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Wyrtig - In early sources
Hedgehog carrying apples (that look like
costards) impaled on his spines.
Miniature from a book of hours (Mazarine Library, Parigi).
Malus x. domestica
Growing apples in your
Apuldre, ęp, apeldre, apulder,
swite apulder, surmelst apulder, apeldre swegles
Capitulare de Villis
|Malorum nomina: gozmaringa,
geroldinga, crevedella, spirauca, dulcia, acriores, omnia
servatoria; et subito comessura primitiva
Ęppel, ępples, ęples. ęppel,
|Ęples, ęppel, ępla, ęppla,
grene ępla, milsce ęppla, mylsce
ęppla, surne ęppel,
swete... ac surmelsce, apuldor, apulder
Latin for apple is pomum, a word also used to
describe all fruit. By the 4th century, the work malum (Greek
for melon) began to be used to designate the apple. Various spellings of apple
appear in early medieval manuscripts, as well as words meaning apple
tree (apuldre, etc.), crabapple (wegule), sour (sure) apple, sweet apple, and soft (melsce)
Apples originated in Central Asia -- southern
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang -- where Malus
progenitor of modern apples,
is still found today. Over time, interbreeding occurred with several other Malus species, among them
sylvestris (wild crab apple) and M. pumila, and these crosses eventually produced our
modern apples, Malus x. domestica.
Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples in the
Near East and Europe sliced wild apples and dried the slices in the
Archeologists have found carbonized remains of apples in Iron Age
lake dwellings in Switzerland, and evidence of
M. silvestris in Wiltshire
at Neolithic Windmill Hill near Avebury.
The apple tree
was among the earliest fruit trees to be cultivated, after dates, figs, olives, and
in the Near East were grafting apple trees by 1000 BCE,
an essential practice that produces apples with specific
self-fertilizing; a tree's blossoms must be fertilized
by pollen from another tree. As a result, apples don't
come true from seed. Seed-grown apples tend to revert,
producing fruit that is small and bitter. The only way
to grow a tree that will produce apples similar to those
of its parent is through grafting.
Capitulare de Villis,
Charlemagne said his imperial orchards
should produce specific kinds of apples,
those that are:
all that keep
From the Middle East, the domesticated apple passed to the
Greeks and Romans. In the
Odyssey, c. 850 BC, Homer described the fruit trees of
Alkenous, who probably lived on Corfu:
...outside the courtyard, near the door, is a large orchard of
four acres, and a hedge surrounds it on all sides. Tall and
flourishing trees grow there, pears and pomegranates and apple trees
with their bright fruit…
The Odyssey, Book VII
Alexander the Great is said to
have found dwarf apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE, and to have sent
rootstock back to Aristotle's Lyceum.
Botanist Theophrastus wrote in 323 BCE about six varieties of
apples, and explains how to bud and graft them, explaining that
"Seedlings of . . . apples produce an inferior fruit which is acid
instead of sweet... and this is why men graft." Two
centuries later, Varro explained how to propagate apples, and how to store them.
In 65 BCE, Roman
lyricist Horace praises apples; while his
encouraged the growing of several new varieties. Pliny the Elder writing in Historia
Naturales, c. 20 CE, describes 23 different varieties of cultivated apples,
and talks of fruit
that farmers auctioned off while it was still on the trees.
The Roman armies introduced new varieties of apples to much
of western Europe and the British Isles. By the first century CE,
orchards were found as far north as the Rhine Valley of Germany.
From the fort at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall comes
Vindolanda tablet 302, a grocery list, that includes a request for:
Mala si potes formonsa
Apples, if you are able to find shapely
In more northerly climates, where grapes were more
difficult to cultivate, hard cider was a good alternative to wine. When the
Romans arrived in Britain, they found the Britons making cider, most likely from the fruits of
the native crabapple,
A 5th century play on the words malus (Latin for apple) and
malum (Latin for
evil) may have led to the apple
being associated, however incorrectly, with the Garden of Eden and
original sin,, but it is never actually named:
And when the woman saw that
the tree was good for
food, and that it was
pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make
one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,
and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Adam and Eve in the garden, from a
Miscellany, c. 1280
actually name the fruit, but guessing its identity has been popular for centuries; nominees have
included apple, carob, citron, datura, fig, pear, quince, and
were also grown in the British Isles, and had supernatural aspects
there as they did in so many other cultures. Glastonbury or "Avalon" --
Insula Avallonis, apple island -- appears in the writings of
Geoffrey of Monmouth and other works that are
part of the Arthurian cycle.
In an Irish story, an ethereal woman
holding an apple
branch in blossom summons Irish heroes to another island paradise, Emain Ablach,
Emain of the Apples. In the 11th century,
an archbishop of Armagh,
Mįel Mįedóc Ua Morgair, better known as
St. Malachy and born in 1094, is remembered for planting apples
Nine Herbs Prayer, wergulu or crab apple is one of the nine
is seo wyrt
wergulu hatte .
ša son sęnde seolh
ofer sęs hrygc
an attres ožres to bot.
.viiii. ongan . wiš
nygon attrum …
+ wyrm com
snican toslat henan .
sloh ša ža nęddran
žęt heo on .viiii. tofleah
7 attor žęt heo
nęfre ne wolde on hus bugan
Lacnunga, f. 60-64
This is the plant
that crab apple is called .
the seal sent forth
across the sea's back
for other poisons a remedy.
These .9. go against .
nine poisons …
+ A worm came
sneaking it slew nothing .
took Woden .9. wondrous
slew then the adder
so that she into .9. flew
there apple ended
poison that she
that house [body] inhabit
Lacnunga f. 60-64
Apple- words in Old English
kind of apple
apple vessel, cup
crab apple tree
cider, apple wine
estates were to have skilled brewers who made ale, as well as
fermented "pommé" (hard cider or apple wine) and perry (pear wine).
Capitulare de Villis
The names of apples [to be grown in the
orchards of Charlemagne's imperial estates were:
Capitulare de Villis, c. 775 CE
Banquet scene from the
Bayeaux tapestry, c. 1080 CE.
Saxon chronicles mention
ęppelwīn, apple wine. The
juice from all sorts of apples could be used to make such wine, and
fermentation resulted in an alcoholic drink that kept slightly better than
unfermented juice. Anglo-Saxons celebrated the apple harvest with a
feast called la maes abhal,
which was pronounced "lammas ool," at which a fermented
drink was enjoyed. Today that drink is known as Lamb’s Wool, a
mixture of finely pureed apples, hot ale, sugar or honey, and spices.
contemporary image of
King Edgar the Peaceable
In 973, William
of Malmesbury wrote that King Edgar ("the Peaceable") was hunting in
a wood and became
separated from his companions. Becoming drowsy,
he alighted from his horse and
...lay down under a wild apple tree, where the clustering branches had formed a shady canopy all around. A
river, flowing softly beside him,
added to his drowsiness by its gentle
murmur soothed him to sleep…"
Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English
Kings), Book II, chapter
Hedgehog carrying apples on its back; British Library, Queen Mary
2 B. vii, F. 97v
Hedgehogs also make their provision
beforehand of meat for winter, in this wise. They wallow and roll
themselves upon apples and such fruit lying under foot, and so catch
them up with their prickles, and one more besides they take in their
mouth, & so carrie them into hollow trees.
In other accounts, the fruit was grapes or
Bibliothčque nationale de France,
Latin 320, fol. 260v
Rochester Bestiary, 1200-1210.
Library Royal MS 12
Poisoned apples predate Snow White by several centuries:
The salamander is so called because it is proof against fire.
Of all poisonous creatures, it has the strongest poison. Other
poisonous creatures kill one at a time; it can kill several things
at the same time. For if it has crawled into a tree, it poisons all
the apples and kills those who eat them.
Bestiary, c. 1200,
Library Royal MS 12 C XIX f. 68v
An apple called the Old English, first recorded in 1204, was the main dessert apple in England for
the next six centuries, along with the much loved
the apple that gave us the old name for a green grocer, the
The costard was a large, blocky fruit that took its name from
the Latin costa, ribbed. In 1292, 300 pounds of costard
apples were delivered to Berwick Castle to feed the visiting court
of Edward I. Long-keeping apples, costards became
sweeter with age and richer with cooking. Sadly, this variety is now extinct.
apple, a white-fleshed apple used for both cider and as a dessert apple, was named for its
pear shape. Pearmain apples are still
available today; Wikipedia lists
18 different pearmain varieties.
In 1204, the
tenure agreement for the manor of Runham, in Norfolk, called for a
payment in kind of 200 pearmains each year at Michaelmas.
Wassailing the Apple Trees
in 1066 CE.
"be healthy," and the response,
drink hail, "drink good health," was identified as
characteristically English by the time of the Norman invasion
The custom of wassailing the orchard trees was found across southern
England, and was intended to waken the trees, drive away evil, and
promote a good crop of cider apples in the coming year. On Twelfth
Night, the last night of the Christmas holiday cycle, festive groups of
men would visit the orchards to put put bread and cider on the roots
or in the branches of the finest apple tree there.
The Illustrated London News
January 12, 1861
THE ancient custom of wassailing
fruit-trees with hot cider on Twelfth Eve, though
gradually dying away, still exists in some parts of Devonshire. The
farmer proceeds with his men to the orchard, bearing a large can or
milk-pail full of hot cider, with roasted apples hissing in it. They
then encircle one of the finest trees, and chant the following quaint
doggerel rhymes, or some variation thereof :
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and
Whence thou mayst blow,
And whence thou mayst bear
apples enow --
Hats full! Caps full!
ditty having been sung or chanted three times, the men's horns are
filled and they drink success to the next crop, and finish by
throwing a quantity of cider over the tree for luck. Sometimes the
rustic party go armed with guns, which, charged with powder only,
they fire off amidst the branches.
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.