A Brief History of the Strawberry of Medieval Times
Though cultivated strawberries are enjoyed far and wide today, the strawberry did not always enjoy such wide-spread favouritism when we look back to Medieval times.
The wild strawberry – Fragaria vesca is an aggregate fruit, a sweet and edible member of the rosaceae (rose family) which flourished freely during the Medieval Period. The humble Fragaria vesca is smaller than today’s cultivated strawberries, it abounded in woods throughout Medieval Europe, but was not cultivated until the late Middle Ages and went undocumented until the 1300’s.
A Medieval History of the Humble Strawberry
- To the medieval peoples, the strawberry represented righteousness and perfection, strawberry designs were oft carved into altars and around the tops of colonnades and pillars within cathedrals and churches to symbolise these revered traits.
- Similarly, medieval artists depicted the Virgin Mary with strawberries to symbolise perfection and righteousness.
- Fresh wild strawberries plucked from the plant were primarily consumed by peasants, they were thought not to have been eaten fresh by nobility as unprepared, raw food was oft looked upon with suspicion – the upper classes believed eating fresh fruit was dangerous.
- The upper classes would only indulge in strawberries when boiled, baked, or cooked into such tasty treats as strawberry pudding, or in pottages, a primitive type of cookery enjoyed by all classes of medieval peoples. Pottages included such dishes as thick soup, porridge and stews.
- This sweet was served cooked, boiled, or baked at important events during the Middle Ages to bring about peace and prosperity.
- Pregnant women of the Medieval Period avoided eating, or touching raw, or cooked strawberries due to superstition – they feared their babies would be born with strawberry-shaped birthmarks if they were to come into contact, or nibble anything containing Fragaria vesca.
- The strawberry was used as a medicinal herb as Fragaria vesca was believed to ease sunburn pain, relieve skin blemishes, brighten discoloured teeth and cure various digestive ailments such as diarrhoea, digestive upset and gout.
- For a number of years during the High Middle ages in the 12th century, Abbess Saint Hildegard von Binger announced strawberries were not fit for eating as they grew on the ground where toads and snakes likely crept over them. Local political figures heeded her words and made similar statements discouraging the people from consuming them, amongst Europeans, this belief held for many years.
Strawberries in Medieval Norse Mythology
The strawberry was associated with the goddess Frigga, patroness of matrimony and Oden’s wife. In Norse mythology Frigga gave strawberries as a symbol to the spirits of young children who had died in infancy who would then ascend to heaven hidden within a strawberry.
The strawberry was also connected to Freyja, the Norse goddess of love and ruler of the afterlife field Fólkvangr, where half of those who die in battle end up in the Nordic afterlife (the other half reaching Valhalla). The strawberry was one of her symbols and her sacred food. In Norse myths she is depicted as knowledgeable and powerful, a captivatingly beautiful mistress to the gods, a mother, a sister, the daughter of Njörðr and wife of Óðr.
Freyja drives a chariot pulled by cats and cries tears of gold. She is associated with beauty, fertility, love, gold, war, death and a type of Norse shamanistic sorcery.
The Beginning of Strawberry Cultivation
Strawberry cultivation began sporadically in early 1300’s France, mostly within home gardens. Then in 1368, King Charles V had 1200 strawberry plants planted in his Parisian gardens at The Louvre blanketing it in a sea of red. This was followed a few years later by the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy planting a four-block area of land on their estate near Dijon with strawberries.
This humble, sweet member of the rose family came to prominence later on in the 16th century around 1560 during The Renaissance. King Henry IV’s physician Bruyerin-Champier reported English ladies had grown very fond of the strawberry and were cultivating these plants at home and indulging in strawberries and cream.
The wild strawberry was also used in medieval cooking to make strawberry wine, strawberries and cream, strawberry jams, jellies and strawberry shortcake, the
Aside from being revered as a tasty edible, the strawberry itself and depictions of the strawberry in myth and art served a number of other uses during the Medieval Period.
Visit Moreton Bay Region to Celebrate the Strawberry
The Moreton Bay Region is home to several commercialised strawberry farms, and this August 2016 locals and visitors to the region are invited to celebrate this favourite aggregate fruit at the region’s annual Strawberry Festival hosted by Sandstone Point Hotel on Saturday 20th August from 11am into the evening.