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Old English Homes & Gardens - A List of Herbs and Vegetables

Updated: Aug 31, 2019

I recently visited the Ancient Technology Centre in Cranbourne, Dorset where I had a chance to see some of the old structures of the Britain along with a Roman garden. The site has a neolithic log cabin, an Iron Age earthouse (a large communal space where storytelling events are told,) a Viking longhouse, a Roman forge, a Saxon workshop and an Iron Age roundhouse - this period of history covered the 'Celtic' tribes and culture of Britain from 800BC until 100AD, at the start of the Roman occupation. The Roman forge included a beautiful little garden.

The earthouse, held up by 21 oak tree trunks where Crick Crack host storytelling events:

The Roman forge, inspired by sites found in Londinium. The Roman period of Britain extended from 43 to 410 AD.

The Roman garden

Inside the Roman forge.

The Viking longhouse. In AD 793 the Vikings first invaded Britain and last invaded in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror became King of England. The Anglo-Saxon period began slightly earlier from from 410 to 1066.

At Glastonbury Abbey, a medieval herb garden can be found and a herb garden was recorded as being located at the abbey in the early 14th century although its location was not specified. The Abbey was built in the 7th century and enlarged in the 10th century - it was destroyed by fire in 1184 and rebuilt in the 14th century becoming one of the most powerful monasteries in the country, attracting many pilgrims - it also has a strong connection with the King Arthur legend since it is said that his tomb was discovered here. In the Middle Ages, herbs were used for medicine, cooking, dyeing, as incense and for brewing. In cooking, herbs were used to flavour the vegetable stew know as pottage. In an abbey, a medicinal garden was usually located near the infirmary and would have contained many plants for treating illnesses. Medieval gardens in monasteries were usually organised in neat rectangular plots and the garden at Glastonbury Abbey is laid out in four plots according to four themes of medicinal, culinary, dying and aromatic. I have recorded the list of plants in this garden for my own future reference (using the notes provided in the abbey garden) and felt to share it online in case it is of interest to others for your own garden :)


Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum) - a red dye could be made from the roots and a yellow one was made from infusing the flowers. Medicinally it was used for nosebleeds, epilepsy, urinary infections and gall stones.

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) - known as was in Anglo-Saxon times, it was used as a blue dye by the native Britons who used it on their skin as recorded by Caesar: “All the Britons dye themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and makes their appearance in battle more terrible.” The dye was made by crushing dried leaves and seeds into a paste and exposing them to the air. Medicinally it was used as an astringent to stem the flow of blood.

Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) - these edible flowers were used to dye cheese and butter. Dried petals were used as a substitute for saffron.

Yellow Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) - which produced a yellow dye.

Madder (Rubia tinctorum) - the name comes from rubia meaning red in Latin - its red dye was created from its roots and it was highly valued by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Medicinally it was used to treat kidney and bladder complaints, sciatica, jaundice and externally for wounds.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) - used as a strewing herb in the Middle Ages to sweeten the air and repel insects; it was also used at burials for preserving the dead. In the Middle Ages, people didn't have many opportunities to bathe and so fragrant herbs were scattered across the ground along with rushes or straw so that pleasant smells would be released when people walked on them - this was known as strewing. It was particularly used in times of the plague in churches. It was also used for dying and a golden yellow colour was extracted from the plant.


Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) - used for reducing fever and externally it was used for swellings, stings, bites and bruises. Nowadays it is used for migraine sufferers.

Betony (Stachys officinalis) -widely grown in monasteries and around churches since it was believed to protect against witchcraft. Medicinally it was used for rheumatism, sore throats and gout and a yellow dye was used from its leaves to colour butter and cheese.

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)- medicinally it was used for digestive complaints, insomnia, nervousness, wounds, burns, bruises and swelling. The name comes from the Greek word hypericum meaning over a picture since the flowers were placed above religious imagery to keep evil at bay.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) - medicinally it was used for centuries - the root was made into lozenges for coughs, sore throats, bronchitis and whooping cough and externally it was used for wounds and itchy skin. As a poultice it was used for skin problems on horses.

Vervain (Verbena officinalis) -it was well regarded by the Druids and used as a love potion in medieval times. It was said to be a good-luck charm and medicinally it was considered to be a cure-all - particularly used against the plague, snake bites, ulcers, jaundice, coughs and headaches.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - medicinally this was used for cramps, digestive problems, piles, ulcers, bruises, toothache and piles.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) - it was called the 'root of the Holy Ghost' and used against evil - medicinally it was used for digestive complaints, bronchitis, colds, coughs and it was used as a flavouring in cooking - the candied stems were used in cakes and puddings and the seeds were used in drinks. In salads and stews the leaves were used.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) - the name comes from the Greek word sympho meaning 'to unite' since its use was for healing bones. It was also used for wounds, reducing swelling, bruises, sprains and ulcers. It was widely used in monastic gardens and believed to have been brought from the Holy Land.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) - this was popular with the Romans and Greeks and used throughout the Middle Ages in monastic gardens. The stems were boiled or candied like Angelica. The leaves were eaten in salads, stews and soups. Medicinally it was used for urinary problems and digestive complaints. The roots and seeds have diuretic properties and were used to treat colic in children. It was considered an all-healing plant.


Rue (Ruta graveolens) - the name comes from reuo, a Greek word meaning to set free since it was used as an antidote for poisons. It was used in holy water in churches and in medieval times it was placed around magistrates to protect them from gaol fever carried by the prisoners. Medicinally it was used for gout, expelling worms, sprains and headaches.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) - this plant was dried, giving off a sweet smell like honey or hay and it was used as a strewing herb, insect repellent (placed in linen for moths), in snuffs, perfumes and pot pouri. Its medicinal qualities included being used for kidney and liver complaints, dropsy and calming the nerves.

Alecost (Balsamita major) - used in monastic gardens for cooking. The mint smelling leaves turn to a lemony flavour during cooking. They were used in soups, for flavouring meats and in salads. Medicinally is was used as an antiseptic, an astringent, for dysentery, stomach complaints and to expel worms.

Cotton Lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus) - this aromatic shrub, native to the Mediterranean was used in herbal sachets to repel insects and dried twigs were used in linen as a moth repellent. It was used medicinally as an antiseptic, stimulant and to expel intestinal worms. The dried leaves and flowers were turned into powder and used for insect bites.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) - the name comes from the Greek word melissa meaning honeybee and the plant attracts bees - it was important in the monastic apothecary garden and used for relaxation and sleep due to its sedative qualities. In cooking it was used in sauces, fish and poultry dishes and due to its lemony flavour it was used in jams, drinks and custards. Medicinally it was used for fevers, cramps, palpitations and vertigo and the plant was also used for perfumes and liquers.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) - it has a high saponin content which used as a soap for washing clothes and the body. It was also used as a cleaner for furnishings and skin lotions. Medicinally it was used as a compress for skin ailments and internally it was taken for jaundice, gout and rheumatism.

Lavender (Lavandula species) - It was very popular in monasteries and used as a strewing herb and moth repellent. Nowadays it is used as an antiseptic oil to kill bacteria including streptococcus. It was therefore used for treating wounds, burns, chest and digestive problems, headaches, insomnia and in cooking it was used sparingly in jellies, pottages and vinegars. Mainly it was used as a perfume and in soaps.

Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) - it was used as a perfume and insect repellent and it was also used medicinally for warding off infection and for tiredness.

Pinks (Dianthus species) - the name comes from a Greek name Dianthus meaning divine flower. It was used as a strong perfume and the clove-like scent was used to flavour ales, vinegars, sauces and wines. Medicinally it was used for fevers. Clove pinks were one of the earliest flowers to be cultivated across Britain.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - its name comes from the belief that it attracts cats since it smell is similar to car pheromones. In monasteries it was used to flavour meat and medicinally it was used for fevers, nervousness and for sleep. For headaches, the leaves were chewed.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) - this was a popular strewing herb and its smell could fill up a room. It was used in churches and in people's houses and it was believed to be the favourite of Elizabeth I. The flowers were used as a sweetener in ales and wines and medicinally it was used as a diuretic and for wounds. For the Druids it was one of their three most sacred herbs - the other two being mint and vervain.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) - due to its very bitter taste it was named after the Latin word absinthium meaning without sweetness. It was hung in bunches or strewn on the floor to repel insects in medieval times. It was used for perfumed oils in altar lamps. Medicinally it was used for fevers, insomnia, jaundice and expelling worms.


Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) - it was a popular herb in cooking due to its mild onion taste.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) - mankind has used this plant for a long time - it was used by the Romans at feasts who wore it to prevent intoxication. It was used as a culinary herb and is rich in iron, calcium and vitamins - often added to pottages, fish dishes and pickles. The roots were also grated raw and eaten as a boiled vegetable. Medicinally it was used for urinary infections, asthma, jaundice and dropsy. The stems make a green dye.

Borage (Borago officinalis) - these young leaves tasted of cucumber and were boiled or eaten raw in salads. Medicinally it was used for fevers, kidney problems, nervous disorders and bronchitis.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) - it was used as a vegetable and for medicinal purposes for treating liver, digestive and urinary complaints. The roots are roasted and ground down and added to coffee today. Throughout Europe it was widely grown as a vegetable and used in salads. The flowers are also edible and the roots can be boiled and eaten. The syrup obtained from boiling the root can be used as laxative for children.

Mint (Mentha species) - the name is believed to come from minthe (a nymph in Greek mythology who was turned into a plant by the jealous goddess Persephone.) Grown in monastic gardens in Britain from at least the 9th century it was used as a culinary herb in jams, jellies, sauces for meat and fish as well as in sweets and drinks. Medicinally it was used for calming the nerves, anxiety, insomnia, ulcers, cuts. It was also used as a strewing herb since rats were said to dislike its smell.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) - it was considered a symbol of purification and used in ritual cleansing in churches and leprous houses and it was an important member of monastic infirmary gardens. Its strong flavour helped to disguise the taste of unfresh meat. Its oil was used in perfumes and as well as being used as a strewing herb it was used in pot pouris and as a herb pillow. Medicinally it was used as tea for flu, sore throats and respiratory problems. As a poultice it was used for cuts and wounds.

Savory (Satureja montana) - it was used in the Middle Ages as a aid for digestion since it contains a volatile oil which has an antiseptic effect on the stomach. It was mainly used in the kitchen and had a peppery taste used in meat, eggs and fish dishes. It was also a strewing herb.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) - as a culinary herb it was used to help with the digestion of mutton and pork and due to its sweet smell it was carried in bunches by the nobility in the Middle Ages to ward off odours. Medicinally it was used for coughs, colds and aiding digestion. It was also used to fumigate houses and churches as an incense or it was strewn on the floor.

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) - due to its sweet flavour it was used for centuries as a culinary herb and was often added to fruit to reduce the tart flavour - its leaves were used in salads and soups. Medicinally it was used as a stimulant for digestion and the roots which are mildly antiseptic were used as an ointment to relieve wounds and ulcers.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - highly prised by the Romans since it was believed to give strength to soldiers and it was held as sacred by the Anglo-Saxons. It was used as a strewing herb and due to its aniseed flavour it was used in stews. Medicinally it was used for constipation and stomach complaints.

Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) - considered as a symbol of peace and happiness by the Romans it was brought to Britain in the Middle Ages and valued as a disinfecting herb. With its strong aromatic smell it was used as a strewing herb and it also produced a reddish-purple dye. It was used in many dishes such as stuffings, stews and meat dishes and used to flavour beer and wine. Medicinally it was used as a cure all and for indigestion, earache, coughs, respiratory problems, swellings and stings.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) -the name comes from the Latin word salvere meaning to save (also salvia, which meant to heal) - it was an important herb used in pottages, stuffings, wines, cheese and ales and it was eaten in fatty and oily dishes such as eels to aid with digestion. Sage tea was widely drunk. Medicinally it was used for its antiseptic and astringent properties - used to treat colds, headaches, palsy and sore throats .

Cowslip (Primula veris) - its fresh leaves were eaten as a vegetable and were also cooked yet the flowers were mainly used to create cowslip wine, or in salads with cream or candied with sugar as a cake decoration. Medicinally it was used as a tea for headaches, vertigo and constipation and cowslip oil was used to reduce swellings. The ointment was used to remove skin blemishes.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) - the word dracunculus means dragon in Latin and it was thought that this plant cured bites from venomous beasts and mad dogs. It was used to treat nausea, hiccups, arthritis, gout, rheumatism and for stimulating the digestive system. Nowadays it is used in sauces such as Hollandaise sauce and in the past it was used mainly in meat and fish dishes.

In their vegetable garden, the abbey were gorwing various plants in a rotation system in raised beds. In the monastic garden, fences would be used to keep out stray animals and raised beds were made with timber or wattle edging. Boiled linseed oil was historically used in the abbey to waterproof outdoor wooden structures and it is believed that the flax plant may even have been grown in the garden at this time - these modern-day flower beds at the abbey were waterproofed with this oil. In Glastonbury Abbey an apple orchard was also maintained and monasteries often kept orchards to create cider which they sold to the public which many people drank due to the unclean drinking water. In 2019 they were growing the following in six beds:

Bed One - brassicas

Collards 'Teddie'

Kale 'Dwarf green curled'

Cabbage 'Wintergreen'

Futog cabbage

Bed Two - root vegetables

Beetroot 'Albino/Boldor'

Carrot (various)

Parsley root 'Hermes'

Parsnip 'Kral Russian'


Turnip 'Purple top Milan'

Bed Three - onions

Leek 'Blue solaise' and ' Musselburgh'

Onion 'Centurion'

Garlic 'Pink germidour'

Pickling onion 'Paris silverskin'

Salad onion 'White lisbon'

Bed Four - peas and beans

Broad bean 'Aqua dulce'

Pea 'Kelvedon wonder'

Dwarf French bean 'Traviata'

Yellow wax bean 'Orinoco'

Chick pea 'Principle'

Squash 'Serpente di Sicilia'

Bed Five - salad leaves

Chicory 'Pain de Sucre'

Land Cress

Greek Cress

Endive 'Encornet de Bordeaux'

Lambs Lettuce 'Baron'

Lettuce (various)

Spinach 'Clarinet'

Bed Six - edible weeds for pottage


Good King Henry

Salad Burnet

Bucks Horn plantain

Red deadnettle

Scarlet pimpernel



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