Taxing Taxes


Reviving gardens that grow plants for healing properties is a lost art.  Financial and political obstacles have historically been an issue. Dunstable Priory had a taxing time in the middle ages.  Henry VIII imposed a new 10% income tax on all church lands in 1534.  Dunstable’s Dominican Friary surrendered in 1536 and the Priory later surrendered on January 20th 1540.  Henry VIII  had a plan for Dunstable to be a Bishopric and convert the church into a cathedral, The plan failed and the Prior and Canons were pensioned off.

Check out my earlier post about modern health cuts…  here.

The tradition of healing gardens goes back to the Monastic culture in England.  Herbal medicines in the Middle Ages were used to treat  specific illnesses such as headache and aching joints – head pains were treated with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay; a mixture of henbane and hemlock were applied to aching joints; Coriander was used to reduce a fever. Stomach pains and sickness were treated with wormwood, mint and balm.  Lung problems were given medicine made of liquorice and comfrey. Horehound cough syrups were prescribed for chesty head colds and coughs.  Wounds were cleaned with vinegar. Mint was also used in treating venom and wounds and Myrrh was used as an antiseptic. Yarrow, or Achillea was used to treat headaches and especially battle wounds.


Dunstable have replanted a local Physic Border, or Herbarium in Priory Gardens.   Dunstable’s new Physic Border includes a wide range of plants that were grown during the medieval period to treat a variety of ailments. The border is also planted with dye plants and herbs commonly used during the period and a small area has been set aside to represent a flower mead popular at this time.  The raised beds are edged with green oak and a woven oak fence to preserve the plants for generations to come.  The beds represent the plants of the medieval period and there is information about their uses.

Traditional Medieval Medicinal plants used in Infirmary Gardens, according to local literature, are reputed to ease the following ailments:

Liver, Bladder & Kidneys

Myrtle – Urinary infections

Lovage – Cystitis and Kidney stones

Dandelion – Diuretic (Sometimes known as ‘wet the bed’ to children)



Vervain -Anti-diarrhoeic   

Yarrow – Diarrhoea, biliary colic

Pennyroyal – Antispasmodic


Coughs Colds & Flu

Elecampane -Coughs, catarrh & asthma

Mallow – Calms irritated tissue of bronchitis

Sage – Antibacterial gargle tonsillitis, laryngitis   


Headaches & Restorative Tonics

Thyme – To aid sleep in medieval times

St. John’s wort – Neuralgia, calming

English Lavender – Calming, insomnia & anti-depressive


 A typical Medieval Monastic garden is likely to have been at the Dunstable Prior between y c.1200: – c.1500 with Medicinal, Dye plants, Aromatic Herbs and a Flowery Mead.  The Medieval Monastic garden was an important place to be self-sufficient, enabling food, medicine and herbs for flavouring, healing & fragrance to be grown. Dye plants were used to colour fabric for clothes. 

As this was an infirmary garden the lawn was included because it was believed that it ‘nourished the eyes’.  Summer is a time for recreation & pleasure when everyone can enjoy the outdoors. A freshly cut lawn, in tranquil green aids contemplation. 

Read my earlier post about a local forest or more from writers presenting other lost arts here


51 thoughts on “Taxing Taxes

    • It’s made me want to empty a few old garden tubs that were on their way out and put something more medicinal in for sure! Thankfully lavendar is easy to grow as I’m not blessed with green fingers.

      Just discovered your ‘Wuthering Bites’ blog. Beautiful!


      • Lavendar in England grows so magnificently. When I was in London’s Kew Gardens a few years back I was astonished by the size of lavendar plants. Mine are quite mingey in comparison, but still lovely to have in the garden. Thanks for the comment on Wuthering Bites. I don’t really consider myself a poet but am drawn to the form for it’s concentration. I don’t have a lot of time to write and I find focusing on something small and keeping it short satisfies many urges!


      • I guess that also keep the work focussed as the results you are gaining from this process have emotional purity and clarity. Great to have a process that works whoop!


    • Good point. It’s heartening to see how some remedies never went out of fashion. I hope I can get some growing in tubs, the scent is so soothing. Maybe that’s something that may bring the healing garden closer to you?

      You have New York and that is incredible. The ‘LOVE’ street sculpture in your post is life affirming. I would love a piece of that art here!


  1. What a beautifully written piece! I recognized some of the herbs that are used in India too. Another great herb is Mint, for aiding in digestion and stomach ache.


    • I would love to visit India to learn more about how they treat ailments in a natural style. And also I would enjoy the scenery.

      There is such a clever photograph you have posted recently – the tree in the Masai Mara. It had me fooled, I didn’t spot the twist! So clever.


    • Thank you! The scents from the herbs are nice this time of year.

      The photographs on your site from your recent trip to Iceland are so evocative. I can’t wait to check back in for more armchair travel.


  2. Interesting and informative post! Isn’t society fickle? Churchmen w/ herbs were ok, but females w/ healing knowledge became known as witches?

    Anyway, if I had a green thumb, I’d create an herbaceous garden so large, I wouldn’t need a pharmacy! 🙂


  3. Lita,

    Thank you for the fabulous information and truth as to the use of herbal medicines. Imagine what it would do to the pharmaceutical companies if everyone had their own medicinal garden.



    • Pepper

      It’s a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you. I am starting to grow some mint so that should save some bills at the chemist!

      I love your Caravaggio inspired poem! What a treat to read.

      Have a beautiful weekend.



      • Lita,

        I love to garden, mixing traditional and non-traditional things together. We had a very mild winter, and with the warm nights, everything is growing like gangbusters. I must admit things are a bit wild currently in the garden, but I rather like it that way.

        Have a wonderful weekend, and enjoy your mint. As the financial tide turns your mint maybe worth more than any currency!



      • That’s an excellent point! Mint is a good investment. You too enjoy your weekend. Looking forward to all the superb poems you will be posting.


  4. Loved reading the history behind herb gardens–nicely written! We have a small herb garden, but it doesn’t contain everything we want in it. Suffice to say, we do enjoy going out there in the middle of summer and picking some choice herbs for our salads. It makes outdoor living all the more enjoyable, for sure!


    • Thanks Adelie! Yes I have been mooching around some of our local gardens on the way to places as the blooms are just perfect. Loved the beauty in your recent post about being open. Summer too inspires this feeling! Well done on your award. Hurrah!


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  6. Lovely piece. We use the odd folk remedy here and there, and you can’t beat having the herbs fresh from the garden. I so wish I had a garden that looked more medieval, but we need much more rain than we get here for that to happen.


    • This year UK has had so much rain but I guess it feeds the flower beds. Thanks for showing me the good side of those rainy days!!

      I’m looking forward to trying the tempting Chicken and Leek stew recipe you posted. The orange and lemon coconut cake is divine. You post incredible recipes and they are always super easy to follow. Looking forward to more.


      • Thank you. I’m relieved they’re easy to follow – I don’t know if you realise what good news that is. They have to be for the kids to follow them. I’m glad you enjoyed the cake, too.

        As for rain: we saw the news on your recent floods. If you still have flower beds, I guess that means you weren’t flooded out.


      • Thankfully we live on high (ish) ground but I know a lot of people had a foot of water to wake up to in their living area.

        Yes I can’t emphasise enough that once I had read the recipe with the photos it was as easy as falling off a log (in a good way!). I rarely cook and it was the simplicity of these that hooked me in. Whoop! (I have actually bought a new large pan to do more now!)


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