Posts Tagged ‘Pliny’

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blessed Thistle

Blessed thistle Blessed thistle spines Blessed thistle flower

Above: Three images of the blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus). The low stature and unremarkable appearance of this plant belie its medieval reputation as a plague cure and a panacea. The lax stems and spiny, light green leaves are covered with a fine, white down; the spines that subtend the developing flowerhead are a protection against grazing animals. The yellow flowers of this annual thistle appear in July; once the seeds have set, the plant dies. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

The humble Cnicus benedictus, a plant of waste ground and stony soil native to the Mediterranean, was a medieval panacea whose reputation survived undiminished into the Renaissance. The sixteenth-century English herbalist John Gerard notes that this wild medicinal plant of southern Europe was “diligently cherished in gardens in these Northern parts.” Gerard also attests that the herb was known everywhere in Europe by the medieval Latin name Carduus benedictus; the common names by which it is known today preserve this designation: blessed or holy thistle in English, benedikten distel in German; chardon bénit or chardon santo in French, cardo benedetto in Italian, cardo bendito in Spanish.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

A Salute to the Skirret Root

Skirret Foliage and Roots Skirret Root Texture

Above, left: a view of the complete skirret plant; right: a closer look at the texture of the skirret root. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

Skirret (gerla) is hot and dry. Eaten in moderation, it is not very helpful or harmful. If someone should eat a lot of it, its heat and dryness would stir up fevers in him and harm his intestines. A person whose face has weak skin, which easily splits, should pound skirret in a mortar and add oil. When he goes to bed at night, he should rub it on his face, continuing until he is healed.

—Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Love’s Herb

Myrtus communis Myrtle Blossoms Fruits of the Myrtle

Above, from left to right: common myrtle is grown in pots at The Cloisters and brought indoors before frost; detail of the ivory-white blossoms of Myrtus communis; detail of the blue-black fruits of the common myrtle.

In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
In myrtle shades despairing ghost complain.
The myrtle crowns the happy lovers’ heads,
Th’ unhappy lovers’ graves the myrtle spreads.

—Verses Written at The Request of a Gentleman to whom a Lady had Given a Sprig of Myrtle, by Samuel Johnson

This eighteenth-century verse is a deft summation of many centuries of the myrtle’s association with love, lovers, and the goddess of love. Read more »