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Herbal Remedies from the Dark Ages

A snip of dill to go with the salmon.  A sprig of rosemary to jazz up the pork. Fresh mint for mojitos. Today, herbs might seem like a luxurious enhancement to a life already filled with modern accoutrements.

But in medieval times, herbs were more than just seasoning. They were powerful medicines that could stave off an embarrassing burst of flatulence, heal broken bones, or even save mom  from burning at the stake.



Today, aloe might be your answer to scorched shoulders after a day at the beach, but once upon a time, aloe was prescribed for hemorrhoids, ulcers, and even hair loss. Does it really work? Perhaps, but bring your soothing medicated pads on that flight to Australia, just in case.



Angelica(Wild Celery)
Life in the middle ages was hard enough for a stay at home mom, and the last thing you needed was rumors about witchcraft flying around town. Medieval women wore Angelica leaf necklaces to protect against illness, and because  Angelica was the only herb witches never used, growing and using it at home  made an airtight alibi against accusations of witchcraft.



Having a cold or the flu in the middle ages is tough. But ‘inner decay and slime’? That’s serious, and according to Hildegard of Bingen, one should make haste in reaching for the cinnamon.




Lemon Balm
Marauding barbarians. The plague. Fire breathing dragons. There was plenty to be anxious about in medieval times, and not a single bottle of valium to be found in all the land. Instead, frazzled nerves were soothed with lemon balm and bee balm in the form of Eau de Melisse.




It took a few swings with your iron spiked mace, but you finally brought down that enormous Saxon with the flashy new suit of armor. But before he fell, he managed to deliver a hard blow to your shield arm, and now your ulna and radius are all mixed up. Time for break from the battlefield and a compress made with comfrey paste.




Without Snapchat and Tinder, dating in the middle ages moved slower. And once you finally did land a chaperoned walk through the countryside with a cute milk maid, the last thing you needed was an untimely bout of intestinal gas to scuttle the budding romance. Back then, dill was the go-to herb to soothe indigestion and was even reported to cure hiccups.




There are plenty of products in the toiletries aisle to help you smell good, but how many can also treat colds and aid digestion? According to Hildegard of Bingen, Fennel was like Old Spice, Nyquil, and Pepto Bismol all rolled into one versatile, easy to grow herb.




For that persistent medieval cough or fever that just won’t go away, it’s time for fenugreek. And crushed snails. According to Gilbertus Anglicus,  a plaster using fenugreek  along with a gargle made of other interesting  ingredients could cure a variety of ills:

 “Good for every postem both within a man's body and without: Take the root of hollyhock and lily roots and seep them in water. Then crush them with fresh grease and butter and add meal of flax seed (linseed) and fenugreek and snails and crush them together. And give him a gargle of vinegar that barley has lain in and water that pomegranate or sumac or roses or oak galls or lentils have soaked in.”



While the Greek and Roman physicians hailed this remarkable allium as a cure for everything from cancer to leprosy, by the middle ages, it had become as passé  as a Roman toga party with the upper classes. Medieval peasants still had no problem with it, though, and continued to use garlic as a preventative and cure-all remedy for a variety of ailments.




Sure, it was easy to be depressed  back then - it was the ‘dark ages’ after all. But there was no time to lie on the couch with a bag of potato chips and watch ‘Golden Girls’. Chicken stewed with hyssop and wine was the medieval answer to the blues, and hyssop was also used in teas to treat respiratory ailments.



‘Stinking of the mouth’ wasn’t something to be taken lightly – even in the dark ages. In his Compendium of Medicine , Gilbertus Anglicus suggests the following treatment for bad breath :

 "If there be no rotten flesh, let the mouth be washed with wine that birch or mint has been soaked in. And let the gums be well rubbed with a rough linen cloth until they bleed. And let him eat marjoram, mint and parsley til they be well chewed. And let him rub well his teeth with the herbs he chewed and also his gums.




In the middle ages, oregano stayed busy treating coughs, colds, arthritis, and chest congestion, yet  it still made time to liven up the occasional pepperoni and mushroom pizza.




For the young medieval miss seeking the attention of a brave knight, having fleas might as well be a nasty case of leprosy.  He would sooner fall on his sword than bring an itchy, flea-ridden maiden home to mom and dad. Savvy gals in the dark ages rubbed Pennyroyal rubbed on their skin to repel fleas, and it was also mixed with honey and taken to help clear up lung congestion.



Everyone knows rosemary brings magic to the kitchen, but the cure for the common comb over? Legend has it that rosemary soaked wine cured Queen Elizabeth of Hungary of paralysis in 1235. Tinctures made with rosemary then became known as ‘Queen of Hungary's Water’ and were used to treat skin rashes, dandruff, and baldness.



St. John’s Wort
In the middle ages, evil sprits always seem to show up at the worst times. Not only did burning St. John’s Wort drive away those pesky ghosts, but it also ensured successful crop harvests.



Pimple riddled medieval teenagers didn’t have it any better than today’s pizza faced dweebs and dorks navigating  the cruel hallways of high school USA. Luckily they had vervain - an herb prescribed for many ailments from acne to toothaches and fever.











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