According to Teresa McLean in her wonderful book Medieval English Gardens, herbs were grown side by side with vegetables and flowers in common kitchen gardens of the medieval period. Larger estates and monasteries often had separate herb gardens, that were very well organized and full of herbs of many uses (including medicinal). In this section I will focus on common herbs of the Medieval period that could have been found in many cottage gardens.
Clary (Salvia verbenaca) is a type of wild sage that is native to England.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) was “used to make pickles that sharpened up broths and pottages” (McLean 178) and was widely used by the 15th century.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) was infrequently grown in cottage gardens, but was extremely useful. It was often grown next to Rue.
Betony (Stachys officinalis) was considered a cure-all, and I imagine in the cottage gardener could cultivate only one medicinal herb it would be this.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) was used to flavor foods and its seeds were used to aid digestion.
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) was widely grown and at times was collected as part of peasants rent.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was “grown in infirmary, herb and kitchen gardens all through the medieval period” (McLean 184). This plant had many uses, and was much appreciated for its scent.
Pot/ Winter Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) was grown in kitchen gardens for its use in pottage’s. This plant also attracted bees.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulogium) was the favorite mint in medieval times, because it is very strong. Other mints were also grown, including spearmint, water mint and corn mint.
Black mustard (Brassica nigra) grown in both herb and mixed kitchen gardens.
Parsley (Petroselium crispum) was extremely popular, growing in “every single kitchen and infirmary garden too” (McLean 188).
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) was a common cottage garden plant and was often found planted next to Fennel, Coriander and Angelica.
Fragrant tansy/tansy balm/Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) was “a common plant in tavern, cottage and all kinds of kitchen gardens” (McLean 191)
Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba) this plant is semi wild, but found its way into herb gardens because it attracted bees and was sometimes used in salads
Herbs are used very differently today than they were in the Medieval period. They have a less important role now, but then they provided flavor, medicine, and even food preservation. I would love to cultivate these herbs and try out some of their ancient uses.