For gardeners with a sense of history

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

Medlar. Many thanks to the British Library for providing this image from Edgerton 747:69, c. 1300 CE.



In Early Sources...


Mespilus germanicus



Growing medlars in your garden


Common names, early

Mespulum, mespiles, nepheles, napl, openers (early opening), gallice meles, anglice openhers, medler, gallice blabes, anglice medles, anglice medlers, anglice apyners, anglice opyn-arses


Mespile, medlar fruit; openers, early opening; gallica, from Gaul; anglice, English; aers, buttocks

Medieval Names


Esculus, openers

Capitulare de Villis



Napl, Špeningas

St. Gall


Mespilus germanicus, native to southwest Asia and southeast Europe, was grown from early times for its fruit, and was found in Roman orchards by the 2nd century BCE. These interesting fruits are mentioned in the works of Strabo, Pliny, and Cato. Medlar seeds have been found preserved at Calleva Atrebatrum (Silchester) in Britain, and at a number of sites in Roman Gaul.

Grown as large shrubs or small trees, medlar trees are very long lived, sometimes surviving for centuries. Their Anglo-Saxon name was as open-Šrse, bare or open ass, from the appearance of the unripe fruit.  Over time, this evolved into the less vivid openers.

Medlar fruit

Medlars are found in one prescription in the Leechbook of Bald, where they are referred to as Špeningas.

Eft gif se maga awun­en sei oŮre awene­ . genim ŮŠs selestan wines 7 grenes eles swilc healf seoŮ wermo­es croppan ­o on hnesce wull smire mi­. Selle him thonne flŠsc etan lytelra wuhta smŠlra fugla geso­enra 7 gebrŠthra 7 manigfeal­ Šppelcyn peran Špeningas. piSan ofwŠn­a 7 gefo­ena on ece­e 7 on wŠtra 7 on wine wel scearpum.  

Leechbook II.2, 181

Again, if the belly is swollen or distended, take some of the best wine, and of green oil half as much. Simmer the heads of wormwood therein. Put this on soft wool, apply therewith. Then give them the meat to eat of little animals, as of small birds, sodden and roasted, and various kinds of apples, pears, medlars, peas moistened and soaked in vinegar and in water, and in fairly sharp wine.

Leechbook II.2, 181



The medlar appears in two panels of the Unicorn Tapestries,  a series of seven tapestry panels that were created in about 1500 CE. It is seen first in the panel entitled "The Unicorn is Found."



Medlars are also seen in the panel entitled "The Unicorn is Defends Itself." In both panels, the small, shrubby medlar appears just behind  and to the rear of the unicorn.








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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