Herbal medicine in early England

Herbal medicine has a long history and is mentioned in texts from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and China dating back as far as 3000 BC. The study of medicinal plants (pharmacognosy) is a recognised branch of modern pharmacy. Until the twentieth century herbal medicines were the main drugs available, and many modern drugs are derived from compounds produced by medicinal plants. For example:

So herbalists could have had access to medicines that had the potential to be effective if prepared and used in the right way.


Wort Cunning

by Octavia Randolph

THE OLDEST surviving medical book in England is also the oldest herbal, for of course herbs were medicine in the middle ages. This is the Leech Book of Bald, (læce in Old English means healer) compiled in Ælfred's time or very shortly thereafter by a monk named Bald, and penned, in its surviving copy, between 924 and 946 by a scribe (almost certainly also a monk) named Cild. It gives recipes for herbal remedies using vervain, mugwort, plaintain, periwinkle (vinca minor), wood betony, violets, yarrow, and many other herbs still in medical use today. Among its formulations are some sent to King Ælfred by Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to treat constipation, disorders of the spleen, and other maladies.

Read the full article on Octavia's website.


Octavia Randolph has long been fascinated with the development, dominance and decline of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, and her extensive research has taken her to England and Scandinavia. In addition to numerous historical essays, she is the author of a trilogy of historical novels set in 9th-century England and a novella retelling the story of Lady Godiva. For full details, visit her website at www.octavia.net