The Aromatherapy Herb Garden
In the Middle Ages, scented herbs such as rosemary or lavender were widely used to cover damp musty smells and alleviate the effects of poor sanitation, as well as being employed in the sick room for their antiseptic and disinfectant properties. Herbs such as cinnamon-scented woodrush (Acorus calamus) or sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) were used for strewing on floors. These herbs release a wonderful fragrance when walked upon. Meadowsweet (Fillpendula ulmaria) was a favourite herb of Elizabeth I who had it laid on the floors of her palaces. Other popular strewing herbs included lavender, sage, chamomile and hyssop. In modest cottages, sweet-scented apple wood was burned along with ploughman’s spikenard or nard (Inula conyzae).
Aromatic flowers and herb sprigs were also bound into small posies called ‘tussie mussies’ to ward off sickness or infection and to act as amulets whilst travelling. Herbs such as St. John’s wort, rosemary, wormwood, mugwort, rue and bay were all thought to have potent protective qualities and were often planted by doors or hung by windows to ward off bad spirits. Bundles of dried herbs or aromatic powders were also used extensively to scent household items such as bed linen, clothes or furniture, as well as helping to keep insects and moths at bay. Perfumes, flower waters and other cosmetic lotions concocted from specially cultivated plants were also popular, the recipes for which would be passed on from generation to generation.
In 1617, William Lawson wrote The Countrie Housewife’s Garden. He not only described medicinal and culinary herbs, but also those which are especially valuable for still room – where remedies, perfumes, soaps, potpourri, wines and vinegars were prepared – and for the home. He recommended country women to have both a flower garden and a kitchen garden, and also advised mixing in lavender and roses with the vegetables.