Herbs Used in the Renaissance Period


The Renaissance period (1400 to 1700 A.D.) was a period of great discovery. There was also a revival of ideas of ancient Rome and Greece. With the advent of the printing press, there was a surge of experimentation with herbs taken from Arabic writings. In addition, explorers to new frontiers brought back numerous new herbs. Renaissance herbs were not only used for medicine, apothecary and aromatherapy, but also extensively in the preparation of food.

Herbs Used in Food

  • The food culture during the Renaissance period was one of refinement; food was often prepared to please not just the palate but the eyes. Soups were typically rich and sweet. They were sweetened with sugar and an assortment of aromatic herbs such as marjarom, thyme, sage, sweet basil and savoury. Pomegranate seeds were often sprinkled on top of soups for visual appeal. Roasts were the toast of the meal and they were made by basting the meat with orange juice and rose water and powdered herbs such as chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon.

Herbs as Medicine

  • Even though advances were made in the field of medicine during the Renaissance, herbs were still commonly used to treat different maladies. For example, aloe vera was believed to prevent hair loss and to clear blemishes on skin. Catnip was used to treat throat problems, chamomile was prescribed for indigestions and menstrual cramps, fennel was used to control weight gain, mint was used to treat indigestion, garlic was used to get rid of worms in children and witch hazel was used to get rid of ulcers and hemorrhoids. Interestingly, some of the medicinal uses of these herbs are still used in home remedies today.

Herbs as Aromatherapy

  • During the Renaissance period, there was no air-conditioning, no antiperspirants or air refreshers. They believed that stale air was conducive to the spread of diseases. To protect against the ill effects of diseases carried in the air, they would burn herbs or a combination of herbs and resin as incense to kill any pathogens in the air. For example, in France, lavender and rosemary were used to fumigate the hospitals. The incense also served to scent the air, acting like natural air-refreshers. Commonly used herbs were rose, rosemary, lavender, cloves and cinnamon.

Herbs for Personal and Beauty Purposes

  • Certain herbs were used to keep clothes and linens smelling fresh and to keep moths and other insects away. Before the days of washing machine, clothes were often brushed, aired and then stored away with herbs such as lavender, wormwood, mint, rue and camphor. Women relied on herbs or the aromatic oil of herbs used in soaps, hair wash, fragranced water or salves to help them stay fresh and clean. Some examples include lavender, rose, jasmine, marjoram and citrus.

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