Household Hints from Macer Floridus

Today, I only have a few small excerpt from the Macer Floridus. Eleventh-century housekeeping:

Absinthium (wormwood), 10th c., courtesy of wikimedia commons

71 If you pound the herb (wormwood) with strong wine, you need not fear midges. If you burn it, they flee its smell.

105 If you dissolve you ink in wine this plant (wormwood) was steeped in and write on parchment, no mouse will gnaw it.

1307 Its juice (oregano), if mixed with onions and sumach and exposed to the sun when Sirius burns, exposed to the hot air for fourteen days, and placed under the bed is said to drive out all harmful small creatures.

There isn’t much to say here other than the problems of the household – mice, mosquitoes, bedbugs – were clearly seen as something to be addressed, however ineffectually. I don’t think any of this will work very well, but it is at least not actively harmful.

The Macer Floridus is a herbal that was extremely popular throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in all of Europe, and especially in Germany. It was most likely written in the mid-eleventh century by Odo of Meung, but this is somewhat uncertain and the early version could date from as early as the ninth century. Its final form of 77 chapters, drawing on material from Constantinus Africanus, certainly existed by 1100. We know with certainty that it was not authored by the classical Roman writer Aemilius Macer to whom early editors ascribed it.

The Macer is a relatively brief treatment of the pharmaceutical properties of various plants, drawing on various classical and medieval sources. It does not contain culinary recipes, but some remarks in it are nonetheless interesting from that perspective. I excerpted several paragraphs I found interesting with a view to culinary preparation, feasting, and lifestyle medicine. It should not need saying that these are not medical recommendations. While some recipes in Macer may actually have an appreciable effect, others can be seriously dangerous, and none hold up to modern evidence-based practice.

I am relying on the scholarly edition of 1834 and a German translation by Johannes Gottfried Mayer and Konrad Goehl that is still in print.

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