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



Early gardens

Early plants

Growing heirloom plants

Garden folklore

Resources for gardeners

Site map

Contact us

Wyrtig - In early sources

Peony. Many thanks to the British Library for providing this image from Edgerton 747:72v, c. 1300 CE.

In Early Sources...


Paeonia officinalis








Growing peony in your garden





Medieval Names


Pionia, pionie

Herbarium Apuleii

Peonia, peonian, peonia

Peony takes its name from a Greek student of Asclepius named Paeon. Paeon, who healed Pluto and other victims wounded in the Trojan War, was so skilled that Asclepius grew murderously jealous. To protect the student from his mentor's wrath, Zeus turned him into this lovely plant.


Paonia officinalis is a hardy perennial that grows two to three feet tall. In May it bears scarlet flowers. The root of the peony, which has been used medicinally, has sweet taste and bitter aftertaste; its seeds are used as spices.


Peony was thought by some to have been created by the moon and to shine at night, protecting shepherds and their flocks, and the harvest as well.  It drove away tempests and evil spirits. Josephus recommends picking the peony root in the same way that mandrake roots was harvested, using a dog.


Pretty beads carved from peony roots protected the wearer from evil, so long as the beads were not painted or varnished. These beads were worn around the neck as a charm. Another charm against evil spirits was made by wrapping dried betony, peony, and artemesia in red cloth and wearing it.


The dried and powdered peony root  has been used as a medicinal. The best roots are at least two years old, and are dug in the autumn. These were used to ease muscle cramps, as a tonic, and to relieve nervous tension, anxiety, and pain. Because of its lunar associations, the peony has also long been used to treat "lunacy."  It is a mild emmenagogue. Its seeds were widely used in medieval times as a culinary spice.


eos wyrt the man peonian nemne ws funden frm peonio am ealdre 7 heo one naman of him hr . he bri cenne fyrmest in greca . a eac se mra ealdor Homers on hys bocum amearcode heo bri funden swyost fram hyrdum 7 heo hf corn wre mycelnysse e mali granati . 7 heo on nihte swince swa leoht ft . 7 eac hyre corn beo gelice coccele . 7 heo by was the r swon oftust frm hyrdum on nihte gemet 7 gegadero.

Herbarium LXVI.i

This wort was found by Peonio, the noble, and has its name from him. It is produced chiefly in Greece. Also, as the illustrious author Homer remarked in his books, it is usually found by herdsmen, and it has seeds the size of a pomegranate's, and it shines at night like an oil lamp, and its grains are like cockle, and it is most often found and gathered at night by herdsmen.

Anglo-Saxon Herbal, LXVI.i



Wi  monod sceonysse gyf man as wyrte peoniam tham mono seocan ligcgendon ofer alegt  sona he hyne sylfne halne upahef  7 gif he hy mid him hava  naefre seo adl him eft ne genealaece.

Herbarium LXVI.iii

For moon sickness [lunacy], if one lays this wort peony over that moonsick one lying there, soon the he himself will lift up healed & if he with him has this [plant] with him, never will this disease again affect him.

Herbal of Apuleius LXVI.iii



Pyonye is bothe hoot and drye in the secunde degree. ...Ther ben II manere of this herbe. The more is clepid the male and the lesse is clepid the female. The roote of the more is two palmes long and gret as a fynger. The rote of the lesse is deuydid in-to many rootes as it is seid. This drunkyn with wyn after the burdon of woman wole purge wel the matrice. In alle other thinges bothe the more and the lesse hauyn alle on vertue.  

Macer, Pyonye

Peony is both hot and dry in the second degree. ...There are two manners of this plant. The larger is called the male and the smaller is called the female. The root of the larger is two palms long and great as a finger. The root of the smaller is divided into many roots, as it is said. This drunken with wine after childbirth by a woman will purge well the womb. In all other things both the larger and the smaller have all the same virtues.

Macer, Peony



e blake cornes of pyone seede be woned to do a-wey e diuerse sikenesses of e matrice if e woman drinke er-of XV cornes in wyn at ny3t last whan she goo to bedde.

Macer, Pyonye

The black grains of peony seeds are known to do away with various sicknesses of the womb, if the woman drink thereof 15 grains in wine at night the last thing before she goes to bed.

Macer, Peony



For e fallyng evill. e rote of pyonye hangid a-boute e childys nek at hauy e fallyng evell do him muche goode as sei Galien. Galien si and telli at vp-on a tyme he sey a child at had e fallyng evell of a-bou3te VIII 3ere of age. is childe was wont for to bere abowte his nekke a pyonye roote. Vp-on a tyme is rote fel a-way. Anon e childe fel in-to e er. e rote was bounden a3ein to his necke, and a-non ri3t e childe was hole a3ein. Galien had meruaile here-of and he dide a-way e rote from e childes nekke, and anon e childe fel doune a3en. and whan e rote was hanged a-yein, anon e childe began hoole a3en, and herby Galien kende e vertue of is rote and of is herbe.  Diascorides sei at is roote is gode for all hem at hauyn e fallyng evyll, 3if she be ofte dronken or hanged aboute e nek of e pacient.

Macer, Pyonye

For epilepsy. The root of the peony, hung around the child's neck who has the falling sickness, does him much good, as Galen says.


Galen says and tells that upon a time he saw a child that had the falling evil who was of about 8 years of age. This child was likely to wear around his neck a peony root. Upon a time the root fell away. Immediately the child fell to the ground. The root was bound again to his neck, and immediately the child was healthy again. Galen had marveled hereof and he took away the root from the child's neck, and immediately he fell down again. And when the root was hanged again, immediately the child became healthy again, and hereby Galen knew the virtue of this root and of this plant.


Dioscorides says that this root is good for all those that have the falling evil, if it be often drunk or hanged about the neck of the patient.

Macer, Peony




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.


Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map


Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt


Copyright 2011-15 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us