Anglo-Saxon Medicine handout

Anglo-Saxon Medicine


SCA perspective- is it safe, is it effective? Compare what we know works now with what we read that they had.


Historical Perspective- some modern authors are finally accepting the efficacy of herbs, and begin to examine shamanistic diagnostic/healing. Most still resist accepting efficacy of magical practices.


How we know- old texts, hagiographies, archeology & pollen studies


Sources- medical texts- Latin Compilations & Translations: Herbarium, Perididaxeon, Byrhtferth’s Enchiridion, Leechbook of Bald, Lacnunga


Herb Wort craft

There are a lot of problems of identification of the herbs they used by name and even copied pictures. Some identifications are beginning to be made based on the use of the herb suggested, as well as where it grows  and word roots. Some copiers made attempts to figure out what the herbs specified in Mediterranean texts they were copying were although they’d never seen them in England.


Some herbs mentioned with their OE names: (this list is relatively arbitrary- ones I recognize or personally use. If there are too many possible options I didn’t include it):

Aconite/Monkshood/Wolfsbane (Thung), Apple (Aeppel), Ash (Aesc), Asparagus/ Earthnavel (eorthnafala), Balm/ Meadoweort , Barley (bere), Bay, Beech (becenan treowes), Bean (bean), chickpea? vetch?, Beet (bete), Bennet (benedicte) , Beewort (beowyrt) sweet flag or melissa?, Betony (betonice) woundwort, Birchbark (bercrinde), Bistort (adderwort)/ nadderwyrt), Blackthorn (slahthorn), Bonewort (banwyrt) violet? Pansy?, Bothen (bothen) rosemary?, Bramble (brembel) blackberry, Bran (syfethe), Bryony (hymele), Burdock (clate), Buttercup (clufwyrt), Cabbage (cawel), Caraway(cummin), Carrot (more), Catmint (nepte), Celandine (cilthenige), Centaury (curmealle), Chamomile (Maythe), Chervil (cearfille), Chickweed(Atgekfarthingwyrt), Cinquefoil (fiveleafe), Clary (slarege), Clover (claefre), Coltsfoot (Clite), Comfrey (galluc), Coriander (celedre), Costmary (cost), Cowslip (cuslyppe), Crabapple (wergulu), Cress (stune)?, Cuckoo Sorrel((geaces sure) wood sorrel,  Cucumber (hwerhwette), Cummin (cymen) Cinnamon, Daisy(daeges ege), Dandelion (Aegwyrt),  Dill (Dyle), docj (ompre), Dwarf elder (ellen), Elecampane (elene), Endive (eofola), Eyebright (eagwyrt), Feltwort (feltwyrt) Mullein, Fennel (finol), Fenugreek wellcress, Feverfew (feferfygie) Flax (linwyrt), Fleabane (theorwyrt), Foxglove (foxesclife), Furze (gorse), Garden Mint (tunminte) spearmint, Garlic (garleac), Ginger (gingifre), Glovewort (glofwyrt)lily of the valley, Gooseberry (thefethorn), Gorse (gorst), Grape (winberie), Harespeckle (haranspicel) Vipers Bugloss, Hawthorn (thefethorn), Hazel (haesel), Hemlock (hymlc), Hemp (haenep), Henbane (belene), Hindberry (hinbrer)raspberry, Hock (hoc) mallow, Holly (holen), Hop (hymele), Horehound (hune), Horsemint (horsminte), Hounds tounge (hundes micge) bugloss, Houseleek (sinfulle), Hyssop (ysope), Iris (fane), Ivy (iue), Lion’s foot (leonfot) Lady’s Mantle, Laurel berries (lauberge), Lavender (no known OE name), Leechwort (laecewyrt) plantain?, Leek (leac), Lichen (ragu), Linseed (linsaed), Lily (lilie), Licorice (in the OE Herbarium- but forign), Lovage (lufestice), Lupin (ealhtre), Madder (maedere), Mallow (hocleaf), Marigold (sigilweorfa), Marjoram (organe), Marshmallow (merscmergylle), Milfoil (gearwe) yarrow, Mint (minte), Mistletoe (mistle), Motherwort (moderwyrt), Mugwort (mucgwyrt), Mulberry (morbeam), Mushroom (swamm), Mustard (senep), Myrtle (wyetriw), Myrrh (murre), Nettle (stithe), Nightshade (solsece), Oak (ac), Onion (hwit leac), Parseky (petrsilige), Parsnip (feldmora), Pea (pise), Pennyroyal (pollegie), Pepper (piper), Periwinkle (singrene), Plumtree (plum treow), Poppy (popig), Primrose (cusloppe) cowslip, Quickbeam (cwicbeam), Radish (raedic), Rape (naep) turnip, Rose (rose), Rue (rude), Rye (ryge), Saffron (croh), Sage (saluie), St. Johnswort (corion or hypericon), Savory (saturge), Shepherd’s Purse (herba thyapsis), Sorrl (ampre), Southernwood (suhernewudu), Sperewort (sperewyrt) elecampine, Speedwell (hleomoc), Strawberry (streawberge), Sunflower (foxes floua), Sun turner (sigelhweorfa) heliotrope, Sweet violet (viola purpure in Herbarium- no OE name), Tansy (helde), Thistle (thistel), Thorn (thorn), Thorn Apple (foxes glofa) datura, Thyme (organe), Valerian (ualeriane), Vervain (berbene), Water Lily (colloncroh), Waybread (wegbaede) plantain, Wheat (hwaetene), Whortleberry (haethbergean) bilberry, Wild Celery (merece) smallage, Woad (wad), Woodruff (wuduroue), Wormwood (wermod) artimesia, Yarrow (gearwe).


Other ingedients includedin these recipes: ale, almond, ants, ashes, bacon, beer, blood, bread, broth, butter, cheese, coals, cream, curds, dough, dung, eggs, fat, flour or meal, gall, honey, horn, lard, marrow, mead, milk, rennet, salt,  spring water, yeast.


Tools included:  various vessels (often specified by clay, copper, bronze, wood, glass), feather, egg shell, cloth, ink, incense, iron, ivory wand, pitch, reed, sacremental wafer, skins, shells, silk, soap, spindlewhorl, spittle, spoon, stones, sulpher, tar, thread, urine, vinegar, wax, whey, wine, wool, worms



Charm Galdor craft

Spoken charms prayers, spells

amulets- differentiating between ornament and amulet is difficult

Shamanism- seidr work may have been a part of medicine



Knife craft –surgery

From bonesetting to trepanning, removing tumors




Anglo-Saxon Leechcraft, An Historical Sketch of Early English Medicine,  Burroughs Wellcome & Co, 1912, Rose & Nefr Press Minneapolis 1992


Anglo-Saxon Medicine, Cameron, M L, Cambridge U Press 1993


Plants and People in Ancient Scotland, Dickson, Camill & James, Arcadia Pub 2000


Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, Griffiths, Bill,  Anglo-Saxon Books 1996


Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink, I & II, Hagen, Ann, Anglo Saxon Books 1995


Life in Anglo-Saxon England, Page, R.I. Batsford 1970


Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing,  Pollington, Steven. Anglo Saxon Books, 2000


Today’s Herbal Health, Tenney, Louise M.H., Woodland Publications 1997

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