Tudor garden at Ty Mawr Wybrnant
Every Tudor house would have had a small piece of land that would have been used as the house garden, providing food crops, medicinal herbs, strewing herbs and dyeing plants to keep the household fed and healthy all year round.
The Tudor medicine cabinet
If you became ill in Tudor times, your first port of call would be the garden. Medicinal herbs were administered externally or internally, in a variety of forms and often with other herbs in carefully measured amounts.
Some of remedies have been found by modern science to be effective, while others appeared to have worked but probably the patient recovered despite the use of the herb. Some were highly poisonous and their use may have led to many deaths.
Herbs for carpets
Tŷ Mawr would have been a very busy farmstead. The main living room would have had a mixture of smoke from the fire, cooking smells, animal smells, and a myriad of other, earthier smells.
Before its stone floor was installed, Tŷ Mawr would probably have had a beaten earth floor painted in casein, which comes from milk, and is rather pungent when wet.
People covered the floors with rushes or reeds (or woven mats of reeds or rushes), which were strewed with sweet smelling herbs such as lavender, marjoram, tansy, meadowsweet and rue. Not only did these herbs help disguise the smell, but many helped control fleas, other insects and bacteria.
Dyeing herbs were used to colour fabrics. Alkanet (Anchusa officinalis) roots produce a red dye, the seed pods of woad (Isatis tinctoria) yield a blue dye and Dyer’s weld (Reseda luteola) provided a yellow dye.
Culinary herbs were grown for flavouring sauces and meat and included borage, sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley and chives.
The rich ate mostly a high protein diet with bread. Vegetables were a staple of the less well off.
As a rule they didn’t serve them with meat like our traditional Sunday lunch, but used them in a pottage, which is a thick soup or stew, which consisted of peas, milk, egg yolks, breadcrumbs and parsley which would be flavoured with saffron and ginger.
Vegetables also played a role in herbal medicine, turnips were a remedy for coughs and onions could be used to cure the bite of a mad dog (there are many cures for this condition probably due to a large number of dogs possibly with rabies).
The Physicians of Myddfai rated the medicinal properties of the leek highly and devoted a section to the ‘Manifold virtues of the leek’ which include treatments for headaches, deafness, ulcers, boils, flatulence and as an aid for women who want children.