Herbs and Spices of the Middle Ages

A booklist

by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

Period or near-Period Sources

*An Herbal [1525] Also known as Banckes' Herbal. Author unknown, published 1525. Facsimile/transcripted edition, ed. by Larkey & Pyles. (NY: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941)

*Arano, Luis Cogliati, ed. The Medieval Health Handbook (Tacuinum Sanitatis), (NY, George Braziller, 1976) from 14th century illuminations

Bullein, William, Bulleins bulwarke of defe[n]ce againste all sicknes, sornes, and woundes, that dooe daily assaulte mankinde, whiche bulwarke is kepte with Hillarius the Gardiner, Health the Phisician, with their chyrurgian, to helpe the wounded soldiors. Gathered and practised fr¯o the moste worthie learned, bothe old and newe: to the greate comforte of mankinde: doen by Willyam Bulleyn, and ended this Marche, anno salutis 1562. Imprinted at London, by Jhon Kyngston. ( New York, Da Capo Press, 1971) Facsimile edition. STC #350.

Brunschwig, Hieronymus.  The vertuose boke of the distyllacyon of all maner of waters of the herbes in this present volume expressed. Translated by Laurence Andrew, 1510. (London: Laurence Andrew, 1527). Available as part of the Early English Books Online subscription database.

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. Published by W. Foulsham & Co, New York. ISBN: 0-572-00203-3.

Culpeper, Nicholas. The English Physician, 1657. (Made available on the Web by the Yale Medical School: http://www.med.yale.edu/library/historical/culpeper/culpeper.htm)Includes the information usually published as the Herbal, plus a number of recipes supposedly taken from the Royal College of Physicians. 

*Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos. The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides: illustrated by a Byzantine, A. D. 512; Englished by John Goodyer, A. D. 1655; edited and first printed, A. D. 1933, by Robert T. Gunther ... with three hundred and ninety-six illustrations. The canonical herbal used in the middle ages. This reproduction was taken from the oldest extant copy.

Forme of Cury, online version: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/foc/

French, John. The art of distillation. (The second edition, to which is added, The London-distiller) Printed by E. Cotes for Thomas Williams, London, 1653.

Gerard, John. Leaves from Gerard's Herball: arranged for garden lovers. edited by Marcus Woodward (Peter Smith, 1990). ISBN: 0844609714 (also available from Dover in paperback, ISBN: 0486223434). Note: any Gerard's Herbal, 1633 edition, edited by Woodward is actually an abridgement.

Gerard, John. The Herbal, or General History of Plants. (Dover, 1975) ISBN: 048623147X. This edition is actually from the 1633 edition.
Selections from the book are online at: http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?textID=gerard_selections&PagePosition=1

Gilbertus Anglicus, Compendium of Medicine. Wellcome MS 537. about 1400. Translation by Susan Wallace: http://skell.org/SKELL/compintro.htm

Hildegarde of  Bingen. Hildegard von Bingen's Physica: the complete English translation of her classic work on Health and Healing. Trans. from the Latin by Patricia Throop. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts, 1998). ISBN 0-89281-661-9 It's unclear how widely Hildegarde's prescriptions were used, and of course she was a little out of the common way in her beliefs-- but worth looking at.

Hill, Thomas. The Gardener's Labyrinth[: The first English Gardening Book]. ed. Richard Mabey. (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987) ISBN: 0-19-217763-X. Illustrated with reproductions of woodcuts & paintings from a wide variety of sources

Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Stephen Pollington, editor/author. (Norfolk, England: AngloSaxon Books, 2000). ISBN:1–898281–23–8 Includes translations of and commentary on Bald’s Third Leechbook, The Old English Herbarium, and Lacnunga

Manual de Mugeres: en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas. 16th century, translation by Karen Larsdatter: http://www.geocities.com/karen_larsdatter/manual.htm

Markham, Gervase. The English Housewife: containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman..., Chapter III: "Of distillations and their virtues, and of perfuming." first printed 1615. Published 1986 by McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal; edited by Michael R. Best. ISBN: 0-7735-0582-2. Good recipes, material on cooking and medicine.

Markham, Gervase. The English Husbandman. (NY: Garland Publishing, 1982). Originally published 1613. Agricultural and farming textbook. If you want descriptions of how to grow things and what they are good for, this is it.

A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the fourteenth century. (from  Le menagier de Paris) Trans. & edited by Tania Bayard. (NY: HarperCollins, 1991)

Le Menagier de Paris. online version of an 1844 English translation:

*Nostradamus, The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats. edited by Knut Boeser. (Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1996) ISBN: 1-55921-155-5 Yes, Nostradamus was actually a physician and only a seer part-time. Some of these cosmetic and health recipes are dangerous; use with care. 

Parkinson, John. A Garden of Pleasant Flowers: Paradisi in Sole. (NY: Dover Publications, 1991.) ISBN: 048626758X
Note: A facsimile of the 1629 book, Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris, or a Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers, which appeared pseudo-anonymously (Paradisi in Sole, after all, means Park-in-Sun). It's among the earlier printed gardening works, though slightly postperiod. Parkinson divides his work into the flowergarden and the kitchengarden, beginning each section with a discourse on general gardening, then setting forth the plants. Every plant (with multiple varieties) has an illustrating engraving, with a key at the bottom of the engraving page. Each entry gives where to plant, when it grows, names, and 'virtues'-- what it is good for and how to prepare and use it.  Some of the plants, such as tulips, and orchard varieties are definitely postperiod and/or recent imports. Combine with Hill and Tusser for gardening information.

Plat, Hugh. Delightes for Ladies. edited by Violet and Hall Trovillion from the 1627 edition. (Herrin, IL: Trovillion Private Press, 1939) Selections transcribed by Kirrily Roberts: http://infotrope.net/sca/texts/delights-for-ladies/

Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health:A Renaissance Gentleman's Discourse On food, Health, and the Physical Pleasures. translated and edited by Mary Ella Milham. Available in hardback from MRTS and paperback from Pegasus Press.  Platina was a 15th century Italian physician and gourmand who wrote this relatively slim volume of health advice while in prison. His recipes were all borrowed from Maestro Martino but his advice on what food to eat when and for what is his own, and based solidly on humoral theory. The Dr. Atkins of his time.

Porta, John Baptist. Natural Magic:  Wherein are set forth All the Riches and Delights Of the NATURAL SCIENCES. 1584. Online at: http://members.tscnet.com/pages/omard1/jportat2.html

Strabo, Walafrid. Hortulus. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. (Pittsburgh: Hunt Botanical Library, 1966)

The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine: by Monica H. Green. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).

Tusser, Thomas. His Good Points of Husbandry, 1557. Published 1931 by Country Life Limited, London; edited by Dorothy Hartley. (Some of his 500 Points of Good Husbandry are online at:; the section on herbs and plants I have transcribed: http://www.lehigh.edu/~jahb/herbs/tusser.html)

Secondary Sources:

A Medieval Herbal. (Chronicle Books, 1994) Not recommended: a 'pocket book' with a few snippets but not much useful information.

Bayard, Tania. Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers. (NY, Metropolitan Museum, 1985)Information about medieval herbs and herb gardens, specifically with reference to the gardens of the Cloisters museum in New York City. 

Blunt, Wilfrid, and Sandra Raphael. The Illustrated Herbal. (London: Frances Lincoln, 1979)

Clarkson, Rosetta. Green Enchantment: The Golden Age of Herbs and Herbalists. (New York, Macmillan, 1940). ISBN: 0-02-009 461-2.
Currently out of print but well worth the out of print search.  Includes material from examinations of period herbals and texts that no-one seems to be able to consult today. Begins with a section on the monastery garden, followed by materials on different herbs (not all of them period), flowers in the garden, and the history of gardening. The illustrations are good, and most of the material referenced is footnoted or clearly identified as to source. Excellent background material. 

Clarkson, Rosetta. Magic Gardens: A modern chronicle of herbs, and savory seeds, especially Chapters XIV - XVI. (New York: Macmillan, 1939). ISBN: 0-02-030976-7. Covering to a wonderful extent the medicinal, food, and scent uses of herbs, with a definite emphasis on history-- especially early printed books. The sections on Pomanders and on Sachets have the best documentation I have found on such things, though more original recipes are included in Rohde's _Scented Garden_. The information is clearly referenced. Some chapters are divided by herb or vegetable; others are groupings by type of material. Illustrations are very useful and apposite, and period references are included. 

Craze, Richard. The Spice Companion: the culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal uses of Spices. (Allentown, PA: People's Medical Society, 1997)

Crisp, Frank, and Catherine Childs Paterson. Mediaeval gardens; flowery medes and other arrangements of herbs, flowers, and shrubs grown in the Middle Ages, with some  account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart gardens. (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1966). The best collection of illustrations of gardens available, plus a good selection of plant lists and analyses. 

Dickson, J. H. and R.R. Mill, eds. Plants and people: economic botany in Northern Europe AD 800-1800 : symposium held at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, 24-27 September, 1993. (Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 1994) published as Botanical Journal of Scotland,  v. 46, pt. 4, 1994.

Fox, Helen Morgenthau. Gardening with Herbs for Flavor and Fragrance. (NY: Dover, 1933) A background book with some references to the middle ages and good gardening information. 

Forbes, R.J. Studies in Ancient Technology. volume III, 2nd ed.(Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1964).

Freeman, Margaret. Herbs for the Medieval Household: for cooking, healing and divers uses. (Metropolitian Museum of Art, 1943) ISBN: 0-87099-776-9 Information on period herbs, including some period recipes. 

Garland, Sarah The complete book of Herbs and Spices: an illustrated guide to growing and using culinary, aromatic, cosmetic and medicinal plants, especially chapters on "History and Traditions," "Household herbs and spices," "Distillation techniques and herb scents." (Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest, 1993). ISBN: 0-89577-499-2.

Genders, Roy. Perfume through the Ages. (New York, Putnam, 1972)
Note: Out of print, but often available in public libraries, this source has an overview of perfumes throughout the centuries. Use with caution: his recipes for medieval subtstances are usually the modern equivalent, and some of his interpretations are wrong. 

Henisch, Bridget. Fast and Feast: food in medieval society. (University Park : Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976)

Hobhouse, Penelope. Plants in Garden History: An Illustrated History of Plants and their Influence on Garden Styles from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. (London: Pavilion, 1992). Note: includes material on Islamic as well as medieval gardens. 

Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz. Polish Herbs, Flowers & Folk Medicine. (NY: Hippocrene Books, 1995)

Landsberg, Sylvia. The Medieval Garden. (NY: Thames and Hudson, 1995). An excellent summary of medieval gardens in general, with useful suggestions for re-creation. Has material about plants in medieval gardens. 

Lazzaro, Claudia. The Italian Renaissance garden :   from the conventions of planting, design, and ornament to the grand gardens of sixteenth-century Central Italy. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990) Includes beautiful pictures of extant examples of garden architecture, plans, etc., though not much on herb plants.

MacDougall, Elisabeth B., ed. Medieval gardens. [Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, IX]. (Washington, D.C. : Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1986)

Medieval Flower Garden (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1994) A good, cheap source of illustrations with decent short text. 

Moe, Dagfinn, James Dickson, and Per Magnus Jorgensen. Garden History: Garden plants, species, forms and varieties from Pompeii to 1800. Symposium held at the European University Centre for Cultural Heritage, Ravello, June 1991. PACT series, number 42, 1994.

Paterson, Wilma. A Country Cup: old and new recipes for drinks of all kinds made from wild plants and herbs. (London: Pelham Books, 1980) Primarily alcoholic beverages, and a little short on documentation, but a good 'idea book'. 

Pointer, Sally. The Artifice of Beauty: A History and Practical Guide to Perfumes and Cosmetics. (Phoenix Mill, England: Sutton Publishing, 2005) A must have for the historical herbalist. History, recipes, redactions, a wonderful appendix "A-Z of Cosmetic and Perfume Ingredients." Written by the academic author who also runs the EarlyPerfume list on Yahoogroups.

Redon, Odile and Francois Sabban. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France & Italy. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). ISBN: 0226706842

Rohde, Eleanor. The Scented Garden. (London: The Medici Society, 1931)
Not only includes an overview of a wide variety of scented garden flowers, but 1/3 of the book is a selection of recipes from various sources, many of them period or near period. 

Rohde, Eleanor. The Old English Herbals. (NY: Dover, 1989) ISBN: 048626193X A book-length bibliographic essay, with choice tidbits, on old English/British herbal publications/manuscripts. 

Stefan's Florilegium files on Perfumes:  http://www.florilegium.org/files/PERSONAL/perfumes-msg.html
Has some information on a few Arabic perfumes.

Stefan's Florilegium files on Plants, herbs and spices: http://www.florilegium.org/files/PLANTS/idxplants.html

Swahn, J.O. The Lore of Spices: Their history and uses around the world (NY: Cresent Books, 1991)

Telesco, Patricia. The Herbal Arts: A handbook of Gardening, Recipes, Healing, Crafts and Spirituality. (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1998).
Gives an overview of making a wide variety of herbal preparations, as well as a 'Multipedia' of information on various herbs including uses, history and sometimes recipes.

Telesko, Werner. The Wisdom of Nature: The Healing Powers and Symbolism of Plants and Animals in the Middle Ages. ( Prestel Publishing, 2001)

Thacker, Christopher. The History of Gardens. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979.) Includes sections on Japanese, Chinese, and Islamic gardens as well ad medieval.

Tobyn, Graeme. _Culpeper's Medicine: A Practice of Western Holistic Medicine_. (s.l.: Element Books, 1997) ISBN: 1852309431 An analysis and application of the practice of humoral and astrological medicine. Includes useful explanations of the humoral theory.

Wellcome, Henry S. Anglo-Saxon Leechcraft. (?: Rose & Nef, 1992) ISBN: 1877934046 [originally published by Wellcome, 1912) This small pamphlet describes both Anglo-Saxon surgery and some of their pharmaceutical practices. Though more medical than herbal, an essential resource for early period. 

Wilson, C. Anne. Food and drink in Britain. (Chicago : Academy Chicago Publishers, 1991) From pre-history to about the 19th century, with special attention to the middle ages and renaissance. Good information on herbs and spices used in cookery. 

Method and Safety Sources

Booth, Nancy M.  Perfumes, Splashes and Colognes. (Pownal, VT: Storey Publishing, 1997) ISBN: 0-88266-985-0 This is the book to get on making scents. Great directions for making your own, recipes (unfortunately postperiod) for familar scents, wonderful reference on fragrances in general, good instruction and theory on blending scents. 

Brown, Deni. Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses [American Horticultural Society] (NY: DK Publishing, 2001)
Dodt, Colleen K. The Essential Oils Book: Creating Personal Blends for Mind & Body. (Pownal, VT: Storey, 1996) ISBN 0-88266-913-3. A good beginning resource on aromatherapy applications and on modern medicinal uses of scent. 

Fettner, Ann Tucker. Potpourri, Incense, and Other Fragrant Concoctions. (NY: Workman, 1977) ISBN: 0911104976 Though somewhat dated, this includes good explanations of ingredients and sections on incense, candles, and even pomanders. 

* Hartshorne, Henry. The Household Cyclopedia...Published by Thomas Kelly, 1881. (Web address: http://members.xoom.com/mspong/This 19th century source includes recipes that are not now found elsewhere. However, use with caution as some of those recipes are not found elsewhere because they are dangerous! 

Heriteau, Jacqueline. Potpourris and Other Fragrant Delights. (NY: Penguin Books, 1973). Excellent book on potpourris and scent mixing, despite its datedness; even a few period recipes for other scented products. 

Lawless, Julia. The illustrated encyclopedia of essential oils: the complete guide to the use of oils in aromatherapy and herbalism. (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995) ISBN: 1-56619-990-5 Includes safety information not found elsewhere; especially for essential oils. Also gives background on, uses of, and types of extraction for each oil covered. Check oils here before using. 

McNair, James. The World of Herbs and Spices. (San Francisco: Ortho, 1978)A good beginner herb book. Includes descriptions of how to grow herbs in general, notes on growing about 100 herbs specifically (with pictures for identification), suggestions on theme gardens, a large section on using a wide variety herbs and spices (with pictures of the dried products!) and suggestions for various herb crafts and recipes. 

Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. (NY: Dorling Kindersley, 1993)
The major safety book I use when dealing with whole herbs. Very easy to use, and also gives directions-- with clear photographic illustrations-- for making various preparations. 

Ody, Penelope. Home Herbal: A practical family guide to making herbal remedies for common ailments. (NY: Dorling Kindersley, 1995). Useful primarily for the small section on making herbal remedies. Duplicates information from The Complete Medicinal Herbal.

*Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things: Jeanne Rose's Herbal, Chapters VIII, XVII, XIX. (New York: Putnam, 1972) ISBN: 0-399-50944-5. Though still in print and including a number of period recipes, this is sadly outdated and should be kept away from children (and impressionable adults!) due to some of the 70's-ish content and rather nasty illustrations. Though dangerous substances are marked, some of the recipes are even more dangerous-- and some are illegal. 

Tourles, Stephanie. The Herbal Body Book : A Natural Approach to Healthier Skin, Hair, and Nails. (Pownal, VT: Storey, 1994) ISBN: 0882668803 A good beginner's book on how to make various body/cosmetic preparations. Unfortunately, the recipes are not period but it's a good place to look for ideas. 

*Use with Caution! May not be a completely reliable  or safe source.

copyright 1998-2001, Jennifer Heise. For permission to reprint, email jenne.heise@gmail.com
Last updated: July 12, 2004 . [Jadwiga's Herb pages: http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/herbs.html]
Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout for classes in schools, herb society meetings, or classes or guild meetings in the Society for Creative Anachronism (except to corporate officers and board members of the SCA, Inc.), as long as I am notified and credited and the entire handout is used.