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Monday, February 22, 2021

"The Earth glows again with flowers". A Medieval Spring

The seasons in turn, from a manuscript of Hildegarde of Bingen/
Spring was a longed-for season in the middle ages. After the dark and cold of winter, the lengthening days, the increasing warmth of the sun, the first showing of fresh green growth and flowers, were all savoured. Spring was the time when Easter took place, one of the most important religious festivals in medieval times and also a celebration of new life and feasting after the long fasting of Lent.

Spring was when many plants were gathered to make dyes for clothes, to transform gowns and robes. New leaves, lichens, flowers and mosses were all gathered.

People would go walking in the woodland and meadows, relishing the time outdoors. Primroses, used to decorate church altars in May to honour the Virgin Mary, were seen as the first flowers of spring. Later in spring, cowslips were gathered an made into balls by young women, keen to forecast the name of their future husbands by tossing the cowslip ball among each other while calling out men's names. When the ball fell at the feet of a girl, that could be a sign that Martha could be marrying a Tom later - and so on.

Spring flowers were also used to flavour ale or wine or food - wild garlic could be used to make garlic sauce to add variety to the very bland diet of pottages. Herbs such as rosemary were made into posies, believed to help combat the plague. Daisies, prized for their whiteness, were also used in posies.

To rid themselves of worms and other internal parasites, medieval people gathered spurge, and to supplement their sometimes meager diets men and women would gather young salad leaves from the hedgerows, such as salad burnet, sorrel, hawthorn shoots, wild radish, mint and more.

Spring was seen as a joyous season, much celebrated in poetry (my title comes from the same manuscript as the Carmina Burana), but I’ll leave that for another time.

See here.
Lindsay Townsend


  1. A lovely post. You have me looking forward to spring, as well as looking back at history.

  2. I love it when an author pays attention to the small details, of plants and animals that populate the times of the story. Great article.

  3. Thank you for the look ahead to spring and for the interesting tidbits about spring traditions in Medieval England. I don't think I need the hedgerows or hawthorn roots for parasite treatment just yet. I can't help but think of hawthorn bushes and those long sharp thorns--not exactly something I would want to swallow. Yikes!
    I know from your stories how deeply knowledgeable you are about plants and herbs.
    I wish you all the best with The Master Cook and the Maiden and Mistress Angel. I can't believe I don't have these already.

  4. I love medieval romances, especially when the author paints a vivid picture using all the senses to make the reader feel she is in another time. You have the advantage of living there, strolling the old cobblestone streets, and imagining what life was like back then. I remember reading Valerie Sherwood back in the 80s and the warning on her book not to try some of the herbs used back then to cure ills. I feel from your descriptions in your blog that you skillfully incorporate flora into your stories that gives it an added richness and reality.

  5. The earth glows again with flowers. I love that. While blanketed in deep snow, we had a sunny mild day with a hint of spring in the air. I'm craving flowers right now even if I have to force a bulb or two myself and not wait for nature. What strikes me is how medieval people had to wait for cycles to bring them salads, for instance. And then they made use of things to be found at those times. Obviously different from us where we have so much on demand when we want it. Good luck with all your writing projects!

  6. Thank you so much for your kind comments, Christine, Deborah, Sarah, Elizabeth and Patti.
    I love the spring flowers and the new green of the trees. There's a big lime near where I live and I watch it year-round, enjoying its shape and sculpture in the winter and then loving the lushness of its spring and summer canopy. I try to celebrate nature in my stories.

  7. So interesting to read about familiar plants in Medieval times. After this cold, snowy winter, I can relate to the people's longing for spring. Thanks for this lovely post.

  8. Thank you so much, Ann. I'm looking forward to spring, too.