“Medieval Plantes / Crops,Life in the Medieval Garden”

medieval garden best

Medieval Garden life

9/17/12 – 9/28/12:  Medieval Plantes / Crops

My research began with my natural gravitation towards the “Herbal Garden”. I am a certified herbalist and thought that my familiarity with medicinal plants might help me look for vegetable clues about late medieval gardens. Before I began this research I had some information about medieval gardens being very multifunctional. They combined vegetables, medicinal plants, animals etc. into the garden systems. As I looked further into sources, I found this to be documented. Cottage gardens on the whole combined many of these elements and I am curious to see what sort of pest management the animals provided.

The most interesting pieces of information were about multipurpose plants, used for medicine and food. The book “Leaves from Gerard’s Herbal” by Marcus Woodward, Plantes from 1597(England) and “The New Herbal of 1543″(England) provided some great information about multipurpose plants.

Some major plants include: *Strawberry(leaves for medicine) Pear, fennel, cucumber, parsnip/skerrits, muske melon,* hazel nut, *wall nut, *chestnut, mulberry, manured vine grapes, cabbages, turnip, mushroom varieties, peach, elder, white onion, common asparagus,* cultivated flax, hedge garlic, hops, *chickpea/garbonzo, narrow leaved parsnip, licorice, common speedwell, rutabaga/red beet/rampion(wild),*dinkel wheat/spelt, mints, but not peppermint. *=sources of higher protein.

In 1543, Leonard Fushs listed common foods such as: lettuce, including curly leaf, head lettuce and cabbage, different from today’s cultivates. Other common foods of the time, some used medicinally include *quince- said to be nourishing to unborn children, *fava/broad bean, safflower, five species of  kale and cabbage, spinach, three kinds of carrots including yellow,cucumber, pumpkin, melon, squirting cucumber, *garden bean/french or kidney, garlic, celery, parsnip, common fig, rye, globe artichoke, spinach beet, field pansy, *lentil,common onion, broad leafed pepperwort, black cumin, mulberries,  new to the area was aubergine or eggplant(not yet medicinal), peach, wheat, radish/horseradish,strawberry…

The next step:

It seem that much of the protein coming from some of these gardens was in the form of beans, quite a few types and varieties of them. Now that I know these plants were grown, I need to try to find more documentation of the common Peoples growing them in kitchen/cottage gardens. John Thirsk’s “Earlt Peasant Farming” includes an agrarian history of English peasant farming in Lincolnshire England, from Tudor to recent times, apox. (1530-1600), that I though could provide some good documentation of crops grown by common folk. These are not necessarily descriptions of the garden connected to the cottage, but help to name even more common crops, some which were possibly grown on smaller scales as well. Wheat, rye, barley, beans, oats, hemp,( lentils and cole seed later) we recorded as being grown. Some of this information expands into the 1700’s and may not be as relevant, but lentils for example are present earlier in the above writing of Fushs in 1543.

I find it inspiring that so many of the plants listed above are being grown by local CSA farms all over the region!

More to come…


1)      Thirsk, Joan. English Peasant Farming, Agrarian History of Lincolnshire from Tudor to recent times. Routledge & Kegan Paul PLC, 1957. Print.

2)     Baker, Margaret. Discovering the Folklore of Plants. Shire, 1996. Print.

3)      Woodward, Marcus. Leaves from Gerard’s Herbal, “Plantes which first appeared in 1597…”. Peter Smith Pub Incorporated, 1969. Print.

4)      Fuchs, Leonhart. The New Herbal of 1543. 1st and modern color edition. Taschen; Complete Coloured Edition edition (October 1, 2001), 1543. Print.

5)      Bushnell, Rebecca. Green Desire, Imagining Early Modern English Gardens”. Cornell University Press, 2003. Print.

6)      Hill, Thomas. The Gardeners Labyrinth. Oxford University Press, 1988. Print.

common asparagus

4 thoughts on ““Medieval Plantes / Crops,Life in the Medieval Garden”

  1. Good work and images. You might check the book by Lillian Randall, Images in the margins of Gothic Manuscripts. Some of these illustrations show farming and planting…. And they are often amusing.

  2. Great list of plants. Thanks. We were concerned about the possibility of the gardens not getting enough sun. Many of the plants listed in your post will do okay with a bit of shade.

    • Yes, I too was wondering about the sun light in the proposed garden area. I am sorry I could not be there today for the staking out, I had class but really wanted to be there. I do hope that most of the plant varieties will have enough sun. Was the garden spot kept the same, or changed due to this concern?

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