Plants in the Saxon World

The Lacnunga (Remedies), a 10th-century herbal, is a collection of nearly two hundred herbs used by the Anglo-Saxons and kept now at the British Library in London. Whoever compiled it, gathered material from a wide range of sources, mostly Anglo-Saxon, hence it is not a systematic account, but more of an anthology. One of its contents is the Nine Herb Charm. Anglo-Saxons believed disease was spread by toxins blowing in the winds. Songs, salt, water, and herbs were trusted means of protection from the flying venom. The Lacnunga names nine sacred plants and a chant in their praise. The nine herbs are: Mucgwyrt (Mugwort), Attorlaöe (identified as Cockspur Grass by R.K. Gordon; partially defined by others as Betony), Stune (Lamb's Cress), Wegbrade (Plantain), Mægöe (Mayweed or Matricaria (Chamomile), Stiöe (Nettle), Wergulu (Crab-apple), Fille (Thyme), and Finule (Fennel). At the end of the charm, prose instructions are given to take the above mentioned herbs, crush them to dust, and to mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg — both before and after the prepared salve is applied.

Further, the charm directs the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve. It is supposed that stylized physical gestures would have accompanied the chanting of the charm and preparation of the potion.

                These nine attack against nine venoms.
                A worm came creeping and tore asunder a man.
                Then took Woden nine magick twigs and smote the serpent
                That he in nine pieces dispersed.
                Now these nine herbs have power
                Against nine magick outcasts,
                Against nine venoms, against nine flying things,
                Against the loathed things that over land rove.

Nine Herbs Charm, or Nine Wort Charm

MUGWORT MUGWORT. Artemisia vulgaris - guards against the unseen power of evil. The dried leaves stuffed in a pillow bring sweet dreams, lend vigor when steeped in bath water, and prevent fatigue on a long journey.

Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

PLANTAIN PLANTAIN. Plantago major - is the Saxon waybroad in old herbals, for it thrives beside roadways. Fresh leaves draw out infections, halt bleeding in minor wounds, and ease discomfort from burns and stings.

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs,
Open from the east, mighty inside.
over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection

WATERCRESS WATERCRESS. Nasturtium officinalis - supplies a generous amount of Vitamin C. Its juice added to water is a tonic to erase listlessness.

'Stune' is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.

BETONY BETONY. Stachys betonica - appears as the fourth herb in later versions of the Nine Herbs Charm. Atterlothe of the original listing defies translation. Betony, however, serves well as a substitute, for it was anciently reguarded as a cure for all ills of the body and the soul.

**** Atterlothe? The word has defied translation, but it is likely to be a redundant name for something else. Its place in later versions of the nine herbs charm was taken by Betony, {Betonica officinalis] which in traditional herbal medicine was known as a general tonic.

CHAMOMILE CHAMOMILE. Anthemis nobilis - never fails to lift the spirits with its sweet scent. Maythen, as it was known to the Saxons, is the "plants' physician", as it revives ailing plants when set near them. Humans enjoy its benefits as well.

Remember, Chamomile, what you made known,
what you accomplished at Alorford,
that never a man should lose his life from infection
after Chamomile was prepared for his food.

NETTLE NETTLE. Urtica dioica - serves many useful purposes. The leaves staunch bleeding and soothe burns. Its seeds stimulate appetite. Nettle juice is an excellent hair lotion.

This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.

CRAB APPLE CRAB APPLE. Pyrus malus - has long been associated with health and renewal. The original wild apple from which all varieties derive is said to promote deep sleep and increase energy.

There the Apple accomplished it against poison
that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.

CHERVIL CHERVIL. Anthriscus cerefolium - may possess a powerful brain stimulant. It was once the sovereign remedy to restore the will to live.

Chervil and Fennell, two very mighty one.
They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.

FENNEL FENNEL. Foeniculum vulgare - conveys longevity, gives strength and courage while its pleasant aroma discourages evil spirits. Fennel in the diet promotes good eyesight and fights obesity.

THYME. Thymus serpyllum - occurs in other lists of the Nine Sacred Herbs, and is said to cure meloncholy natures.

Note: All the above illustrations come from the Gruninger Herbal of 1500 CE.