Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 01 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Alphonsus Liguori
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Explore the fascinating world of 11th-century herbal remedies

Michael Coghlan - CC BY-SA 2.0

J-P Mauro - published on 10/13/19

In a time before science dominated medicine, many remedies were meant to soothe the soul, along with the body.

Imagine there was a way to step back in time and visit 11th-century England. What fun we could have exploring the undeveloped countryside, learning the Middle English lingo, and hearing the Latin Mass celebrated at every church. That is, of course, until we would find ourselves with a toothache, or perhaps a more serious malady, which would have us reaching for a bottle of prescription pharmaceuticals.

The Middle Ages may not have had access to science-based medicine, which yielded penicillin, but people were still able to find remedies for a wide variety of medical issues. These remedies utilized combinations of simple herbs, many of which make up the backbone of England’s culinary recipes today.

In a recent post on his website, The Medieval Monk, Dr. Christopher Monk examines the medical uses of several herbs based on the accounts in the manuscripts he works to translate and transcribe for Rochester Cathedral. Not only is the article educational and filled with numerous fun facts, but Christopher writes in the guise of a slightly mad monk, which is as charming as it is relevant, as the physicians of the 11th-century were members of the scholarly religious orders.

An aid for the memory

Now, we’ve gone through the time-portal and we’ve found a way to become modest farmers in medieval England. Unfortunately, as we work we’re having trouble remembering things. At first we think the many demanding aspects of farm life are just slipping our minds, but then we notice the cow is lowing because we have forgotten to milk her for days and we know we have a problem.

We head to the local abbey and ask a physician monk for his advice. The older man pulls out a massive tome entitled The Herbarium, from which he reads:

“For the ailment which one calls ‘litargium’ that is called in our language ‘forgetfulness,’ take this same plant ‘rutam’ soaked in vinegar, then sprinkle the face therewith.”

The monk takes out a portion of the herb rue, crushes it, mixes it with vinegar, and begins to sprinkle it on our faces. We’re not sure if this is going to work, but these monks are the most learned men of our time, so we’ll give it a shot. We head back to our farm to finally milk the cow, although we’re not sure if the milk is still good, because all we can smell is vinegar.

A protection from evil

OK, so we’ve been helped with our forgetfulness, but that’s an easy one. What happens when our homestead is afflicted in the night by “the elvish race,” or perhaps we suspect our neighbor of being someone “with whom the devil has intercourse”? How can we possibly sleep at night without protection from such evils?

Well, 11th-century monks had an herbal remedy for this too. By utilizing the herb fennel, along with other herbs such as “garlic to wormwood, some butter, sheep’s grease, and ‘a lot of holy salt,'” we can create a salve that will repel the forces of evil … and elves. Of course, this remedy would also require an altar over which nine Masses must be sung.

The old medieval manuscripts are full of delightful remedies like these that will amuse you and leave you wondering if they would really work. Visit The Medieval Monk’s website for a tremendous amount of information on these medieval remedies, which are bound to bring a smile to your face and make you think.

Tags:
EnglandHistoryMedicineMedieval
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
HIDILYN DIAZ
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
2
SIMONE BILES
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
3
PRINCESS DIANA AND MOTHER TERESA
Mathilde De Robien
Did you know Princess Di was buried with a rosary?
4
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
5
JEDZENIE
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
6
Zelda Caldwell
German women’s gymnastics teams modest dress protests sport’s ...
7
Lauren Daigle
J-P Mauro
After 3 years Lauren Daigle ousts herself from #1 Billboard spot
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.