Posts Tagged ‘Walahfrid Strabo’

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rue

Rue

The blue-green fronds of rue were admired for their beauty in the Middle Ages, and the intensely aromatic leaves were prized as a condiment, a medicament, and an amulet.  Photograph by Carly Still

Here is a shadowed grove which takes its color
From the miniature forest of glaucous rue.
Through its small leaves and short umbels which rise
Like clusters of spears it sends the wind’s breath
And the sun’s rays down to its roots below.
Touch it but gently and it yields a heavy
Fragrance. Many a healing power it has —
Especially, they say, to combat
Hidden toxin and to expel from the bowels
The invading forces of noxious poison.

—Hortulus, Walahfrid Strabo, translated by Raef Payne

Read more »

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare

Unlike many of its relatives in the Asteraceae, or daisy family, the golden disk flower of tansy is not surrounded by ray petals. Although both the flowers and leaves are intensely bitter, tansy has a long history as a culinary herb. 

Tansy (reynfan) is hot and a bit moist, and is effective against all over-abundant humors which flow out. Whosoever has catarrh, and coughs because of it, should eat tansy, taken either in broth or small tarts, or with meat, or any other way. It checks the increase of the humors, and they vanish . . . .

—Hildegard of Bingen, Physica, Chapter CXI

The old German name reynfan used by Hildegard refers to the effect of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) on the “reins,” or kidneys. The fifteenth-century herbal Der Gart der Gesundheit differs from Hildegard in classifying tansy as hot and dry in the first degree, rather than moist; it recommends tansy as a diuretic and vermifuge, as well as a treatment for gout and fever. (For more on Hildegard of Bingen, see “Mutter Natur,” October 15, 2010. For more on the humoral theory on which her prescription is based, see “Cool, Cooler, Coolest,” July 27, 2012.) Read more »

Friday, May 25, 2012

Inside and Outside the Garden Walls

Unicorn in Captivity

The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495–1505. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6). The profusion of flowering plants that springs from the millefleurs meadow on which the unicorn rests includes both garden plants and wildflowers. An iris and a clove pink are prominently placed outside the unicorn’s enclosure; both were intensively cultivated in the Middle Ages, but the purple orchis silhouetted against the unicorn’s body depends on a special relationship with microorganisms in its native soil and would not have grown in gardens.

Roses, lilies, iris, violet, fennel, sage, rosemary, and many other aromatic herbs and flowers were prized for their beauty and fragrance, as well as their culinary and medicinal value, and were as much at home in the medieval pleasure garden as in the kitchen or physic garden. These plants were carefully cultivated, but many useful plants of the Middle Ages were found outside the garden walls, or admitted on sufferance.

Read more »

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Virtues of Rosemary

Rosemary

In the later Middle Ages, the leaves, stems, and flowers of this aromatic member of the mint family were used to effect cures for many ills, and provide protection from both spiritual and bodily harm. Photograph by Nathan Heavers

Libanotis which the Romans call Rosmarinus & they which plait crowns use it: the shoots are slender, about which are leaves, small, thick, and somewhat long, thin, on the inside white, but on the outside green, of a strong scent. It hath a warming facultie . . .

—Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book III: 89

It is an holy tree and with folk that hath been rightful and just gladly it groweth and thriveth. In growing it passeth not commonly in height the height of our Lord Jesu Christ while he walked as a man on earth, that is man’s height and half, as man is now; nor, after it is 33 years old, it growth not in height but waxeth in breadth and that but little. It never seareth all but if some of the aforesaid four weathers make it.

—Friar Henry Daniel, “little book of the virtues of rosemary,” ca. 1440

Read more »

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Intern’s Habit

Sweeping the Garden

My early morning sweep of Bonnefont garden, overseen by the downy thornapple (Datura metel). Photograph by Corey Eilhardt

A quiet life has many rewards: not least of these
Is the joy that comes to him who devotes himself to the art
They knew at Paestum, and learns the ancient skill of obscene
Priapus—the joy that comes of devoting himself to a garden.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

Read more »

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beneficent Betony

Wood betony (Stachys officinalis)

Wood betony (Stachys officinalis) enjoyed a considerable reputation in antiquity and the Middle Ages as both a medicinal and a magical herb, and was believed to have many virtues. Photograph by Nathan Heavers.

In the mountains and woods, in the meadows and depths of the valleys—
Almost everywhere, far and wide, grows the precious abundance
Of betony. Yet I have it too in my garden, and there
It learns a softer way of life in the tended soil.
So great is the honor this genus has won for its name
That if my Muse wished to add to it she would find herself
Defeated at last, overwhelmed; and soon she would see
She could add nothing more to the value it has already.

Perhaps you pick it to use it green, perhaps
To dry and store away for the sluggish winter.
Do you like to drink it from cloudy goblets? Or do you
Prefer to enjoy what it gives after long and careful
Refining? Whatever your fancy, the wonderful powers
Which this herb has will supply all your needs.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

Read more »

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Gardener’s Perseverance and the Fruits of His Labor

Working in the Garden

Above: Carly Still, who joined the staff as a part-time gardener just last week, tending to the woodland plants under the quince. Photograph by Corey Eilhardt

Then come the showers of Spring, from time to time
Watering our tiny crop, and in its turn
The gentle moon caresses the delicate leaves.
Should a dry spell rob the plants of the moisture they need,
My gardening zeal and the fear that the slender shoots
May die of thirst make me scurry to bring fresh water
In brimming buckets. With my own hands I pour it
Drop by drop, taking care not to shift the seeds
By too sudden or lavish a soaking. Sure enough,
In a little while the garden is carpeted over
With tiny young shoots. True, that part there
Below the high roof is dry and rough from the lack
Of rain and the heaven’s benison; true, this
Part here is always in shade, for the high wall’s
Solid rampart forbids the sun to enter.
Yet of all that was lately entrusted to it, the garden
Has held nothing enclosed in its sluggish soil
Without hope of growth. What is more, those plants that were moved,
More dead than alive, to the newly dug furrows are now
Green again; our garden has brought them back
To life, making them good with abundant growth.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

The ninth-century Benedictine abbot Walahfrid Strabo was a gardener as well as a scholar and a poet, and worked hard in his monastery garden. We, too, are hard at work bringing the gardens of The Cloisters back to life after a long winter. Much remains to be done, but the hellebores, violets, daffodils, lungworts, and fritillaries are in bloom. The hops are climbing, the pear tree is blossoming, and the quince are putting out tiny, silvery leaves.

—Deirdre Larkin

Friday, November 12, 2010

Feverfew

Tanacetum parthenium with label Tanacetum parthenium The Unicorn Defends Itself (feverfew detail)

The common name of feverfew is derived from the Latin febrifuge. Botanists now place this member of the aster family in the genus Tanacetum, but feverfew was formerly known both as Chrysanthemum parthenium and Pyrethrum parthenium and may be listed as such in older sources. Above, left and center: Feverfew growing in Bonnefont garden in November; right: the only feverfew plant depicted in the Unicorn Tapestries appears between the feet of the hunter poised to spear the quarry in The Unicorn Defends Itself.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a strongly aromatic herb in the aster family; it is closely related to costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) and to tansy (Tanacetum officinale), both of which also grow in Bonnefont garden. While tansy has been employed as a medicine, a food, and an insect repellent, feverfew is strictly a medicinal herb. The medieval name of this antipyretic species is derived from the Latin febrifuge and refers to its usefulness in driving off fever. Read more »

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Orris and Iris

Iris species Iris germanica Iris pallida

Above, left and center: Blue-white orris and deep purple iris blooming simultaneously in Bonnefont Cloister garden. In the Middle Ages, the aromatic rhizomes of orris (Iris germanica var. florentina) were exploited for their fragrance. The purplish juice squeezed from the flowers of Iris germanica was mixed with alum to make a green used in manuscript illumination. Right: The beautiful and sweetly scented Iris pallida blooming in Trie Cloister garden.

And I must not pass you by, my iris, in silence.
Latin, that rich and eloquent tongue, has given you
The name Gladiola, made from its word for a sword.
For me at the start of summer you put forth
The beauty of your purple flower. . . .

. . . With your help too
The laundryman can stiffen his shining linen
And scent it sweetly.

—Excerpts trom the Hortulus of Walahfrid Strabo (ca. 808–849), translated by Raef Payne.

Due to the extraordinarily warm temperatures in early April, many plants bloomed as much as a month early this spring, and out of their usual sequence. Some plants that ordinarily bloom in succession bloomed simultaneously, including our beautiful bearded iris. Read more »