I have to thank Elska for turning me on to this new release. I am beyond excited to dive into this one.
The book is by John D Niles and Maria A. D'Aronco and I am just delighted. This volume contains the Old English Herbal, Old English Remedies, Lacnunga, Peri Didaxeon and Miscellaneous Remedies. I have the first and third in other volumes, but look forward to comparing the works. I do not have. Peri Didaxeon at all, and the Miscellaneous Remedies come from a wealth of other sources.
Each item has the original text and the translation. There is an index of Old English and Latin plant names.
Basically, this is going to be SO GOOD and I am very excited about having it!
You can purchase the book here: https://amzn.to/3IfPGQf
Description from Amazon: Unlike elsewhere in Europe, vernacular writings on health and healing had a major place in early medieval England. These texts―unique local remedies and translations of late antique Latin treatises―offer insights into the history of science and medicine, social history, scribal practices, and culture. Some cures resemble ones still used today; others are linguistically extravagant, prescribing ambitious healing practices. Alongside recipes for everyday ailments such as headaches are unparalleled procedures for preventing infant mortality, restoring lost cattle, warding off elf-shot, or remedying the effects of flying venom.
Medical Writings from Early Medieval England presents the first comprehensive edition and translation from Old English of these works in more than 150 years. Volume I includes The Old English Herbal, Remedies from Animals, Lacnunga, the Peri Didaxeon, and a compendium of miscellaneous texts.
Table of contents and sample below:
Plants - Longstyle Sweetroot
Today I murdered more garlic mustard. I have also been remulching (after many years) the front yard here. We have no real soil, so very little grows... and most of that is stilt grass. I am covering it all to hopefully have this round die off before going to seed. Then another year I can clear areas of mulch and plant native wildflowers and other things.
I do need to decide which saplings in the front yard will get to have a chance at growing. There are white and red oaks, ash (white, I think), black cherry and one redbud (that one gets a pass to see if it makes it).
BUT, I did find Longstyle Sweetroot (Osmorhiza longistylis). I pulled just one to test it out. This is a native plant, so will not become part of my apothecary (which has a 14th C English focus), but I still am testing everything safe out.
It absolutely smells of anise. I tried the leaves raw and they were tender, tasted lightly of anise and had a bitter note as well. I liked them, but the BigMan did not at all.
The root is SWEET. Delightfully so. It tingles on the tongue the way ginger does. I do not like licorice candy at all but this is somewhat dialed back from that and I enjoy it.
So I made tea from the leaves (WAY too "green" tasting for tea). The roots (sweet and refreshing but I made it a little strong). And some mint from the garden. Mixing the mint tea 3 to 1 with the sweetroot, and diluting just a bit makes a fabulous beverage. After these seed I might harvest a few more roots to add to summer beverages.
Foraged Spring Pies - 2023
Disclaimer: I am an amateur at woodscraft and herblore. Nothing below should be taken as advice or recommendations. I am merely experimenting. Please do your own research before consuming or using any plant for medicinal purposes.
I have been putting off making spring greens and cheese pies again because I have been a bit on the strugglebus lately and while I have the oompf to go out and gather, I don't have it for making the crust.
I finally caved and bought puff pastry crusts and decided to just roll with that. For these experiments, its the greens that matter anyways.
So today I gathered more Garlic Mustard (and murdered even more of it, as it is horribly invasive), Cutleaf Toothwort, Dandelion Greens, Wild Garlic, and Chives that escaped my garden.
The Wild Garlic is what we called Spring Onions or Onion Grass when I was growing up. In the photo you can see the tiny bulbs on the ends. I also had chives that escaped my garden and it was pretty cool to compare the two side-by-side. The Wild Garlic had a mini version of a garlic bulb that even had little "cloves". The leaves are round and the stems hollowish. The runaway chives are solid throughout and look like a mini leek.
The Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) is a new one to me this year and I am beyond delighted. I found several areas where it grows, including one that is very heavily covered with it (and loads of mayapple as you go further down the hill). This plant is a native, so not something I am looking to harvest for my SCA Apothecary (which has a 14th century English focus), but for my general Forestry and plant stuff? HECK YES. Want to read more about it and some uses for food? This is a great entry from Forager Chef about it.
So I tasted the leaves and yes, peppery! It reminds me of a strong arugula, to which it is related, so no surprise. This plant is a bittercress and is in the mustard family. It had some bite! Supposedly the root tastes like horseradish, so I plan to dig some up at a later time to check it out.
Today, however, I tossed some in a salad with some store-bought lettuce (mine in the garden is too young yet), a chopped chive and some parmesan and Italian dressing and it was absolutely excellent. We are cooking a rib roast tomorrow and my partner wants to use the leaves to dress leftover beef sandwiches on Monday. I am looking forward to it.
For my hand pies, I sauteed the bulbs from the Wild Garlic in some butter, then added the greens. I did not cook the greens terribly long, and then had melted cream cheese in another pot that I added to it and a handful of parmesan and a sprinkle of salt.
I cut the two sheets of thawed puff pastry dough into 9 squares each and laid half on a buttered pan, topped with a dollup cheese/greens, wet the edges of the pastry and placed the top over it and pressed the edges down. I brushed butter on the top and baked them at 400 for 15 minutes.
The greens are concentrated and POTENT. I used a little over half the block of cream cheese and almost as much cooked greens, but I could easily have used half the the amount of greens (which were, by volume, predominantly the toothwort and garlic mustard). The pastries are still very good, but I would definitely cut down the next time and it honestly didn't need the added salt either.
And of course, I always have help no matter what I am doing outside.
This winter I started taking a different look at the plants immediately around our woodland home because I want to learn more about the lifecycles of local plants. I want to be able to better identify them at all stages, rather than just the most obvious ones such as when they are flowering. I also want to be able to gather some plants at various stages for different purposes.
And because I am forgetful, I also am making notes of WHERE I find things so that I can find them again later.
What really is interesting to me is how many of the local green growing things are NOT native to this area. So far I noted 16 plants that are coming up nearby, and, of those, 10 are not native to this continent at all. A few are naturalized, but some are unwelcome. (For those who do not know me, I am mundanely located in West Virginia.)
So I am cataloging the plants as Native or Non-Native (though some institutions use the term Exotic). I am also including location where it originated and whether it is Naturalized to the area or Invasive.
Over the next few years I hope to introduce additional Native plants to the yard here. Things like Serviceberries for our field and trying to eradicate the highly invasive Stiltgrass in the shaded front yard and encourage plants like Wild Ginger, Bloodroot and Mountain Mint instead.
I have also mentioned another Invasive here on my blog, Garlic Mustard. I happily eat my fill of this in the spring and fully murder the rest. I walked the lane leading into our property yesterday and saw very little of it coming up this year, compared to the last few, likely due to my willful destruction of every bit that I could find.
I am hoping to do some more campfire cooking in the next few weeks, and am eager to include some of the things growing around the house, including chickweed, hairy bittercress and spring onions... possibly even violets and redbuds if they are ready.
I mentioned in a much earlier post (HERE) that gloves or mittens would come in very handy for handling some of the plants around here, such as poison ivy. They are also essential, of course, for keeping warm. I decided to make a pair of medieval split mittens as seen in the Luttrell Psalter.
The Luttrell Psalter shows both solid colored mittens and those that are particolored. The Tübingen house book has an image of mittens that show fur at the bottom edge. I think many (or most) of these split mittens were likely crafted out of pelts with fur/wool on the inside. This very much simplifies the construction, as you can do butted seams with the edges of the leather, and there are no bulky seam allowances to worry about.
I do not have a pelt I can currently cut up, and I am still trying to use items from my stash as much as possible for my projects, so I choose to work in wool. I have some lovely coating weight wool with a heavily brushed (and warm!) surface on one side. This cloth will fray, but not readily as it is well fulled. This means that, while sturdy, I cannot rely on a butted seam for the construction. This presented some issues as I need seam allowances and to get that in the the split of the mitten I would need to have the finger chambers angled awkwardly outwards. A gusset in the split could work, but not for my tiny hands because it again creates bulky seams too close together.
My solution was to treat the mittens as I think the parti-colored option could be constructed, and add a seam down the center to join the two halves of the mitten.
I used the basic pattern from Medieval Tailor's Assistant and eliminated the gusset and added the center seam. I did my first test in some heavy synthetic fleece, recrafted the pattern to fit my hand and worked one up in the wool. That still was not quite right, so I worked from that to create a thir pattern from which I made my final gloves. I am very pleased with the results and might eventually make a parti-colored pair!
Don't sew and need mittens? Historic Enterprises also sells split mittens!
I decided on a male persona for my Forester work mostly because I like the clothing and I really like the idea of chausses because the chiggers in the summer here are just off the charts annoying. I do plan to make 14th Century English women's clothing as well (mostly because I can get away with sandals that way at Pennsic, and because I have always loved that classic 'medieval' look).
But it is interesting that, in period, both roles that I am pursuing, Forester and Apothecary, could be held by women during the Middle Ages. I had already read a fair bit about female apothecaries but the following article was posted to the Atlantian Forestry group on Face book discusses female Foresters in the 13th century in England. This is key because it gave me better insight into how the position of Forester in Fee worked, and that my persona idea (being trained as an apothecary in London but returned to the family home to take over the Forester role after the plague wiped out my persona's father and older brother) is actually viable and not as convoluted as it sounds.
The article is HERE for those interested.
This fall I harvested some dried mullein stalks to coat with flammables and attempt to use as torches. I read in several "articles" online that mullein torches were used by the Romans. Why the quotes? Because not a one of those actually cite a viable source for that information. I do not know whether it is legit or not (Roman period is not my research thing), but folklore also refers to these as "witch candles" so I thought I would give it a test regardless. I will note that in On Simples, attributed to Dioscorides there is a reference to Mullein being used as lamp wicks and it is also called "lampwick", so that I will definitely be checking out in the future as well.
So last month I coated some of the stalks with wax. Because of the cost of beeswax and my desire not to waste any, I chose not to fill a tall vessel and dip the stalks. Rather, I melted a small portion and dipped the tip and just ladled the liquid wax over the rest and watched it soak in to the very dry material. Modernly you can find mullein candles from neopagan vendors who very heavily coat them, truly making them candle-like in appearance. They sell them as a less appropriative replacement for white sage for smudging (not a bad thing at all).
The initial test had a 3 inch flower head that gave me 5.5 minutes of well-lit burn time. I used approximately 1.75 ounces of wax to coat the 4 stalks I had (3-4ish inches).
Because wax likely had better uses than a quick burning torch in period, I decided to look at other viable options for this process and purchased some beef tallow and used up some expired olive oil and also vegetable (soybean) oil that was left over from frying schnitzel.
For this round I used 4 inch plants, all dressed in the same fashion (with the tip held in the oil and oil ladled down the stalk until it was well coated). I labeled them and stood them up as I did before, lit the tops and timed them.
While the lengths of the flower heads on these were all similar, they were not exact down to the millimeter and I had no way to check for density, so some might have been heavier than others. So this truly is not scientific, but still gave me a feel for how well the different fats performed.
In the image below, the wax is on the left, tallow, then olive oil and the vegetable oil on the far right. The wax caught most readily and produced the most light for the duration of it's burn. It is the only one that really acted as a "torch" for the entire duration.
The tallow performed well, but the bright light it started with settled down to something a bit better than a really good candle. The two plant oils were more candle like until the last 5 minutes of their burn time.
At the end of ithe beeswax burned brightly for 18:42 (18 minutes, 42 seconds). The tallow burned for 27:26 and the vegetable oil burned for 25:38. The olive oil was burned for 21:01, but I also had to relight it at one point because it was very much struggling to really get going.
Also, I had a helper, because of course I did. He feels that I finally have set the appropriate alter for his divine presence.
This is the next part of the preparations section from Mirfield's Breviarium Bartholomei, part 13, as found in Popular Medicine in the Thirteenth-Century England, by Tony Hunt. This is my very rudimentary translation from Latin for the section on Oils. Note, despite translation as "essential oils" at the start, these are essential oils as we think of them today. Syrups, electuaries, pills, waters and powders are all covered in previous entries here.
As with the previous translations, headers that are in parentheses are notes from Tony Hunt, while parentheses contained within the copy usually contain my own notes, whether it is clarification of a term or uncertainty of the translation.
Of Plasters in General
Plaster is called from en, which is 'in', and plasters, 'form', that which is introduced over the form of the disease. Likewise, a plaster is called when many simple substances of different natures, such as powders, gums, fats, are boiled to perfection with wax, sap, and oil, and preserved in magdaleonibus (‘small cylindrical roll of plaster or other medical substance’ also ‘pill or tablet’, from Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1550). Afterwards it is stretched over the leather and applied to the place where it is needed, as the diaquilon (‘Plaster containing plant mucilages and juices, herbal oils, litharge, lanoleum, bird lime, gums, beeswax; attributed to Mesue’ Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1550) and the apostolicon (‘Apostles’ ointment containing c. 20 ingredients including litharge, colophony, beeswax, herbs, gums; used for wounds, Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1550) and many other things. In other words, a plaster is called a hard composition made of different things and put together that can be mixed with the hands. But plaster and poultice are often used for something else. And note that plasters can be kept until they lose their smell.
A Meal for One
For the SCA Foresters' Guild there are requirements to progress from one rank to the next. Æthelmearc currently is falling under the East Kingdom and the Checklist, as well as other pertinent documents with rules and regulations, can be found HERE.
Once you swear the Forester's oath, you can work towards different goals within the guild. This is one thing I love about some of the guilds within the SCA. They give you tangible goals, AND have people willing to jump in and help you along the way. (Another great guild with goals is the Company of the Silver Spindle in Atlantia.
I took the Oath at Pennsic and now am starting on working towards Underforester. For this you need to start a fire, cook a meal for one, have some green garb and participate in camping (yes, Pennsic camping counts). Most of my garb is green, but the Forester kit I am building out has that goal in mind. Currently I have green chausses and hood, along with a brown wool and blue linen tunic. Eventually I will have a green wool and a green linen tunic as well. I have cloth for two green cloaks as well, I just need to get them cut out.
The next rank is Forester. For this you need period gear and equipment (working on it). Period shoes (have them). Full forester garb (technically have that except that cloak that needs cut out, BUT I want to revise the garb I made this year already). You need to be helpful and cook for a group over a fire. And you need to start a fire with a period method. I have done this in the past several times with flint and steel, but my technique is, um, rusty. I also started a fire with charcloth and a magnifying glass at the Shire Day in the Park this past June. I tried to do it today, and got the charcloth to catch and started to get my nest going but the flax that I was using as the base of the nest was not catching. Like, it was REALLY, not catching. It came from a very damp room and I think that it might have taken on moisture? I used this same flax years ago with no issues but it honestly did not want to take right away even with a lighter (which I ended up using just to keep things moving.
So, enough about what went wrong, lets talk about what went right! I had a great time. I chose a semi-flat spot near a fallen tree in an area where there is no grass or other growth to worry about burning. I also opted for Safety First and had a can of water and a fire extinguisher stashed nearby. We live in the woods, it is autumn so leaves are falling, and we have not had rain in several days. I also used some stones to build a small firebreak on the downhill side from where I was working.
You can see my staged area below, as well as the stages of my fire. I had wood ready, and yes, I did use a few sticks of fatwood. I currently do not have period cooking pots, but did use a small dutchoven, griddle and a little clay vessel I made myself (it is actually a pinch pot for early Celtic stuff, but it is what I have). I have two trivets from Rabenwald Metalsmything but only needed the shorter one for this project. I used a tent stake for lifting the pot around and removing and replacing the lid.
So, what was I going to make? I wanted to do more than just make random food to fill a checklist. I wanted something period appropriate to my persona. So, my assumption here is that I would actually be traveling from London where my persona's uncle lives, back to his own home in York, and realistically, I was not traveling alone as that was very much asking for trouble. We would have more than bare minimum gear with us.
So my personal checklist is:
In the end I opted for a:
My foodstuffs can be seen below. Most of these vessels are NOT period to my persona, and while some are close (the glass containers), I would not be slinging those around during travel. I would also definitely not be traveling with two heavy mortar and pestle sets, but I needed to grind the cinnamon for the apples so took them outside to work on while the fire was reducing to coals.
While the fire was making coals for me, I went ahead and started the onions in the pot with butter. This is a modern sweet onion as I have serious sensitivity to onion and do not react to this type IF it is cooked until completely dead. I also have some apple and butter in the earthenware pot. I have not fire tested my own pottery yet, so did not want to sit this directly in a bed of coals at this time.
When my onions cooked down some, I added the chopped parsnips and continued to cook those close to the fire, stirring often. When the fire died down enough, I moved the Dutch Oven to sit directly over coals.
Once the parsnips started to soften a little and the onions were VERY cooked, I added white wine, water and a bit of salt.
While this was cooking I mixed up a little olive oil into the rye and oat flour with a touch of salt and a small amount of honey. I formed these into little patties and put them on the griddle that I had preheated with butter. For the griddle I am using the low trivet and it is placed directly over coals.
Did I mention the apples were taking forever? I was not quite ready to explode my drinking cup with high heat, so I ended up finishing the apples on the griddle with the flat breads.
Before dumping them from the cup onto the griddle I stirred in a bit of the cinnamon I ground. Part of my research on medieval apothecary revealed that the cinnamon sold in the US is typically cassia, a similar plant, but not true cinnamon. I do, however, keep celyon cinnamon sticks in the house as I have a friend who is allergic to cassia, and I ground one of those for this project.
To finish off my main course, I added the foraged sorrel as well as the harvested chives and parsley to the pot, along with a little more water and wine. Then I did a very period thing and thickened the whole thing with bread crumbs (from old bread that I foraged in my kitchen). I believe that bread, a staple of the medieval diet, could easily be bought in towns we would pass through, and eventually one might have an older hunk not really suitable for a meal, even while traveling.
The photo to the right shows the veggie dish right before I added the lid and set the whole thing over coals to finish it off.
So how was it all?
Honestly? It was excellent. I forgot to add the honey to the apples so drizzled it on at the end. (My persona, as an apothecary, would have ready access to both honey and several types of sugar, so sweetening a dish is not unreasonable.)
The parsnips and onions were quite savory and had an almost lemony twang with the addition of the sorrel (locally called "sour grass"). The bread crumbs thickened the broth so that it clung to the vegetables making it more "main course" to me than it would have as a soup.
The flat breads were good, but a bit crumbly. They might be made better with a different source of fat (butter, tallow or lard), which is something I can experiment with later. I went with the olive oil because I had it handy here.
And yes, I had help from local wildlife with my meal prep and with helping eat the rind from the Brie!
Also, I did this in garb!
This is the next part of the preparations section from Mirfield's Breviarium Bartholomei, part 13, as found in Popular Medicine in the Thirteenth-Century England, by Tony Hunt. This is my very rudimentary translation from Latin for the section on Ointments. Syrups, electuaries, pills, waters, powders and oils are all covered in previous entries here.
As with the previous translations, headers that are in parentheses are notes from Tony Hunt, while parentheses contained within the copy usually contain my own notes, whether it is clarification of a term or uncertainty of the translation.
I will greatly be expanding on this section later. Here Mirfield mentions many different ointments and I have been sourcing the recipes for these from various sources to be shared later. One such example is the the Agrippa ointment as described by Culpepper:
"Take of Briony roots two pounds, the roots of wild Cucumbers one pound, Squills half a pound, fresh English Orris roots, three ounces, the roots of male Fern, dwarf Elder, water Caltrops, or Aaron, of each two ounces, bruise them all, being fresh, and steep them six or seven days in four pounds of old oil, the whitest, not rank, then boil them and press them out, and in the oil melt fifteen ounces of white Wax, and make it into an ointment according to art.
It purges exceedingly, and is good to anoint the bellies of such as have dropsies, and if there be any humour or flegm in any part of the body that you know not how to remove (provided the part be not too tender) you may anoint it with this; but yet be not too busy with it, for I tell you plainly it is not very safe."
What recipes such as these really hammers home is the volume of ingredients that go into making of some of these items. The medieval apothecaries were not crafting cures for a single person, but producing (or sourcing) in bulk the items they would need to sell.
As I have been harvesting wild plants for my own kit, I have noticed the level of work just to fill one small glass jar with dried, powdered plant matter, and then I consider how much my persona would have had on hand at a time and the level of effort involved (whether from the apothecary, the herb women, or another source) was staggering.
On Ointments in General
There are some warm and some cold ointments. They are warm, such as dialtea (ointment made from marshmallow root), Agrippa, golden ointment, Arrogon ointment, marciaton (Anglo Normon dictionary lists this as an ointment for the bones/joints; another source mentions that it has wax, fats and 50 other ingredients), brown ointment (ointment for wounds), ointment for salty phlegm, and the like. But they are cold, such as popileon (ointment for wounds or burns of poplar leaves or buds, animal fat and leaves of narcotic plants such as henbane or poppy, the recipes vary, information from Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary in English, 1375–1550, Norri), unguentum citrinum (yellow ointment, possibly involving citrus), unguentum album (white ointment - there are numerous variations of this recipe throughout history, often for removing blemishes, freckles or for sores), and the like.
And note that when about powders with oil, etc. if you want to make an ointment, then to one ounce of powder put four ounces of oil, one ounce of wax in summer, an ounce of seeds in winter (“yeme” clarified in the Middle English Dictionary online).
But if the ointment receives gums which are dissolved and not worn, the gums should not be counted in the aforesaid measure of weight, since they do not add to the thickness or to the softness. But if the ointment receives the fat of pig, chicken, goose, or other such things which are dissolved into an oily substance, then the dissolved fat must be counted as oil, and you must put the aforementioned amount of powders and wax.
Now the method of making ointments from any herbs [if] you choose: first put the herbs in a pot or in a cauldron and let it be filled to the top with water. Then the mouth of the pot should be covered with a strong linen cloth and sealed with clay so that the smoke does not escape, and it should be placed on the fire until the water is consumed. And then let the pot be filled again with water and once again add the chopped herbs before boiling. Then put that herb with the whole decoction in a strong linen cloth and express the juice and use that juice in making ointments. And if you wish to reserve that decoction, make it with wax and reserve it in a box.
And note that all of them can be reduced to ointments by medicine, if they are cold, medicine with cold oils, if they are mixed hot with warm oils. And let a little wax be added, and let it bubble a little, and thus the ointment is made. This is how we work with perfumes, and especially hot ones. The ointment is placed in an egg shell and dissolved on the fire. And then, with that ointment, the patient's member should be exposed to the fire or to the sun. And then, after the anointing, some skin or something similar should be placed over the anointed member (membrum can also be member, limb organ or “section”) so that the power of the ointment is preserved.
This page is dedicated to my project and research related to SCA Forestry Guild activities and my expanding medieval apothecary. Here I will build out a 14th Century English men's kit and have some adventures in the woodlands!
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