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.
Þeos wyrt the man peonian nemneð wæs funden frm peonio
Þam ealdre 7 heo
Þone naman of him hærð . he brið cenneð fyrmest in greca .
Þa eac se mæra ealdor Homers on hys bocum
amearcode heo brið funden swyðost fram hyrdum 7 heo hæfð corn wære mycelnysse
Þe mali granati . 7 heo on nihte swinceð swa leoht fæt . 7 eac hyre corn beoð gelice coccele . 7 heo byð was the ær swæðon oftust frm hyrdum on nihte gemet 7
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.
monod sceonysse gyf man
Þas wyrte peoniam tham monoð
seocan ligcgendon ofer alegtð
sona he hyne sylfne halne
7 gif he hy mid him havað
naefre seo adl him eft ne
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
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.
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.
Þe blake cornes of pyone seede be woned to do a-wey Þe diuerse
sikenesses of Þe matrice if Þe woman drinke Þer-of
XV cornes in wyn at ny3t last whan she gooð
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.
For Þe fallyng evill. Þe rote of pyonye hangid a-boute Þe childys
nek Þat hauyð
Þe fallyng evell doð
him muche goode as seið
Þat vp-on a tyme he sey a child Þat had Þe
fallyng evell of a-bou3te VIII 3ere of age. Þis childe was wont for
to bere abowte his nekke a pyonye roote. Vp-on a tyme Þis rote fel
a-way. Anon Þe childe fel in-to Þe erð.
Þe rote was bounden a3ein to
his necke, and a-non ri3t Þe childe was hole a3ein. Galien had
meruaile here-of and he dide a-way Þe rote from Þe childes nekke,
and anon Þe childe fel doune a3en. and whan Þe rote was hanged a-yein,
anon Þe childe began hoole a3en, and herby Galien kende Þe vertue of
Þis rote and of Þis herbe. Diascorides seiÞ Þat Þis roote is gode
for all hem Þat hauyn Þe fallyng evyll, 3if she be ofte dronken or
hanged aboute Þe nek of Þe pacient.
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