The Cloisters offered its annual Garden Days program on June 2 and 3. We had splendid weather and a great turnout. Deirdre Larkin, familiar to all of our regular readers, led garden tours in which she explored the theme of wild and cultivated plants in the Middle Ages. Instructors from our Education Office led workshops for children and their families.
Posts Tagged ‘weed’
A tub of rose hips, gathered from roadsides and abandoned pastures upstate, and stripped of their thorns. The hips will be used to decorate the Museum this winter. Photograph by Carly Still
The rose hips used in the winter holiday decorations at The Cloisters allude to the rose symbolism prevalent in medieval Christmas carols. Although we grow medieval rose species in the gardens and on the grounds, their hips are too fleshy for our purposes, and don’t keep well. We gather stems of Rosa multiflora, which bear many small, hard, hips, in October, and strip them of their thorns. They are stored in a cool, dry place until December, when the Museum is decked for the season.
The edible weeds that grew among the cultivated vegetables in the medieval kitchen garden were also harvested and used as potherbs. Above, from left to right: purslane, a succulent weed of fertile soils, is a common weed in our own vegetable gardens; lamb’s quarters, also known as “fat hen,” is now a very common weed in the United States; Good King Henry is related to the nutritious lamb’s quarters and was cultivated as a vegetable. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.
A weed is a plant you don’t want. An herb is a plant with a use. But many of the “weedy” species that are considered garden nuisances today were actually valued in the Middle Ages. Edible weeds growing in the kitchen garden, along with the cultivated vegetables, were used in pottage, a basic medieval dish. (For more on pottage, see last week’s post, “Colewort and Kale.”) Read more »
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.
Left: Silybum marianum, the Marian thistle, is also known as milk thistle, because of the milky-white streaks on the spiny leaves; right: The thistle appears outside and below the enclosure of the captive Unicorn, near the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), another plant associated with the Virgin. Visit the Collection Database to see the detail in context and learn more about The Unicorn in Captivity.
While thistles were a thorn in the farmer’s side, then as now, virtually all plants were accorded medicinal value in the Middle Ages. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) was eaten as a vegetable, and is grown in a bed devoted to pottage plants here at The Cloisters, but it has a rightful place in the medicinal collection as well. Read more »