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)
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.