Monastery gardens in the Middle Ages

For many centuries, until the late Middle Ages, itinerant healers, now sometimes called quacks, traveled through the countries of Europe, in the cities it was mainly doctors and pharmacists who practiced medicine. The common people ran to the wandering quacks. However, when these ‘miracle workers’ were not around, people sought help for illness and suffering from the monasteries, as in ancient Greece. The simple people expected, just like in the Greek temples, miracles from the monks or nuns or at least some help. The monks knew a lot that was unknown even to the doctors and pharmacists. This was because they read the Greek and Latin writings and learned from the original text, insofar as it was correctly transmitted, what the famous Hippocrates and Galen had previously written about herbs, health and disease. This allowed complete monastic medicine to develop in the silence of the monasteries, which was practiced by monks.
From research into the medieval monastery in St. Gallen and the monastic medicine of that time. we know that a large part of the monastery was set up as a hospital, as it would now be called. An old map of the monastery testifies to a medieval therapy, which mainly consisted of the three rules of the physician Galen, namely ‘bloodletting, purging and medicinal herbs’. The herb garden of St. Gall was so impressive that Walafrid Strabo wrote a long Latin poem in hexameters as early as 842, a song of praise to that garden and its plants. Below you will find a list of 23 crops and their beneficial effects, which were grown in the herb garden of St. Gall at the time.

From the herb garden of the St. Gallen Monastery

  1. Salvia sage: helps with numerous conditions.
  2. Ruta rue: fights hidden poisons, cleanses harmful body fluids.
  3. Abrotanum lemon herb: helps with fever and stabbing pains in the side. Also helps with gout attacks.
  4. Cucurbita gourd: is a delicacy.
  5. Pepones melon: has a cooling effect on the intestines.
  6. Absinthem wormwood: drives away fever, headache and dizziness.
  7. Marrubium maple: relieves tightness in the chest, helps with poison in food and drink.
  8. Foeniculum fennel: beneficial for the eyes, for gastrointestinal cramps, promotes digestion, cures whooping cough.
  9. Gladiola sword lily: soothes blowing times.
  10. Lybisticum lovage maggi plant: The sap can cause blindness, however the seeds may be beneficial in other medicines.
  11. Cerfolium garden chervil: astringent.
  12. Letium lily: helps with snake poison, has a soothing effect on bruises and sprains.
  13. Poppy poppy: cures bitter belching.
  14. Scarega and cortus-meg herb and lady’s mint: promotes digestion.
  15. Menta-peppermint: cures hoarseness, applies to many ailments.
  16. Puleium flea herb: promotes digestion, prevents sunstroke.
  17. Apium celery: soothes bladder disorders, promotes digestion, relieves nausea.
  18. Vettonica-betony: prevents internal ailments, heals external injuries.
  19. Agrimonia agrimone: soothes stomach aches, heals wounds.
  20. Ambrosia tansy: draws blood, promotes moisture formation.
  21. Nepeta catnip: heals skin injuries, promotes hair growth.
  22. Rafanum ramenas: cures coughing.
  23. Rosa rose: its oil is beneficial in many cases.


A translated text about rue from Strabo’s poem

The leafy bed here is surrounded
by fresh diamonds. Its small leaves cast narrow tufts of shade and allow winds of sun to reach the bottom of the stems. Even when slightly rusty, it releases its scent.
Although this herb has many powers, its most popular use is “antidote”: it drives the bad juices out of the body.

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