Absinthe, Aka Common Wormwood, Artmesia absinthium, Was Widely Grown In Medieval Gardens. Especially Apothecary Gardens Due To Its Use For Gynaecological Conditions And Healing Wounds.
The use of absinthe is recorded by the Greeks in 1500BC and by the Middle Ages it was commonly used across Europe. However, the best known use today is for the drink, absinthe. This came much later and is first recorded in the late 18th century
In the Middle Ages, surgeons used it in the garden for its vulnerary virtue That is to say for its healing properties. It was also used as an insect repellent (to be used in a 10% dilution …. which is confusing as I can find no reference to how to make the stock solution! So 10% of what?). It was further valued for its vermifuge properties and as a fungicide (used undiluted against currant rust, but again I can find no stock solution recipe).
Poured on the ground, it was claimed to repel slugs. The potion in this case was made by taking 10 litres of rainwater at room temperature, adding 5 kg of fresh plant. Stirring once a day. Then filter and bottle (keep away from light), 10 days later. Personally I have doubts about it working on slugs… but others may disagree. Slug Control is always a moot subject.
Absinthe was also recommended as a diuretic, antibacterial agent and emmenagogue. Other uses included being also used to treat indigestion, increase appetite, relieve gallbladder and liver pains. It was additionally used to heal insect bites.
A bouquet of wormwood was also said to repel insects. Which sounds a bit like belt and braces, repel insects but use it to treat insect bites if it doesn’t work.
Literary References to Absinthe
In Act 1, Scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s childhood nurse recalls a time when she weaned Juliet by applying wormwood to her nipple. This was a common practice in Shakespeare’s time, as wormwood was known for its bitter taste and was thought to help suppress the desire to suckle.
How To Cultivate Absinthe
In medieval times the advice was to sow in March-April, take cuttings in August, or by division of old plants to generate new plants. It is prone to rust but is not very demanding, thriving almost anywhere. But it prefers well-drained soils and sunny locations. A compost or manure addition is recommended in the autumn, along with pruning to 10 cm above the ground every year (a second pruning in spring can be done to renew the stems carrying branches to harvest). It is claimed to inhibit the growth of neighbouring plants.
Absinthe grows wild in many countries and is an example of a wild plant that is brought into cultivation.
There’s more on plants for medieval gardens here.
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