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Friday, July 8, 2011

Welcome to the Beer Garden

Humulus lupulus Tanacetum balsamita

Hops (Humulus lupulus), considered today to be crucial to beer brewing, were not commonly used until the fifteenth century. Before that time, brewers added different herbs, such as alecost (Tanacetum balsamita), to their beer to improve its flavor. Several of these medieval brewing herbs can be found in Bonnefont garden.

Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale then is rehersed, except yest, barme, or godesgood, doth sofystical theyr ale.

—Andrew Borde, The fyrst boke of the introduction of knowledge, 1452

Beer was a staple drink for medieval Europeans, as it provided much-needed calories to the often undernourished population and was cleaner and safer to drink than water. Then, as now, beer was made by brewing malted barley in boiling water to make sugars more available for yeasts to consume (see an image of Jorg Prewmaister tending his brew in a page from a fifteenth-century German manuscript, Amb. 317.2). This sugary, malty potion, known as “wort,” eventually becomes beer after the yeasts eat the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol as byproducts of fermentation. On its own, wort is fairly flat in flavor, so brewers add additional ingredients, such as hops and spices, to enliven a beer’s taste.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lavenders, Lavandin

Lavandin (Lavandula Xintermedia \"Grosso\" growing in Cuxa Cloister Garth Garden.

Above: Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) flowering in Cuxa Garden.

Lavenders in The Middle Ages

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ssp. angustifolia) was used to scent linen and to keep moths and insects from woolens, as it still is. According to the fifteenth-century herbal Hortus Sanitatis, or the Garden of Health, this virtue of protecting clothing from vermin endeared lavender to the Mother of God, who also loved the herb as a preserver of chastity: “If the head is sprinkled with lavender water it will make that person chaste so long as he bears it upon him.” (Margaret Freeman, Herbs for the Medieval Household, 1943.)

Lavender had a number of medicinal applications as well as household uses, and could be employed against pains in the heart, fainting spells, and sleeplessness; it was applied to the forehead for headache and included in antidotes, such as a plaster for scorpion bites. It was used internally as well as externally, and a decoction was drunk for epilepsy and kidney ailments and as a preventative for apoplexy. (Frank Anderson, German Book Illustration through 1500: Herbals through 1500, 1983–4.) Read more »