The Well-Read Medievalist has decided that with the advent of Spring and the coming of warmer, friendlier weather, she would rather be outside puttering about in her herb garden than sitting inside reading old books. Therefore, the book review is going to be replaced by a review of herbs popular during the Middle Ages – at least while the weather is nice.
The German word for this herb is an interesting one: Eisenkraut, or iron plant. This made me wonder why it would have the word iron in its name. As it turns out, it does not seem to be a source of iron, however, it was considered to be a wonder plant in the Middle Ages. Hildegard von Bingen described this plant and classified it as a cooling plant. It was often recommended as a healing herb to be used for wounds and tumors, especially ones that were getting infected. It was also used as a rinse for sores in the mouth.
Vervain was known long before the Middle Ages, though, and was even considered sacred in some cultures. The Egyptians believed that it came from Isis’ tears and Greek priests wore it. Vervain was also a sacred plant to the Druids. This plant is considered to be sacred to Venus and was therefore used in love potions. The Anglo-Saxons held vervain as a protective plant and a part of the Holy Salve against demons of disease. According to “Herbys necessary for a gardyn”, the Fromand list of plants from about 1525, vervain is catagorized as an “herb for savour and beauty”.
Vervain is a hardy perennial that grows up to 2-3 feet (75 cm). It is grows wild in Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The lilac flowers are small and tubular, appearing in midsummer. The leaves are glossy, slightly hairy and shaped like an elongated oak leaf.
This plant prefers full sun or a bit of shade. The soil should be well-drained. Seeds can be sown in spring once the temperature has reached 65–70° F. Germination can take 3-4 weeks. Vervain can also be grown indoors. Pick leaves as required and dry as needed. The entire plant can be cut when in bloom and dried if required.
Due to the belief that vervain was a love potion, it was sometimes added to foods and homemade liquors. The leaf can be infused and used as an eye compress for tired eyes and inflamed eyelids. The Victorians used vervain as a hair tonic, especially when mixed with rosemary it makes a very nice hair rinse. The plant can be infused as a tea for digestion and as a sedative for nervous exhaustion. It can also help with detoxification. A wash can be made from this plant for bruising or for cooling the forehead during a fever. The leaf can be infused as a gargle for sore throats or for sores in the mouth. Dried leaves can be made into a poultice to help heal wounds. It is often included in homeopathic preparations for sinus problems. Note: One book says to use this herb with caution, one says there are no side effects or contraindications.
Continue to part 2: Yarrow
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