For millenniums, in all different cultures throughout the world, cultivating and reaping herbs has been performed. It was even considered a high art in medieval Europe. With the Greeks lacking medical know-how and technology, the Middle Ages relied heavily on Medieval herbs for medicines. The practice they used mixed knowledge through experience with balderdash, but they did know much that was well-grounded.
The Medieval herb garden was both beautiful and functional, providing herbs for medicinal purposes and cooking as well as a setting for calm reflection. These gardens have been reincarnated in New York’s Cloisters. Constructed in the 1930’s, it was carefully planned based on its Medieval predecessor. The result of the planners’ attention to detail resulted in a stunning accomplishment of that goal.
The Cloister’s many sections most notably feature herb gardens. In spite of New York’s harsh frigid winters, humid and stifling summers, and unpredictable rainy Fall and Spring, over 250 species thrive there.
This was loosely based on many sources but does not follow any of them perfectly. This resulted in elevated beds, wattle fences and a central wellhead which are all common traits of any Medieval herb garden model. Encompassed by orchards and a number of other plants, the Medieval herbs form the centerpiece of the garden, which any home practitioner would be envious of.
In the winter, many are placed inside pots that are similar to ones found in the period. This helps the fragile ones survive in the cold, harsh climate.
Herbs cultivated during Medieval times could be used for silly reasons like trying to ward off evil ghosts. It was believed that dill held magical powers. People also thought that they could be protected from the plague by rosemary. To try to treat epilepsy, sage was used.
Herbs were arranged at the Cloisters in nine sections corresponding to classifications used in the period. The first section holds Absinthe and Thistles, the second contains medical herbs, such as St. John’s Wort and Liquorice. The third section holds Lavendar, Lemon Balm and other aromatics.
Some types of herbs were used for art and purposes such as encouraging love and marriage. These were thought to be ‘magic’ plants. The final group contains cooking herbs like Caraway, Fennel, Parsley, and Borage.
Medieval herbs were used all over, maybe even more than today, but herbalists in these times still have the same plants available. We hear so much about the medicinal attributes of these herbs and these applications often go hand in hand with their medieval uses.
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