What are we growing ?




photograph showing the yellow flowers of 'Agrimonia euphoria'

Yellow flowers of Agrimony (Agrimonia euphoria)

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)

Known in ancient times as a plant that offered a cure for eye complaints, it is depicted in a mediaeval herbal dating from around 1000 A.D. now in the Bodleian library. The parts of the plant are illustrated in  Thomé's Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885.

It was often found growing wild and was sometimes introduced into the infirmary garden. It was an all-purpose plant. It could be added to wine or distilled in water as a cure for stomach complaints. It was also applied as a poultice to clean wounds, while its dried flowers and leaves with their turpentine-like smell would add fragrance which was claimed could assist sleep.

As the plant contained tannin it would also be used in the dyeing of linen and in the manufacture of leather.

Alecost or Costmary

Photograph of Alecost Costmary

Tanacetum balsamita also known as 'Costmary'

Alecost or Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita)

Tradition has it that this herb provided the scent for the balsam that Mary Magdalene used to wash Jesus’ feet and was therefore sometimes called by its other name ‘Sweet Mary’. It was also called ‘Bible Leaf’ as its leaves were sometimes used to mark pages in the Bible.

Its other name was Tansy, derived from its Latin botanical name Tanacetum. Tansy cakes made from eggs and Tansy juice were sometimes made and eaten in Lent.

This plant was used to treat indigestion and bowel disorders, but could also serve as an addition to sauces and salads. The ‘Alecost’ in its title indicates its other use in the brewing of ale. It is a rare herb, introduced from southern Europe.

The plant was widely grown in Elizabethan knot gardens. Nicolas Culpeper's herbal recommends that "the seed is given to children for worms, and so is the infusion of flowers in white wine, about two ounces at a time."



Apothecary Rose

Photograph of Rosa Gallica officinalis

Rosa Gallica officinalis

Apothecary Rose (Rosa gallica)

The red ‘gallica rosa’,’gallica officinalis, was introduced into Provence during the time of the Crusades.  It produced the petals which when dried gave a strong highly- scented perfume. This was the rose which became the emblem of the House of Lancaster and became incorporated into the Tudor rose. The rose emblem therefore appears everywhere carved in stone and wood or depicted in mediaeval illuminated manuscripts.

The petals of the Apothecary Rose were used to sweeten jams and puddings, while the hips were used to produce syrup which could be used to disguise the flavour of more unpleasant medicines. Rosehips were added to honey to make a jam called ‘Melrosette’. Rose water was often used as a lotion to soothe sore eyes. The other rose growing here is Rosa gallica versicolour, also known as Rosa mundi.


Photograph of flowering head of Mentha suaveolens

Flowering head of Mentha suaveolens

Applemint (Mentha suaveolens)

This particular variety of mint adds yet another flavour that the kitchen gardener could use in cooking. The leaves can be used to make apple mint jelly.

It was popularly known as ‘Monk’s Herb’ because it was mainly found in Infirmary gardens. 

It was used to add flavour to drinks to assist digestion and bowel complaints.

It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years throughout the world, including Africa, Asia and Europe.  In Spain it is known as hierbabuena, literally 'good herb'.


Photograph of bay (Laurus nobilis)

Photo: Tuen Spaans via Wikimedia Commons

Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Bay was used to make the traditional laurel wreath and garlands worn by victors in the ancient world.  Bay was also grown as a decorative evergreen tree, and Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries seized three loads of bay from the gardens of the Carthusian monastery  of Charterhouse in London to replant in his own garden at Hampton Court. The leaves of the Bay are used to add flavour to stews and soups, while at Tudor banquets a boar's head would be served wrapped in bay leaves, with sprigs of rosemary in its ears and a roasted pippin (apple) stuffed in its gaping mouth. Bay leaves were also used as  ‘strewing herbs’ to sprinkle on the floors to disguise odours.

Bellflower see Nettle-leaved Bellflower


Photograph of Betony (Stachys officinalis) in flower

Betony in flower

Betony (Br. Betonica officinalis) (Stachys officinalis)

Betony was another cure-all herb.  It could be used in syrup or as an ointment to cure a multitude of complaints ranging from palsy to headaches and shortness of breath.

A drink made from honey and Betony was taken to aid digestion.

In Roman times a whole treatise was written about this plant by Antonius Musa, physician to the Emperor Augustus.

Biting Stonecrop

Photograph of bright yellow flowers of Biting Stonecrop plant

Bright yellow flowers of Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre)

Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre)

This is the common stonecrop found throughout the country. The term ‘biting’ simply refers to the bitter taste of the leaves, which contain substances which are poisonous.


Photograph of Blackthorn berries

Berries or sloes of the Blackthorn

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

The Blackthorn or ‘Sloe-bush’ leaves made a good mouthwash for throat infections, while drinks made from the berries were good for stomach and bowel pain.

Blue Flag Iris see Iris


Photograph of blue Borage officinalis flowers

Distinctive blue flowers of Borage officinalis

Borage (Borago officinalis)

The name Borage may be derived from the Celtic word borrach meaning ‘glad courage’.

It was added to wine and was considered good for strengthening the heart. It was used to soothe sore throats and was excellent in curing bronchial and chest complaints.


Photograph of the bugle plant in flower

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) in flower

Bugle (Ajuga reptans)

The flowers and leaves of this plant mixed with wine were used to treat bruises and wounds.

When mixed with honey and alum it was also used as a treatment for mouth ulcers.



Flowering catmint

Flowering catmint

Catmint (Nepeta cataria)

Catmint or ‘Nep’ was often grown in flower borders but like all the mint family was used in cooking. When used in ointments it was used to relieve piles.

The plant is also known as catswort. It is a herbaceous perennial growing to between 61-91cms tall.  Apart from its medicinal use, it is an insect repellent in gardens, particularly against aphids.


Photograph of wild celery

Wild celery (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apium_graveolens3.jpg)

Celery (Apium graveolens)

Wild celery has an alternative name, ‘Small Ache’, due to its medicinal properties.

Celery juice was used to bind plasters and dressings. It was grown and used as a salad plant.

Camomile see Roman Camomile


Photograph of chervil

Kurt Stüber [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

Chervil or 'Garden Chervil', was probably brought to Britain by the Romans and is found in both kitchen and infirmary gardens.  It was used in the kitchen to flavour sauces and stews, and in the infirmary as a diuretic. Used as an infusion it would aid circulation and as a poultice would ease rheumatism.


Photograph of chicory in flower

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) Wikimedia Commons

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Together with Endive, this herb was known as ‘Succory’ and was given as a laxative.

The juice was taken in milk and water to help the digestion and to treat gallstones.

The leaves were sometimes boiled and then wrapped in poultices to reduce inflammation. In the kitchen it was used in salads and in herbal custard.


Photograph of bed of flowering chives

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives have been used in cooking since ancient times, but as a medicinal herb they were used mainly to aid digestion.

They were grown in kitchen gardens as they discouraged carrot-fly and when planted near roses were said to prevent blackspot.


Close-up of coriander flowers

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

Coriander is mentioned in the Bible as being like the manna provided by God to the Israelites in the wilderness. It was probably introduced into this country by the Romans.

In mediaeval times there was a drink called ‘Hippocras’, named after the Greek physician Hippocrates.

The oil from the seeds was prized as an additive to jams and preserves, while its leaves added flavouring to stews


By Alvals, via Wikimedia Commons

Cowslip (Primula veris)

The cowslip is also known by the name of ‘Peterkeys’ or ‘Peterwort’, or ‘Our Lady’s Keys’ as its flowers were said to look like bunches of keys and associated with the keys of heaven held by St Peter.

It was used to treat palsy, hence its further name ‘Palsywort’ . As it was also believed to offer a cure for cramp it was therefore administered during childbirth.

Creeping Thyme

Close-up of flowering thyme

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) (see also Thyme)

The Roman author Pliny recommended Creeping Thyme as a cure for snake-bites and headaches.

Oil from Thyme was added to oil of Lavender to treat muscle pains. It was also commonly used to add flavour to food.


Close-up of daisy head

Daisy head. By André Karwath, via Wikimedia Commons

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Daisies often appear as decorative flowers in illustrated manuscripts and were more often associated with private gardens, and may well have adorned the garden of the Prior.

As a medicinal plant perhaps found growing wild or cultivated in the infirmary garden its juice when drunk was used to ease chest wounds and cure mouth ulcers.

When applied as an ointment the daisy flower was believed to reduce inflammation and improve complexion


Photograph of a drift of dill growing in a garden bed

Dill by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Dill appears as one of the vegetables to be planted in the monastic vegetable garden at St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The name ‘dill’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘to lull’, and Dill water was often given to babies to help them sleep.

It was grown in the kitchen garden as its leaves were used to spice fish dishes and stews, and its flowers attracted bees to the hives which were scattered throughout the monastic gardens to ensure a ready supply of honey for both medicinal and kitchen use.


Photograph of clump of Inule helenium

By Eugene van der Pijll, via French Wikipedia

Elecampane or Horseheal (Inula helenium)

Known and used by the ancients, this plant contains an antiseptic which makes it useful in the application of surgical dressings.

All parts of this plant were used to make powders, syrups and infusions. Its roots were used in making cakes and sweets to tempt, perhaps, monks who were too sick to eat.

Because of its tall habit it was often grown against the walls of the herb garden.

English Lavender (see Lavender)


Full-height image of Fennel in flower

By Alvesgaspar, via Wikimedia Commons

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

This plant is often mentioned in Anglo-Saxon herbals and has a variety of uses. It was used as a laxative, for easing stomach aches, and, when mixed with the seeds of other herbs and plants - Rose, Vervain, Rue and Celandine - would be used as an eye-wash.

Sprigs of Fennel and other aromatic flowers and herbs were used to decorate Refectories to remove odours, while floors of churches were sometimes strewn with fennel and other herbs.

It was also used as a kitchen herb.


A bed of Feverfew in bloom

By H. Zell, via Wikimedia Commons

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

As its name suggests it is associated with reducing fevers and curing headaches, and when made into syrup with honey eased winter coughs. It was also used in midwifery.

As insects in gardens disliked it, it was often used as an insecticide.  


Photograph of a field of flax in flower in Belgium

By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, via Wikimedia Commons

Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax fibre was used in the production of yarn, rope and linen cloth and also dressings.

The growing of flax is well documented in mediaeval gardening and was often grown on a commercial scale by some monasteries.


Drift of blue Forget-me-Nots

By Harald Hoyer, Schwerin via Wikimedia Commons

Forget-me-Not (Myosotis)

In her book ‘Physica: On Health and Healing’, the 12th century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen was dismissive of the healing properties of this plant and claimed that if one was to eat it ‘it would do no more harm than good’.


Close-up of Foxglove flowering spikes

By Jens Florian via Wikimedia Commons

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

In the 13th century Welsh physicians used it as treatment for Scrofula ("King's Evil"), a disease which mediaeval Kings were reputed to be able to cure simply by touch.

However some herbalists considered Foxgloves to be of no beneficial use.

Foxgloves contain substances which have been used in the treatment of heart disease but the plant itself is highly toxic.

Good King Henry

Photograph of the leaves of Good King Henry

Wikimedia Commons Chenopodium_bonus-henricus.JPG

Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus Henricus)

The ‘Goosefoot’ plant was popularly known as ‘Good Henry’, or ‘Good King Henry’, but whether the ‘Henry’ was King Henry IV of France or one of the English Henry’s is not known.

It was also known by the name of ‘All-Good’, given that it was supposed to cure all ills.

Its leaves were often boiled and eaten like spinach, while applied as a poultice was used as a treatment for ulcers.

Greater Celandine

Flowering Greater Celandine

By Bogdan, via Wikimedia Commons

Greater Celandine (Chelidonium major)

Celandine juice was used in the middle ages to heal eye complaints, and when mixed with honey and ale drunk as a cure for jaundice.

The dye from the flowers would be mixed with egg yolk to produce a gold paint used in painting and in the illumination of manuscripts

Greater Plantain

Photograph of Plantago Major

By H Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Greater Plantain  (Plantago major)

Common in the wild this plant was more usually known by the name of ‘Waybread.’

It was used in cookery, as its name suggests, and eaten with honey. Its flowers were used in ointments to treat wounds and sores. The juice was supposed to ease pain from bruises while the leaves cooked with Mallow would assist healing.  

Hildegard von Bingen recommended its use to reduce swollen glands.


Close-up of white pink-centred Hawthorn flowers

By Eugene Zelenko via Wikimedia Commons

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacanthoides replaced by Crataegus monogyna)

Common Hawthorn, with its sharp thorns, was often used to enclose gardens to keep unwelcome animals out.

It was a common hedging plant when open fields were enclosed or when arable land was converted to pasture, a practice which caused considerable social problems in the 16th century.

Midland hawthorn, (Crataegus laevigata), is similar and often found in ancient oak woodlands in the south and midlands.


Close-up of catkins on a hazel tree

By André Karwath via Wikemedia Commons

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Nut trees were only cultivated in large orchards because of their size. Nuts from various species would grow commonly in woods and forests, but the right to collect or pick them was often retained the landowner.

Hazel nuts were cultivated but were not as highly valued as walnuts or almonds or sweet chestnuts.


Close-up of the Heartease flower

By Jorg Hempel, via German Wikipedia

Heartsease (Viola tricolor)

Heartsease, a member of the pansy family of plants, was used in ancient times as a medicine.

It was made into syrup to treat coughs and to treat fevers.

Hemp Agrimony

Leaves and tlowering head of Hemp Agrimony

By Kurt Steuber via Wikimedia Commons

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Not to be confused with Agrimony or Hemp it is sometimes known as ‘Church Steeples’ or ‘Sticklewort’.

The Anglo-Saxons used it to treat wounds, but it was also used to treat indigestion and diarrhoea, or in a mouthwash for treating sore throats and coughs.

Herb Robert

Flower and leaves of Herb Robert

By Sannse, via Wikimedia Commons

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Herb Robert is associated with Saint Robert of Molesme, founder of the Cistercians, who it is claimed used this herb to treat victims of the plague.

It was also used to staunch bleeding, and was also used to treat kidney disorders.  When crushed it has an unpleasant odour, hence its popular name of ‘Stinking Robert’.


Close-up of a swag of hops on the vine

By Dr Hagen Graebner via Wikimedia Commons

Hop (Humulus lupulus)

Ale and wine were the staple drinks in medieval times. Every monastery would probably have its own brewery where the Cellarer would brew beer or ale. Ale was made from malted barley, while a weaker ale was made using herbs such as Tansy, Yarrow, Bog Myrtle or Ground Ivy (Alehoof). Wild hops are known to have existed in England since prehistoric times, while The Graveney Boat which was found buried in the mud in Kent and dated to c 950. A.D.  had a cargo of hops. The Benedictine monks of Corbie in Picardy had used hops for brewing, and it is possible that the monks at Canterbury also knew of this use, but the evidence is inconclusive. Hops had a variety of uses, one of which was as a dye, and the use of hops in beer does not appear to have definitely taken place before the late 14th century.  Hildegard von Bingen knew that hops acted as a preserving agent and recorded that they added a bitter flavour to dishes.

Eventually lay people began to make their own beer and the Guild of Our Lady and St Thomas Becket in Kent became the first such corporation or association to manufacture beer commercially. Many parish churches later produced their own ‘church ales’.


Photograph of Horsemint flower spike

By Michael Becker via Wikimedia Commons

Horsemint (Mentha longifolia)

Nicholas Culpeper’s ‘Herbal’ refers to Horsemint found growing in ditches and which is common throughout the country.

Culpeper claimed it was useful for treating ‘wind in the stomach’ among other complaints. It is included here as a strewing plant to deter mice and rats.

In some parts of the country Water Mint (menthe aquatica) is sometimes called Horsemint or Lilac-flower, but proper Water Mint, sometimes called ‘Bishops Weed’, was praised by John Gerard in his sixteenth century ‘Herbal’ for its delicate smell.


Close-up of the flower of the Houseleek

By Malene Thyssen via Wikimedia Commons

Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum)

Its botanical name ‘Sempervivum’ meaning ‘always living’ suggests religious connotations in monastery gardens.

It was used to treat an ancient medical condition, St Anthony’s Fire, and the juice was said to ease headaches.

As a common plant found growing on and around walls it had many medicinal uses.


Photograph of adrift of Hyssop

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

In the Bible it appears in the Book of Psalms (Psalm 51) -‘Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’, and was therefore regarded as a purificatory herb. It was used to cleanse leper hospitals and might well have been used in the hospital of St Nicholas in Lewes. As a medicine it was used as a purgative.

It was mixed with wine and syrup and drunk as a remedy for catarrh or chest complaints.

Hyssop was also used by the monks at Chartreuse in the manufacture of their famous Chartreuse and Benedictine liqueur.


By Boreal, via Wikimedia Commons

Iris (Iris versicolor)

The roots of this plant provided the monks with the compound for producing their writing ink.

In the 14th and 15th centuries it was also mixed with alum to produce a dye.

The flower was also used medicinally to treat a variety of complaints, including respiratory disorders. The flowers were often used to decorate churches.

Jacob's Ladder

Picture of the flower of Jacob's Ladder

By 'Bff' via Wikimedia Commons

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)

This plant was known to the ancient Greeks. Its name, as with many plant names, suggests religious and biblical associations.

It was used in the treatment of toothache and also of dysentery.

Lady's Bedstraw

Close-up of the flower head of Lady's Bedstraw

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum)

This plant, like Lady’s Mantle, was used as a coagulant, or as a strewing plant to repel vermin, and, as its name implies, for soft bedding.

Lady's Mantle

Photograph of Lady's Mantle herb

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris/xanthochlora)

This plant is so-called because the shape of of its leaves were said to resemble that of the cloak worn by the Virgin Mary as depiected in mediaeval images. This plant was used in the treatment of wounds to stop bleeding and as an antiseptic and was widely used on battlefields.  As such it may well have been used in the treatment of injured soldiers here in the Priory after the Battle of Lewes in 1264.


Photograph of Lavender in a garden bed

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Lavender  (Lavandula x intermedia)

Hildegard von Bingen wrote a whole treatise on Lavender in the 12th century such was its usefulness and value as an aromatic plant. Lavender produced an oil that could be used in perfumes and Lavender water was regarded as a good tonic for heart disease and as an antiseptic.

Lavender was used in cooking as flavouring and as an additive to stews. Its dried aromatic flowers were often strewn on the floors of churches and houses as it was believed the fragrance could prevent the spread of plague.

It was a favourite plant in herb gardens because it was attractive to bees, which were needed for pollination and for making honey in the monastic hives.

Lemon Balm

Photograph of Lemon Balm leaves

By Nabokov via Wikimedia Commons

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm with its distinct lemon aroma was said to “driveth away all sadness”. The dried leaves could be added to cordials and wines to add flavour.

The juice of Lemon Balm also provided a coating for surgical dressings, while John Evelyn, the diarist, who lived for a while in Southover Grange in Lewes, claimed that it had a calming effect on the heart.?

Lesser Periwinkle

Close-up of Vinca Minor flowers

By Algirdas via Italian Wikipedia

Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

?Reputedly brought to this country in Roman times, this plant was reputed to stop bleeding, and it was added to wine as a concoction.

Its botanical name ‘Vinca’ meaning ‘chain’ reveals its symbolic associations and thus its more popular use as decorative foliage in funeral wreaths.


Close-up of the flower head of Lovage

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

The celery flavour and scent of this plant made it a common addition to stews and beverages.

It was common in monastic gardens and, because it was often added to beer, was also popular in the gardens of innkeepers.


Close-up of the Lungwort flower

By Hectonichus via Wikimedia Commons

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

Sometimes known as ‘Cowsloppus of Jerusalem’ its name indicates that Lungwort was commonly used to treat diseases of the lung.


Flowers and leves of Lychnis

By Kurt Stuber via Wikimedia Commons

Lychnis (Lychnis chalcedonica)

Lychnis was reputedly brought to Europe from the Holy Land during the crusades by Louis IX of France and it was therefore often known by its other name of ‘Jerusalem Cross’.

The flowers were used in decorative garlands and to produce a dye.


Maple leaves and flower

By Sten Porse via Wikimedia Commons

Maple/Field Maple (Acer campestre)

The maple tree’s bark was often used to make church furnishings, while a concoction made from the leaves and bark was said to strengthen the liver.


Marigold flowers

By Wildfeuer via Wikimedia Commons

Marigold (Calendula officinalis)

The name of this flower in the mediaeval period was ‘St Mary’s Gold’ and it was considered to offer protection against the plague.

When mixed with grease or fat it would be used to dress cuts and wounds.

The flowers were used in stews as a form of pepper, or added to salads. It was sometimes used as a substitute for the more costly saffron.

Majoram see Wild Marjoram


By Tran Kham via Wikimedia Commons

Mint  (Mentha)

Mint was known from Biblical times and was used in cooking and to produce camphor oil used for its aroma. John Gardener includes it in his work.

All varieties of mints were used in sauces and to add flavour to dishes. ‘Apple-mint’ was also known as ‘Monks Herb’ due to the fact that it was less common than other members of the mint family and because it was associated with monastic infirmary gardens where it was used in the infirmary to add flavour to cordials to aid digestion and bowel complaints.

Culpeper only describes ‘Spearmint’ or ‘Heart mint’ and attributes many uses to it.


Photograph of Motherwort by Teun Spaans

Photo: Teun Spaans, via Wikimedia Commons

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

‘Cardiaca’ in its botanical name provides the clue to its medicinal use in medieval times as a treatment for heart trembling and convulsions. It was mixed with wine and given to women in labour to reduce cramps, hence its popular name ‘motherwort’.


Photograph of full-height flowering Mullein

Source: User 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

The long stems of Great Mullein were sometimes used as wicks and dipped in wax to make torches carried in religious ceremonies and processions.

The leaves could also be dried and the oil they produced rubbed onto poultices to reduce inflammation.

Mullein had medicinal properties as a diuretic and as a treatment for gout.

Nettle-leaved Bellflower

Nettle-leaved Bellflower photograph

Source: User TeunSpaans, via Wikimedia Commons

Nettle-leaved Bellflower (Campanula trachelium)

This plant has many folk-names, including Our Lady’s Bells, because of its colour and bell-shaped flowers. It was also known as ‘Throatwort’ because it was believed to have beneficial properties in treating sore throats.

It is also known by another name, ‘Bats-In-The-Belfry’, showing again how many of our plants have religious connotations in folk tradition.


Photograph of parsley

By H Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

In ancient times Garden Parsley was used to decorate tombs being associated with Persephone and resurrection.

On the continent it was commonly found in all kitchen and infirmary gardens but was probably introduced into this country only in the middle of the 16th century. Hildegard von Bingen gives various medicinal recipes for it. It was often mixed with wine, vinegar and honey as a diuretic. Mixed with Rue and oil it was used to treat gout. Mixed with Fennel, Sage and rose-tinted olive oil it was applied to limbs to relieve any paralysis.

It could also be mixed with Fennel roots and honey and made into a jam or added to animal fat and used to flavour meat.


Photograph of Pennyroyal

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)

As an ointment this was believed to cure eye complaints.  Consumed with honey and vinegar or oil it was used as a cure for stomach disorders and to cure constipation.

It had a valuable use as an insect repellent, and was frequently strewn over beds and clothes to repel fleas.


Photograph of the primrose

By Velela via Wikimedia Commons

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

This native flower was also known as ‘The Easter Rose’ because it often flowered in early Spring.

The leaves of the primrose were used as an ointment to heal wounds and it was also added to wine as a cure for palsy.

Roman Camomile

Photograph o Roman Chamomile

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Roman Camomile (Chamaemelum mixtum)

Associated with St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, Camomile was often used as a strewing plant as it gave off a sweet smell when crushed under foot.

It was well-known in ancient times as a medicinal herb. The flowers were used to make sedatives, and chamomile oil was used to perfume baths. It was grown and valued by Infirmarers as it was said that it could revive other plants grown in its vicinity.

Rose see Apothecary Rose


Sprigs of Rosemary

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Rosemary  (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary came to this country in the 14th century. It was associated with remembrance and friendship and was therefore placed on bodies of the dead or thrown into graves at funerals.  Because of its aromatic properties it was sometimes burnt in churches as incense, or strewn on the floors. In some places it was used to stir the water at christenings .It was rubbed into the scalp or used in a paste to clean the teeth.

John Evelyn said that rosemary leaves dipped in wine made a soothing treatment for his eyes. It was a favourite herb used in cookery to flavour sauces and meat.


Close-up of Sage leaves and flowers

By Wildfeuer, via Wikimedia Commons

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage’s Latin name, ‘Salvia’ from the word Salveo, ‘I am well’, indicates its medicinal properties.

Brought to Britain in Roman times it was recorded as growing in gardens here by the 13th century.

When mixed with vinegar it was supposed to cleanse the body of pestilence. More generally it would be mixed with Rosemary, Plantain and wine as a gargle. It was also used to treat fevers and coughs.

St John's Wort

Close-up of te flower of St John's Wort

By C T Johansson via Wikimedia Commons

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

The plant was dedicated to St John the Baptist and on 23rd June, his feast day, garlands of this plant were used to decorate doors and windows as they were believed to offer protection against the devil.

The Church of St John the Baptist in Southover, which was once the Guest House of the Priory, would perhaps have been decorated with this plant on the Saint’s Day. 

The red juice produced from the leaves was said to represent the blood of St John from whom its healing properties in treating wounds and bleeding was derived.

Salad Burnet

Photograph of Great Burnet or Salad Burnet

Source: www.mijntuin.org

Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)

This was similar to Borage and its cucumber flavour made it a useful addition to salads. 

As a medicinal herb it was supposed to help in the treatment of wounds and digestive disorders.


Close-up of Snowdrop

By André Karwath, via Wikimedia Commons

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)

In the Middle Ages these flowers were known as ‘Candlemas Bells’, partly because of their bell-like flowers and also because Candlemas Day was celebrated on February 2nd which was a feast of purification.

Associated with the Virgin Mary and purity they are often found in monastic gardens and would often be used to decorate Lady Chapels. They may have been introduced into this country in the 15th century from Italy.

St Francis of Assisi regarded snowdrops as symbolic of hope.


Image of Sorrel plant and leaves

By Burschik via Wikimedia Commons

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

The juice of this plant was used as vinegar and the plant itself eaten as a vegetable.

Its medicinal properties acted as a tonic for the heart and as a diuretic and treatment for bowel complaints.


Photograph of the Southernwood plant

By André Karwath aka via Wikimedia Commons

Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

This relative of Wormwood was originally introduced from southern Europe. The leaves of this plant were used as a dressing for wounds and to treat fevers.


Photograph of Spearmint plant

By Evelyn Simak on www.geograph.uk

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Mint was supposedly strewn on synagogue floors in Biblical times, and was later a herb dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

As with all mints used extensively in cooking, Spearmint like other mints produced oil that was taken by infusion to loosen the bowels.

Sweet Cicely

Copyright: Swan-Scot's photo stream, Flickr

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

It was the plant associated with St.Cecilia. It was supposed to offer protection against the plague or pestilence. Also known as ‘Garden Myrrh'  the plant was often strewn on church floors to add fragrance. 

As a culinary herb it added its aniseed flavour to dishes, while the leaves were added as a garnish for salads and to cook sour fruit. It was one of the herbs used by Benedictine monks to make Chartreuse.

It is similar in appearance to Hemlock which is extremely poisonous and therefore it is important to identify this plant correctly.

Sweet Violets

Photograph of Sweet Violets

By Strobilomyces via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet Violets (Viola odorata)

?Violets were associated with the Virgin Mary and with purity and humility. The petals of this delicate flower were considered to be an emetic and purgative.

Their fragrance and delicate habit meant that violets were cultivated in gardens and the flowers used to decorate dishes particularly on saints days.

The plant is often depicted in pictures of Paradise Gardens and associated with monastic cemeteries, probably because they can often be found growing wild in such places.

Sweet Woodruff

Photograph of Sweet Woodruff

By Kurt Stuber via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Woodruff was often made into decorative garlands to decorate churches on St Barnabas Day and on St Paul’s Day, and used as a strewing herb to freshen the air.

It was also used in cordials to cure liver complaints.


Image of Tansy flowers, also known as Feverfew

Tansy. Photo: Vsion, via Wikimedia Commons

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

This bitter plant was used in cooking and Tansy cakes made with Tansy and eggs were eaten just before Easter, and the leaves used in sauces.

The plant itself was used as an insect repellent.

As a gargle it helped relieve mouth ulcers and treat other sores.


Close-up of Thyme flowers

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Although this herb was common in Europe and cultivated here by the 16th century it does not appear to have been as widely used as Marjoram in cookery.

It was believed to have antiseptic properties. In an Anglo-Saxon manuscript of the 10th century it appears under the name ‘serpulum’ ‘serpent-like’ because of its creeping habit.


Phjotograph of a flowering head of Valerian

By Kurt Stuber via Wikimedia Commons

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Recommended as a treatment for pleurisy, Valerian was known as ‘Heal-All’, which indicates its general medicinal qualities.

It was recommended for the treatment of bruises and convulsions. Its unpleasant odour and taste meant that Valerian was not popular in kitchen gardens, though it is included in the Fromond list of herbs as one that is cultivated for pottage.


Close-up of Verbena flower

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)

Hildegard von Bingen recommended a poultice of this plant as a treatment for ulcers, and Infirmarers grew it for its scent, but being common in the wild it was not widely cultivated.


Photograph of a bed of Violets

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Violets (Violaceae)

Used with Cowslips, Violet flowers were used to colour and flavour dishes, and were often used as a decorative and delicate plant in paradise gardens and flower gardens.


Photograph of Wallflowers

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri)

Wallflowers were known as ‘Heartsease’’ because of their association with curing heart complaints.

The flowers were associated with faithfulness, and monks were known to wear wallflower crowns or carry wallflowers in religious processions.

Wallflowers can often be seen growing on the flint walls around the herb garden and the site itself, though less profusely now that the priory site has been cleaned and conserved. Hopefully they will return to add their colour and scent to these beautiful remains.

Wall Germander

Wall Germander photograph

By Franz Xaver via Wikimedia Commons

Wall Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)

This herb was used to treat fevers and ailments of the digestive system.

The ancient physicians believed that if taken with honey it would relieve coughs, or if applied with oil would relieve eye complaints.

White Deadnettle

Photograph of White Deadnettle flowers

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

White Deadnettle (Lamium album)

Young nettle leaves would be cooked and eaten like spinach, while the older leaves would be applied to wounds to stop bleeding.

Nettles were added to wines for general medicinal purposes.

White Horehound

Image of White Horehound flower spike

By Kurt Stuber via Wikimedia Commons

White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

Taken with honey this plant was used as a cure for asthma and colds. Its leaves were used to treat and heal sores.

It was used in cordials and in beers, but despite its sweet musk-like scent had a bitter taste.

Wild Marjoram

Photograph ofWild Marjoram

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Wild Marjoram (now Origanum vulgare)

Medieval herbalists used the oil of Marjoram to ease rheumatic pain, while it was also regarded as a preventative against sickness. When added to honey as a drink it was used to treat headaches, while as an infusion it was used to treat sore throats.

Before the widespread use of hops Marjoram was used in beer making.  In cookery it was used to flavour stews and meat, or was added to salads.

Its sweet aroma also meant that it was commonly used as a strewing herb in churches. It is often found growing in graveyards and if it was found growing on a grave folk tradition says that the departed person is happy!

Wild Strawberry

Flowers of the wild strawberry

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Strawberries were cultivated as a delicacy in the gardens of the well-to-do and appear in records in the 13th century.

Hildegard von Bingen claimed they had no use as a medicinal plant, but their delicious and delicate flavours meant that they may well have graced the tables of the Prior on special occasions.

Winter Savory

Photograph of Winter Savory

By Kurt Stuber via Wikimedia Commons

Winter Savory (Satureja Montana)

Of the two types of Savory, ‘Winter’ and ‘Summer’, ‘Summer Savory’ with its mild aroma was considered the best but was difficult to cultivate. Herbalists therefore often preferred ‘Winter Savory’.

Hildegard von Bingen recommended this herb cooked with Pears,  Fennel and Liquorice as a cure for migraines from which she was known to suffer.


Flowering woad

By Pethan via Wikimedia Commons

Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Woad is familiar to people as the plant that produced the blue dye with which, according to Julius Caesar, the ancient Britons painted themselves.

In mediaeval times the plant was pulped and drained and the residue kneaded into balls and then dried and reduced to a powder from which the blue dye was produced.

As a medicinal plant it was used in the treatment of St Anthony’s Fire and for ointments used to treat sores and ulcers.


Close-up of flowering Wormwood

By H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

This plant’s name reveals its use as a treatment for worms, and was often given to relieve constipation.

Tradition maintained that it was found on the path taken by the serpent in the Garden of Eden and that its bitter taste comes from this association with the Devil.

‘Absinthe’ comes from this plant, and the Biblical reference to being “drunken with wormwood”  suggests that its use as an intoxicant was known at that time.


Photograph of the Yarrow plant

By O. Pichard, via Wikimedia Commons

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow was an ancient herb believed to be the herb used by the Greek hero Achilles to heal the wounds of Greeks injured during the Trojan War. Because of its healing properties in treating wounds and stemming bleeding it was also known as ‘Woundwort’, ‘Sanguinary’ and ‘Knyghten Milfoil’.

The French knew it as ‘The Carpenter’s Herb’ as it was used by carpenters to stem the flow of blood if they cut themselves.