During the Middle Ages, monasteries and convents were not only havens of spiritual devotion but important centres of knowledge, learning and healing. Monks were highly educated individuals and pioneers of modern medicine. Medieval monasteries played an important role in relieving suffering, offering shelter, hospitality as well as treating the sick.
The poor, wounded knights, nobility and princes would all take shelter in monasteries where they would remain until their wounds or sickness healed. Spiritual peace and natural medicines from herbs and flowers restored their health and strength. Endowments from wealthy patrons enabled the monastery or convent to continue its work of research and preparation of medicines using a variety of herbs that grew in the extensive cloister gardens close to the monastery. A walk in such a garden would open the senses to the drifting perfumes of the many healing flowers and aromatic leaves such as bay and sage; meditation and mindfulness would also be enhanced.
TINCTURE incorporates this ancient knowledge of herbs and their properties by carefully combining, researched essential oils into its natural formulations to clean, cleanse and protect.
Monastic libraries were a source of ancient knowledge and a place where learned writings on the medicinal uses of natural herbs and flowers could be accessed and documented. Gifted with the time and tranquility in which to pursue their studies monks became authorities on the medicinal use of herbs.
The techniques for extracting the pure essences by steam distillation used by monks remain the mainstay of today’s modern herbalists who make oils, unguents, tinctures and healing medicines. The pressing of leaves, stems and roots to release essential oils also releases aromas that can enhance emotional moods, aid clarity of thought, or assist sleep. The scents associated with herbs and essential oils are a natural component of the plant – an expression of their molecular structure and so the smell of a particular herb or essential oil is part of its unique character and is itself, one of the ways in which the herb protects against infection. These highly antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils can safely be used to ‘freshen’ air and to naturally disinfect one’s environment with additional health benefits (Thomas, 2014).
Recent research supports these ancient methods and uses. The use of camomile (Matricaria camomilla) dates back to Dioscorides classical work entitled ‘De Materia Medica’ where it was noted to cure wounds, stings, burns and ulcers, as well as cleansing the ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Owing to its mild nature and further contemporary research, camomile is particularly appropriate for usage with children.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) has been well documented in medieval texts to be an aid for improving memory. The University of Newcastle has shown Sage to be effective in this role; helping reduce the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which plays an important part in the prevention of vascular dementia (Scholey et al., 2008).
The protective properties are not surprising when you consider the plant compounds that make up essential oils exist in the first place to help plants protect themselves from infection, endure temperature variations, heal from damage and repel pests. It must not be forgotten that some of our most important pharmaceuticals originated from plants; aspirin derived from Willow Bark, malaria treatment from Fever-tree Bark, morphine is derived from the poppy, the cancer fighting drug paclitaxel originated from the bark of Pacific Yew Tree and many cold and cough medicines have mint or eucalyptus extracts as the main ingredient – even a newly developed Ebola treatment hinges on the use of Tobacco plants.
The use of herbs was not only limited to medicinal uses, but were introduced into the daily routines and practices in ancient monasteries. Monks were fastidious about cleanliness and set a rare example of hygiene. Rivers were tapped to ensure a fresh supply of water where monks would wash their hands frequently including before and after meal times. Rooms were swept out with fresh branches of grasses and rushes were laid on the floor. Leaves were burned in sick rooms to clear spores from the air preventing the spread of infection and disease.
The extensive portfolio of medicinal plants used in monastic times were also influenced by travelling monks and wise men that came from distant lands, bringing with them their own knowledge of protective plants found in their region and culture. Today, flowers and berries such as juniper and pods containing seeds of clove, cardamom and cumin, as well as cinnamon barks and ginger roots originally from Eastern civilisations have found their way into Chinese medicines, Western herbals, aromatherapy and cooking. With this knowledge it is also possible to cook delicious food that is also medicinal and no good cook should be ignorant of these powerful ingredients that can sooth, energise, heal and protect. The knowledge of herbal properties brings protection against various physical conditions and the use of herbs and plants such as rosemary to aid circulation or garlic to protect against intestinal parasites can confer resistance to disease.
As our environments are becoming ever more polluted by chemicals, artificial scents and toxic ingredients, TINCTURE returns us to an age when cleansing and protective plants grew naturally, where knowledge of the scientific properties of botanical plants were garnered over time and used with wisdom. Humans and their plant environment have evolved together, holistically. Natural remedies for human illnesses exist alongside us, differing in environment due to local diseases. What has been the case and worked for thousands of years continues to be effective today.
Scholey, A.B. et al. 2008. An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers. Psychopharmacology 198: 127 – 139.
Thomas, J.P. 2014. Using Essential Oils to Cure Disease. Texas, Sophia Media.
Photography by Richard Haughton, richardhaughton.com