Krista’s Medieval Herb Garden
Preparation for my medieval folk medicine stall begins the day after the Abbey Medieval Festival ends.
As soon as I get back home and the trailer is unpacked, I’m in my gardens, watering and weeding my ever-expanding medieval herb garden, getting it ready for the medicines I make throughout the year to share with those who are eager to know how medieval people treated wounds, cured illnesses, performed surgery, and made false teeth.
My gardens are filled with medieval herbs. Tucked under tomatoes and around corn, hidden behind beans and towering above carrots are wormwood and mugwort, lavender and rosemary, tansy and burdock, rue and motherwort. I have a huge patch of lemongrass, dill that seeds itself everywhere, and peppermint and spearmint vying for space in the wet areas.
Marshmallow stands by the savory, dandelion and chamomile are good neighbours, and comfrey and fennel keep popping up in random places. There are galangal and ginger, turmeric and sage, thyme, parsley, rose geranium, elderflower, and so many others.
I love them all, for each one brings their own healing attributes to syrups and pastilles, balms and tinctures, pastes and tisanes.
Although some of these herbs flourish all year round, others, like basil and other tender-leafed plants, need to be harvested and preserved before the frost burns them and renders them unusable. Before each plant goes to seed, I harvest great bundles and hang them in our breezeway out of the sunlight where the autumn breezes dry them quickly. Then they’re stored in tightly sealed glass jars to keep them safe from mice, ants, and other pests.
If you came into my kitchen, you would find shelves almost to the ceiling lined with jars of dried herbs, roots, spices, and fruit. Next to them are jars of homemade apple cider vinegar and pots of raw honey, essential ingredients for so many medieval folk medicines, and baskets of fresh garlic and ginger.
There are bottles of homemade wines, apple and plum, that are delicious and nourishing when infused with herbs, flowers, spices, and dried fruit. You’ll also find a heady collection of whole spices and cloudy jars of tinctures made by steeping large amounts of dried herb material in vodka or brandy to draw out the essential elements.
The wonderful thing about many of the medieval folk medicines is that they’re still effective today. We use them regularly at home, brewing up pots of elderflower and yarrow tea to combat flu symptoms, mixing a luscious wine and date paste to treat stomach upset, and simmering bottles of spiced elderberry cordial to keep colds at bay. I make hawthorn syrup to keep our hearts strong, spicy digestive pastilles to support our digestive systems, and rosemint pastilles to open up sinuses.
Krista Bjorn is an artist, author, and photographer based on her hobby farm in Southern Queensland. Krista and her husband are part of the reenactment group Blackwolf, where they reenact the life of a 12th Century trader caravan and make medieval food, medicines, and furniture, as well as take part in amazing demonstrations at the Abbey Medieval Festival and other reenactment events.