Tag Archives: herbs

Infertility, garden intrigues and mystery manuscripts at Manorbier Castle

The HC team is pleased to announce publication of its first co-written article in the most recent edition of Transactions of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorion. Here, the team explores the links between an understudied early fourteenth-century manuscript miscellany, the family of Gerald of Wales (d. 1223) and the medieval castle of Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, where Gerald was born in 1146.
We have argued that the manuscript, which contains a rich selection of medical and other texts, many to do with cures for infertility or the production of male offspring, was produced by and for some of Gerald’s descendants. We also suggest that it provides important new insights into the also little-known but very troubled history of the castle and its owners between 1200 and 1500.
Central to our discussion is a hitherto unrecognised garden space at the castle (below), formed accidentally when the two-storey chapel was added to the building in 1260. No doubt the ingredients for many of the recipes and ‘cures’ contained within the manuscript would have been grown here and in the surrounding lands and gardens outside the castle walls. 
The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

The Garden Space at Manorbier Castle

However, these ‘cures’ seem to have been ineffectual. Although the evidence uncovered by the team suggests that the manuscript may have helped successive generations of the family to address a deepening inheritance crisis, that crisis erupted into a bitter dispute that ended in robbery, appropriation of the castle and its lands and, finally, murder.

Weald and Downland Gardens

TS writes: In search of a break from copy-editing, I headed with Dr Emily Cock to the Weald and Downland Open-Air Museum in Sussex (PO18 0EU), which will be hosting a Historic Gardens Day on 10 July 2016. And what a treasure-trove of historic gardens the museum is! Six have been re-created, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and we visited three in detail, Poplar Cottage, a 17th-century reconstruction of a working garden for a landless labourer,

the Walderton house, of a similar date but belonging to a rather better-off resident (not me….),


and the highlight of the visit, Bayleaf, a 16th-century farmstead house with a garden that can only be described as truly ‘enclosed’ by the flourishing mix of vegetables, herbs and trees being grown.


On what was a warm day, this space felt at least a degree or two warmer once you got through the gate and within its wattle boundaries. The garden had been recreated using Master John Gardener’s Feate of Gardening and a 16th-century cookery book, the Fromond List, and it was easy to get lost in the greenery of parsnips being allowed to grow for seed, and ‘weeds’ being left to provide a living mulch. I sat and contemplated the scenery whilst Emily took all these lovely pictures…..

Across the site, the gardens all had their accompanying bee skeps of various types, though apart from a lazy wasp there was not much sign of anyone in residence.


All in all, a brilliant piece of ‘pleasure, contemplation and cure’ in the Sussex Downs – highly recommended!!



One of our bodies is missing…

TS writes: Thanks to a lively audience and the support of RIAH, the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities at Swansea University, our presentation ‘Come into the Enclosed Garden’ for the Being Human Festival was a huge success, but not without its hitches. Twenty minutes before we were due to speak, one of our rolled-up posters, featuring the medieval diagram of a pregnant woman (see our post of 28 October 2015) went missing. Whoever picked that up is going to get a surprise when they unroll her! Pressing on, however, we gave three short presentations on history, spirituality and medicine in the garden (Theresa’s amazing collection of aromatic plants, oils and other substances bringing the sensory experience to life)







and then offered the opportunity to ‘pin the medicinal plant on the person’, to much amusement. Poor ‘Eric’ was soon cured of his many health problems…


Being Human – the AHRC Festival of the Humanities

TS writes:

What does the HC have in common with these images? Find out when the Hortus Conclusus team takes part in the Being Human festival at Swansea University from 11-20 November 2015. We’ll be offering the sensory experience of the enclosed garden in words, pictures and a very hands-on test of your plant knowledge. Details are here, just come along if you’re in the Swansea area on 20 November!

L0038592 The Physician's Handbook Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Physician's Handbook: English medical and astrological compendium 1454 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 Wellcome Library, London.

L0000845 foetal positions in uterus, pregnant female Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Four foetal positions in uterus - Full-figure anatomy of pregnant woman labelled with ailments Ink and Watercolour Circa 1420-30 MS 49 Apocalypse, (The), [etc.]. Apocalypsis S. Johannis cum glossis et Vita S. Johannis; Ars Moriendi, etc.; Anatomical, medical, texts, theological moral and allegorical 'exempla' and extracts, a few in verse. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Wellcome Library, London

Trade, Discovery and Influences in the History of Herbal Medicine Seminar, London, 14/10/2015

TT writes:

A brief background to the Herbal History Research Network. A small group of researchers came together in 2010 with the overall aim of promoting scholarly research in the history of herbal medicine and herbal traditions. One of their aims is to connect people who share common interests in researching the history of herbal medicine, and support their development of skills and access to resources. Founding members were medical trained herbalists but since then contributors to seminars have included a wide range of scholars across historical periods.

At the recent Seminar held at the Wellcome Trust’s offices in London an impressive range of speakers took the delegates on a whistle-stop tour that included visits to Rome, Siberia, the archives of the Russian Palace in Moscow, and to South America, by way of Portugal, Iberia, Amsterdam, Hamburg and northern Russia before arriving back at Kew to hear about their work on their International plant collection. Through the records of Ancient Rome Laurence Totelin explained the ways in which medicinal plants and materials were traded, by looking at the ways people knew (or didn’t know!) what they were buying. This included the intriguing fact that some of this plant material was transported in containers made from the plaited leaves of the Chaste Tree (Agnus castus – sometimes known as the women’s herb) which, raises the intriguing question ‘were the leaves then recycled and by whom’. Other papers examined written records to demonstrate just how far materia medica travelled to reach the hands of physicians, apothecaries and patients. It was shown that merchants very soon after their discovery in South America traded medicinal plants that could, despite frozen ports, eventually be used not only by English physicians in the Russian Palace but be sold on the markets of Moscow (Clare Griffin). The expanding pharmacological horizons of Anglo-Norman medicine in eleventh-century England was examined through a case study of an eleventh century manuscript (Debby Banham). While Anne Stobart explored some of the medicine found in household records by asking, “Just what were women in Early-Modern households using to cure their own and their family’s ills”? Richard Aspin and Mark Nesbitt both examined collections but of an entirely different sort. Richard Aspin examined three categories of records held in the extensive archives of the Wellcome Library by dividing them into three categories: the drug trade, physicians (prescriptions) and consumption (patients). Mark Nesbitt explained how, over time, Kew had added to their holdings of plant based material and their more recent collaboration with bio-chemists – for example using alkaloids found in the plant material that have a long shelf life and, fortunately, no ‘date before use’ stamped on them. The winning student poster came from Deborah Schlein whose PhD research focuses on the reception of Greco-Arabic medical knowledge into South Asian Unānī medicine, in this case she was looking at Turmeric (Curcuma Longa L.) that has travelled from its origins in southeast Asia, to India and the Middle East is known and widely known today as a wonder food with amazing properties. To sum up a day which had brought together a disciplinary group of people, who had sat in comfortable chairs as they toured around continents, ended with a simple question of how can we encourage more research to stimulate discussion and uncover valuable knowledge.

The HHRN would be delighted if you would like to join their discussion list just click on the link on our resource page to see how to join their discussion list!

Foraging and history at Anzy-le-Duc

Wandering around the Burgundian countryside peering behind walls in search of traces of medieval gardens the ancient priory church of Anzy-le-Duc seemed to appear from out of nowhere. Standing at the edge of the village overlooking a fertile meadow, this Romanesque church, with its Carolingian origins, is tucked away in the village and seems to sleepily sit there awaiting visitors. The church itself with an impressive Italianate bell-tower borders one side of an extensive enclosed garden with the former outbuildings of the Priory enclosing it to the West.

The village of Anzy is the site of Enziacum where, in the ninth century, a property was owned by Letbalt or (Letbalde) the Revenue Collector for Semur-en-Brionnais and his wife Altaric (or Altasie) from Poitiers. In 876 the couple gave their domaine to the then powerful Abbey of Saint-Martin d’Autun. A new Benedictine priory on the site came under the direction of pious monk who, through his care for the needy, later he became known as St Hugh of Poitiers. The first church was dedicated to la Sainte-Trinité, la Sainte-Croix et la Sainte-Mère de Dieu et Vierge Marie, it was surrounded by a hospice and monastic buildings. St Hugh died at Anzy-le-Duc around 930 and his remains were later buried in the crypt at Anzy. After his death his relics attracted so many pilgrims to the site that by the eleventh century a new church, the one that welcomes visitors today, was eventually built to accommodate them.

The gardens are no longer planted as they would have been in its heyday, now having extensive areas of lawn and easily kept borders, but it is not difficult to imagine the church and gardens alive with the coming and goings of pilgrims arriving to venerate the relics of St Hugh, many of whom would be bringing their hopes of cures or the easing of spiritual cares along with them on their journey. Behind the walls in the height of summer bees drunk with the perfume of healing herbs and plants would be busily collecting nectar to provide the honey with which many cures were made.

Although there was nothing edible or medicinal now to be found within the garden walls of the old priory, this area of Burgundy proved to be a pick-your-own haven for one of today’s super-foods packed with vitamins and minerals. It is found cited in medieval recipe collections, reputed to have been a cure for a myriad of ills, and a sure cure for ‘blastings by lightening or planets and burning of gunpowder,’ although the consumption of too much hindered fertility (Culpeper). Called Purslane, (Portulaca oleracea) it was found in Burgundy valiantly growing at the base of walls, spreading along verges and footpaths, providing green-stuff for cooling salads at the end of hot days.


Tiny wild thyme plants also studded the grassy areas at the approaches to medieval castles, such as at Berzé-le-Châtel, while marjoram, salad burnet and water mint rampaged along the dewy footpaths. Proof that what once flourished and was valued within the enclosed walls of medieval gardens, can still be found in the fertile pastures and countryside alongside Burgundy’s beautiful Romanesque churches.

Herbal History Research Seminar

Another event of interest, London, 14 October 2015

Trade, Discovery and Influences in the History of Herbal Medicine