No matter where you may stand in herbalism as a viable 21st century option, it’s not hard to imagine the rest of us are true believers in the 15th century.
In an article for Heart ViewCardiologist Rachel Hajar lists some common Medieval herbal treatments:
Headaches and aching joints are treated with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage and hay. A mixture of henbane and hemlock is applied to the sore joints. Coriander is used to reduce fever. Stomach ache and colic are treated with wormwood, mint and balm. Lung problems are treated with a remedy made from licorice and comfrey. Cough syrups and drinks are prescribed for colds and chest and head coughs.
If nothing else, such an approach sounds more fun than a bloodbath.
Monks are responsible for studying and cultivating medicinal herbs.
You may remember how one of Friar Lawrence’s daily chores was at Romeo and Juliet involves venturing into the monastery gardens, to fill his basket full of “precious weeds and anthers.”
(The powerful sleeping potion she concocts for young lovers may have disastrous consequences, but no one can claim it’s ineffective.)
Monks preserved their herbal knowledge in illustrated books and manuscripts, many of which closely resemble ancient classics such as those of Pliny the Elder. Historical Naturalist and Dioscordes’ De Materia Medika.
These early medical texts can still be appreciated as art, especially if they contain such fantastic decoration as can be seen here Erbarioabove, handcrafted 15th-century herbs from northern Italy that were recently added to the University of Pennsylvania Library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts.
In addition to the straightforward botanical illustrations, there are some roots, leaves, flowers, and fruit (pardon the pronoun) of clearly anthropomorphic twists.
Drawing plants with human faces and/or roots in the shape of dragons is a medieval convention.
Mandrake root — prescribed as an anesthetic, aphrodisiac, fertility booster, and sleep aid — is often made into humans.
Cable‘s Matt Simon writes that the mandrake root “can look oddly like a human body and legend holds that it can even take the form of a man and a woman:”
It is said to have come from the fat, blood, and semen dripping from a hanged man. Dare to pull it from the earth and let out a terrible scream, giving suffering and death to everyone within earshot.
Good grief! Can we get a spoonful of sugar to help him down?
No wonder Juliet, preparing to drink Friar Lawrence’s sleeping potion at the family tomb, fears it might disappear prematurely, leaving her subject to a “repulsive stench” and “screams like mandrake being uprooted from the earth”.
I thought some chamomile might calm those nerves…
View a digital copy of Erbario here, or at Public Domain Overview.
through Public Domain Overview
A 1,000 Year Old Illustrated Guide to the Use of Medicinal Plants Now Digitized & Posted Online
This Beautiful 1897 Illustrated Book Shows How Flowers Into Art Nouveau Designs
The New Herbs: A Masterpiece of Renaissance Botanical Illustrations Republished in a Beautiful 900 Page Book by Taschen
Curious Herbs: 500 Beautiful Illustrations of Medicinal Plants Drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell in 1737 (to Save Her Family from Financial Ruin)
– Come on Halliday is Chief Primatologist of Inky East Village zines and authors, latest, from Creative, Unknown: The Little Potato Manifesto. Follow him @AyunHalliday.