hortulus.

Đas wyrt man lilie 7 orum naman lilium nemne...

Herbarium of Apuleius

This plant some [call] lily and others take it [that it is] named lilium ...

Herbarium of Apuleius, CIX, 222/7


...lilian, t is cln drohtnung;

...rosan, t is martyrdom

Aelfric's Homilies


...lily, that is pure living ...

rose, that is martyrdom...

Aelfric's Homilies, II.546, 2


Drince he lilian wyrttruman awylledne on wine...

Leechdoms II.90.13


He should drink lily roots boiled in wine...

Leechdoms II, 90: 13


Aftir e gentil and goldene roses ri3tfullich shal folowe next e silueryn lilies, e whiche, if ei ben likned to e roses, ne 3euy nat stede neier in sauour ne fairness, and in many cases e lelie is profitable to man as e rosis for medycynes.

Macer, Lilie


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.

Macer, Lilie


For e face: e lelye rotes soden and stamped and medlid wi smallage or wi wex or botere wole strecche oute all e ryuelynges of e face and do a-wey alle e frekelys of e skyn if it be oynted er-wi.

Macer Lilie


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.

Macer, Lilie


Riddle XLI

eah e lilie sy .
leof mon-cynne .

beorht on blostman .

ic eom betre onne heo .

Answer: the rose, from

Codex Exoniensis


Riddle XLI

...Though the lily is
beloved of mankind
bright in blossom
I am better than she...

 Answer: The rose, from

Codex Exoniensis


Genim a twa wyrta

t is lilie and rose

ber to bearneacenum wife…

gif heo nim lilian he cen cnyht

gif heo nim rosan heo cn mden



Take then two plants

That is, lily and rose;

Bear them to the pregnant woman...

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 nitoris,
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

Pistillo Lilia praestat

Commacerare gravi, succosque

haurire Falerno.

Si quod contusum est summo liventis in ore ponatur punctim,

tum iam dinoscere vires magnificas huiusce datur medicaminis ultro.\Haec etiam luxis prodest constusio membris.

Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus


XIII. Lily


Shining lily, what verses, what song of praise

can my meager, emaciated muse bring forth?

You have radiance, shining like the snow,

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 hidden wounds
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 other members.

Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus

*Sabaean forests were a source of frankincense











Please note: 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.

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