Hildegard Von Bingen



I was studying a German regional cookbook for my other blog last night and stumbled across Hildegard Von Bingen. In a cookbook!  In case you are not familiar with this rather cool lady, I’ll give you a quick summary of her life.

Hildegard Von Bingen
Saint Hildegard Von Bingen German - seer and healer - religious founder and abbess of Convent of Rupertsberg

Hildegard was born (1098) the tenth child of a wealthy German family. She ‘suffered’ visions early in life (often attributed to severe headaches or an illness of sorts) and in 1106 her family brought her to a mixed Benedictine monastery/convent.  Here she was educated and over time took the position of abbess. This is when she really took off.  She separated the convent from the combined institution which was really still under male rule.  She encouraged women to join and to learn.  Under her supervision the residents of the convent could express their devotion in less rigid conditions, as she believed in the importance of worship, not deprivation.

In her time she studied and worked hard, her visions leading her to often argue with secular and clerical leaders alike. She defied many of her superiors with her actions, in allowing that which the church at large forbade.
She amassed an amazing amount of philosophical and theological writings, “these include records of her visions  and her explanations of scripture and salvation history. She also wrote plays, poetry, and music, and many of her hymns and song cycles are recorded today. She even wrote on medicine and nature  and it’s important to note that for Hildegard of Bingen, as for many in medieval times, theology, medicine, music, and similar topics were unitary, not separate spheres of knowledge. ”  She was a seer and a healer, and of course it’s her medicinal  history that interests me here.

In her Causae et Curae there are hundreds of chapters on physiology and the pharmacopeia of plants, medieval pharmaceutical lore, some that is entertaining and some still relevant today.

Ten medicinal herbs from Hildegard’s Pharmacopeia:

Stinging nettle (Urtica urens)

“If a man is forgetful and would be cure of it, let him crush out the juice of the stinging nettle, and add some olive oil, and when he goes to bed, let him anoint his chest and temples with it, and do this often, and his forgetfulness will be alleviated.”

Bramble leaves (Rubus fruticosus)

“The bramble, on which blackberries grow, is warm rather than cold. If anyone suffers a disorder of the lungs, and has a cough from his chest, let him take root of sneezewort, bramble leaves, hyssop and a little origanum, add honey, and boil it all in good wine, then strain it through a cloth, drink sufficient quantiti of it after a good meal, and do this often, and his lungs will be restored to healthy.”

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)

“If a man have any roten flesh in him, then boil this herb in water, lay a linen cloth on his wounds, and when the water has been pressed out lay on the vervain too. Do this until all the rottenness is gone.”

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

“However fennel is eaten, it makes men merry, and gives them a pleasant warmth, and makes them sweat well, and causes good digestion.

Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

“And if anyone have a headache, and his head is buzzing as if he were deaf, let him eat often of cloves, and they will ameliorate the buzzing in his head.”

Hart’s tongue (Phylitis scolopendrium)

“Hart’s tongue is warm, and good for the liver, and the lungs and for pain in the intestines.”

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

“If any have a weak and sad heart, let him cook mullein with meat or fish, or with other herbs, and eat of them often, and it will strengthen his heart and make it merry.

Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

“Its seeds, if they be eaten, induce sleep and decrease itching. They surpress the torments of lice and nits. They may be eaten boiled in water, but are better and more effective raw than cooked.”

Marigold (Calendula officinalis)

“The marigold is cold and damp, it has strong powers of growth in it, and is a remedy against poison. If anyone eat poison, or if it be served to him, let him boil marigolds in water, and after the water is pressed out let him lay them directly onto his belly and they will soften the poison and make it depart from him.”

Milfoil/Yarrow (Achilles millefolium)

“Milfoil is rather warm and dry, and it is a sovereign remedy for wounds. Wash the wounds with wine and let plenty of milfoil cooked moderately in water be laid on the cloth, while stillw arm, and so bind over the wound.”

Source:  Culinaria Germany: Cuisine Country Culture

This is during the 1100’s!  I find it amazing to hear her talk of warm and cold properties and how they relate to vital organs.  Not so sure on marigolds on the tummy curing poisons though. There is a lot of information out there about Hildegard Von Bingen and her works, if you are interested look her up in your local library.

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