A Portrait Of A Herbalist From The Past
The Code of Laws of Merovingians, Lex Salica, announced a fine of 62 pence for every person who will use contraceptive grasses. The Church identified the action of plants with diabolical interference in the affairs of laypeople; the official use of plants was banned, even for medicinal purposes. Those were the tough times for herbology adherents.
Medieval herbalists have used the position of Aristotle, who divided the plants into groups: hot or cold and wet or dry, reflecting a classification of four modes of being and the four essential elements. Thus, the universe was drawn consisting of four elements: water (cold and wet), earth (cold and dry), air (hot and humid) and fire (hot and dry). These categories gave birth to four states of life, the four modes of being: phlegm (cold and wet), black bile (cold and dry), blood (warm and wet) and yellow bile (hot and dry). If one modus dominated the other, it affected the temperament: phlegmatic, melancholic, cheerful or irritable. The medicine in general aimed at rebalancing modes. Therefore, to balance excessive phlegm in a phlegmatic, a treatment with warm, dry grasses was required. The perception of plants was narrowed in the direction of their warm and dry properties.
Aristotle, Magic & Researches
Aristotelian views owned minds herbalists more than one hundred years after the death of the great philosopher. Aristotle systematized the common ideas and views with respect to the surrounding flora and figured out practical application guidelines. In principle, the provisions of the sacred herbalism based on the same principles once introduced by the Greek philosopher. The notes of Albert Magnus reveal that henbane was used by magicians to invoke ghosts. Mandrake – a plant with amazing separation of roots resembling the human form, is also famous for such an occult property.
Hildegard of Bingen indicates that females have successfully used the power of sacred herbs for divinations, as well as for such rituals as love spells. Curiously, many purely magical rituals accompanied with the use of plants were combined with the utterance of Christian prayers. Moreover, a number of church officials was also engaged in herbal magic.
The history preserved the evidence of how Isidore, Bishop of Seville (the event dates back to the year of 630 approximately) prepared a decoction of coriander in wine: this famous love potion, a strong aphrodisiac. In addition, some plants were worn as amulets against misfortunes (e.g. to prevent toothache, it was recommended to wear leeks worn on the wrist).
In the monastery gardens of medieval Europe a serious work on the study of sacred herbalism was carried out. The information collected represented astronomical importance for the development of this science, but the records were made occasionally. However, the tractates survived to the present time strike with the depth of coverage and incredibility of practical orientation. Although the official church did not encourage such researches, the studies were conducted in a similar direction.
A Middle-Ages herbalist
There are two main sources for the formation of the concept of sacred herbalism in the Middle Ages: the ancient folklore and scientific works of classical times (such as the works of Dioscorides and Pliny and Arab herbalists). The book by already mentioned Isidore – Origines – is a compilation of numerous works on sacred herbalism; it was also the handbook of monastery gardeners. As time passed this book was repeatedly completed and edited, the provisions of the sacred herbalism were confirmed by quotations from Holy Scripture.
Gradually, the church was forced to admit the validity of the conclusions of herbalists, treating the achievements as derivatives from the sacred doctrine.
After the year of 1200 herbalism gained new momentum, brought by the Christian heretics and Arabs from Spain. Enlightened people of Toledo and Cordoba, arriving in Europe through southern Italy (mainly through Salerno), brought new knowledge about herbs, spreading it everywhere on their way. In the XI century, Constantine the African, Arabic monk of Monte Cassino, traveling the world trading spices and translating Arabic works, in particular, a number of manuscripts on herbalism, into Latin. Thus, he translated Galen, to acquaint the reader with the theory of degrees as a modification of the concept of modes.
Hildegard of Bingen
The outstanding herbalist Hildegard of Bingen in the epoch-making work Physica describes 275 herbs and 81 trees, referring to the ancient sources and pagan magic. She wrote in a lovely classical Latin, but works on herbalism were written in a mixture of Latin and German, which suggests that Hildegard focused primarily way, on a personal experience in the use of herbs. Very often, she gives completely original information, indicating that her knowledge is the result of Epiphany.
Later writers have often ignored the book, questioning the validity of information and treating the work as a pagan folklore. However, we cannot ignore the fact that Hildegard was raised in the Abbey since eight years, talking to nobody for quite a long period of time. She also describes some of the plants of the Mediterranean in detail, where she has never been.