Glossary of Plant Names



Modern recreation of  a medieval garden in Turin, Italy. 

Here is an abridged list of plant names you might encounter in medieval or early modern manuscripts. At this time I don't plan to add herbs to this list unless I think the plant is obscure or that the names will cause confusion.  Spelling was not nearly as standardized as it is today, but I think we can all infer that "time" means thyme and so on. If you get stuck, you can always e-mail me with a question. 

Alexander (alysaundre) is one  common name for Smyrnium olustratum which is very similar to  Angelica archangelica.  They are so similar that sometimes it is incorrectly stated that Smyrnium is another common name given to Angelica.

Alhandal (Citrullis colocythis) was used as a laxative and diuretic meant purge watery and serous humours. 

Alkanet or dyer's bugloss is red dye stock obtained from the root of Alkanna tinctoria.

Aloes wood or lign-aloes is the aromatic heartwood of the Aquilaria malaccensism tree. Interestingly the heart wood is not aromatic until it is infected by the mold Phialophora parasitica.


Ammoniacum, or gum ammoniac is a resin obtained from the stem of Ferula ammoniacum.

Avens or herb bennet is the plant Geum urbanum .  The root was used as deep green dye stock.

Aysell is another name for apple cider vinegar,  but you are going to find white wine vinegar was far more common.
Balme

Balme refers to Melissa officinalis  in Europe where it was also called lemon balm. 

Barilla is a crude form of sodium carbonate extracted from Saponaria officinalis (soapwort or bouncing bet).

Bastard lovage is Laserpitium latifolium and one of the many plants referred to as hart-wort.

Bistort is the native European herb Bistorta officinalis.

Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis) was introduced as a medicinal herb by monks in the 12th century

Bitore, bitour and bittern all refer to a kind of fish used in medieval cookery.  They didn't really use the word bitters as a medicinal preparation until the late 18th century. 

Blackthorn or sloe is the Prunus spinosa bush known for producing the berries (sloe) that flavor sloe gin.

Brionie or briony referred to Bryonia dioica  which was harvested for medicinal roots. It was also called English mandrake.

Buglosse or buglass refers to refers to  Anchusa officinalis (common bugloss). 

Burre is another word for Arctium lappa or greater burdock.

Burrage is another word for Borago officinalis or borage.

Cardas, Carduus, or Cardus Benedictus refers to Centaurea benedicta (blessed thistle).

Chardoon or cardoon is a common name for Cynara cardunculus (globe artichoke) but not Jerusalem artichokes which is native to the Americas.

Cassia lignea, cassia, canelle, canel, kanel is the bark harvested from Cinnamomum cassia.

Centaury is a plant from the gentian family Centaurium erythraea.

Christ's Eye refers to Inula oculus-christi.

Clary is the plant Salvia sclarea (clary sage).

Colewart or colwort  Modern cabbage, collards, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower are all hybridized modern forms of Brassica oleracea Colewart was probably closest in appearance to collard greens.  Modern cabbages were developed in Holland and called Savoys.
   
Connes is a French name for the Cydonia oblonga (quince) tree.  In English it might also be spelled Quynce or some other variation.

Costmary, or alecost is Tanacetum balsamita.

Cowslips or couslip are common names for Primula veras  and should not be confused with  Primula vulgaris (primrose) which I see done a lot. The problem is that while primroses can be sugared and used as edible decorations, cowslip is a stimulating expectorant.

Cubebs is Piper cubeba a type of pepper with citrus tones.

Daffadown dillie is obviously daffodils, I just wanted to type that word.  Contrary to popular belief Nathaniel Hawthorn did not make that name up.  I read it first in a book published in 1577. 

Damaske water is rose-water distilled from Damask roses.

Damson (Prunus insititia) is a native blue-black plum also called bulles or bullace.

Danewort is  Sambucus ebulus,  a dwarf elderberry plant which you might also see called Dane's blood. 

Diascordiam is a medicinal preparation of Teucrium scordium and opium combined with other herbs.

Dittany refers to Lepidium latifolium which was also called dittander or pepperwort. It's spicy root was used a bit like horseradish. it might also refer to Dictamnus albus but NOT the common dittany of the Americas which is Cunila organoide.
Dropwort

Dragon's blood was a resin obtained from Calamus draco a type of rattan.


Dropwort is Filipendula vulgaris a native medicinal wort.

Dock refers most frequently to Rumex crispus (curly dock).


Elena Campana and Enula Campana both refer to Inula helenium (elecampane) as do horse-heal and elfdock.


Ellebore  refers to the Helleborus genus as a group while most typically referring to  Helleborus niger (black hellebore).


Fetherfew is an alternate name for Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew).


Fitch was one of many common names used for the various vetches of the Vicia genus.  

Galbanum is an aromatic resin harvested primarily from Ferula gummosa.

Galingale or galangal is Alpinia officinarum. It's a somewhat milder tasting member of the ginger family I prefer to substitute for ginger.

Galium species plant were often utilized as pest repellents. Galium odorata (Sweet Woodruff) was used as a strewing herb while Galium verum (Our Lady's Bedstraw) was used for stuffing mattresses. 

Germander is Veronica chamaedrys (Germander speedwell) or Teucrium chamaedrys (wall germander)  which everyone should plant if for no other reason bees adore it.

Gillyflower refers most often to Dianthus caryophyllus (carnations) which were also called pinks or july flowers. The were wildly popular Parkinson grew over 25 varieties.

Goose grass is a less common name for Galium aparine (cleavers), sometimes written clivers. 

Grains of Paradise  are a hot, moist little seed from the plant Aframomum melegueta. 

Guaiacum is the resin obtained from Guaiacum officinale also called roughbark lignum-vitae or guaiacwood.

Gum arabic or acacia is a gum exuded predominantly by the Senegalia senegal tree.

Gum-dragagant is an alternate name for gum Tragacanth which is extracted from various plants of the Astragalus species. 


Hartshorne was most often referring to the ground horn of a red male deer used in its crude form as a source of gelatin. Also called buckshorne.

Hartstongue is a medicinal fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium. Go to the link and the picture will explain how it got it's name.

Hart-wort was the common name of many plants. Seseli tortuosum (French Hart-wort),  Bupleurum fruticosum (Shrubby Hart-wort), and Tordylium apulum (Mediterranean hart-wortand Levisticum officinale.  

Hearb fluellin, fluellin and speedwell all refer  primarily to  Veronica spicata but may be used to discuss other plants of the same genus. 


Hearb-grace is an abbreviation of herb of grace which was the common name for Ruta graveolens (Rue) also called ruda and ruda de huerta.

Hearb-heliotropium refers generally to the Heliotropium genus.  They are noted  in early literature for the way the flowers turn with the sun. 

Hearb perforata is another common name for Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort).

Hearb robert Geranium robertianum had many common names.  Red robin or storksbill are probably those I have seen most often. 

Heartsease is Viola tricolor (wild pansies) the larger ornamental pansies were not hybridized until the mid 19th century.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) was an herb used as a narcotic both domestically and by
Henbane
physicians.


Holy okes was the common name for Alcea rosea L. (hollyhocks) which were very popular by the late 1500's having been introduced to Western Europe during the Crusades.  You might also see them referred to as greater mallowes.

Housleek, houseleek, or singreen refers to the Sempervivum tectorum that were planted on roofs to serve as lightening rods.

Isop or ysop are sometimes used to refer to Hyssopus officinalis (hyssop).

Lang de beefe is the name given to a plant identified as Hieracium echiodes by Gerard which is now called Pilosella echioidesIt is a corruption of the French langue de boeuf, so  you might also see it called ox-tongue.  I have seen this one incorrectly identified frequently.

Lavender refers to Lavandula angustifolia, formerly L. officinalis a plant which was introduced to Western Europe during the Roman Britain period.  Don't let the picture at this link throw you English lavender can have bluish, lavender, white, or pink flowers. 

Liver-wort refers to plants belonging to the group of bryophytes collectively called Hepaticas

Long pepper is the common name for Piper longum. 

Lung-wort is Pulmonaria officinalis which was likely introduced to Western Europe during the Roman-Britain era. 

Macis and macys are common alternate spellings of mace which is the powdered hull of (Myristica fragrans) nutmeg.

Mallowes and malves refers generally to Althaea officinalis (marshmallow).

Mastic (tears of Chios) is an aromatic resin exuded from the Pistacia lentiscus tree.

Maudeline (maudlin per Culpeper) referred to a plant Parkinson called Costus hortorum minor  (Lesser Costmary) which refers to the very obscure camphor plant. Sometimes you still see the seeds sold as Tanacetum balsamita var. camphoratum.

Milfoil is another name for Achillea millefolium (yarrow) which was derived from the Old English  gearwe

Mustard cultivated and harvested before the 16th century was most likely Brassica nigra Sinapsis alba was a native wild not cultivated until the 16th century. 
Garden Orache

Orage (Atriplex hortensis) was also called garden orache and was grown as a potherb. 

Patience or pacience is Rumex alpinus (Monk's Rhubarb) which is not a Rhubarb but  was used as a purgative in a manner similar to the rhubarbs.

Pellitory refers to Anacyclus pyrethrum which sometimes is called pellitory-on-the-wall.

Pimpernell is always Lysimachia arvensis even if the author doesn't specify scarlet pimpernel.

Piony and pyonie are alternate names for Paeonia mascula   This "wild" peony was introduced as a monastic medicinal and then cultivated for showier flowers because of it's ornamental appeal. 

Potherb simply refers to any plant grown for culinary use purslane,  Chenopodium album (Fat hen or lamb's quarters)  Blitum bonus-henricus (Good King Henry), Stellaria media (chickweed), and ribwort are just a few.

Pusley or  purslarye are Portulaca oleracea (purslane) and not parsley.

Ramsres or ramsons are common names of the species Allium ursinum (wild garlic) which we call ramps. 

Rheum refers to to root of rhubarb used medicinally  which was generally harvested from Rheum officinale although sometimes (Rheum rhaponticumgarden rhubarb was used.

Ribwort refers to Plantago lanceolata which was used as a potherb and medicinally. 


Rocket is Eruca vesicaria L (formerly  E. sativa.)  Supposedly Americans call it arugula, but that's not how I learned so I am guessing it depends on where your folks came from.

Saunders was a red dye stock made from Pterocarpus santalinus (red sandalwood) that was also used as a culinary herb.

Saxifrage is generally referring to Saxifraga granulata (white meadow saxifrage).

Skirret and crummock both refer to is Sium sisarumIt was mostly a culinary plant but Culpeper did write about the plant improving the appetite and as an aphrodisiac saying "they provoke venery."  

Smallage was the name given to the wild celery plant.

Sorrel is the common name of the pot herb Rumex acetosa.

Seamróg -   Irish Gaelic for shamrock which is Trifolium repens (common meadow clover) or Trifolium dubium (lesser trefoil) depending on who you talk to there.  


Seamsóg- Irish Gaelic for Oxalis acetosella (wood sorrel).

Spike lavender or Lavandula latifolia is a variety of lavender native to Spain, France and Italy.  It was  introduced in Portugal and now we call it Portuguese lavender, so never assume.  
Spikenard

Spikenard, (spiknard, spykenard) refers today exclusively to the aromatic root of  Nardostachys jatamansi  obtained through trade.  But in the 16th and 17th century that was called Indian spikenard.  The spikenard being cultivated in  medieval gardens was a variety of valerian. Parkinson wrote about several including  Valeriana celtica saying "the whole plant is sweet and aromanticall, more than the Indian Spiknard."  Pliny's saliunca, which Parkinson calls Italian spiknardwas Valeriana saliunca which was used to scent Roman baths. 

Southernwood (Southrenwode)  is Artemisia abrotanum and has a native range that runs the south of Europe, from Spain to Italy. It is not the same plant as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Roman wormwood (A. pontica)  mugwort (A. vulgaris), or sweet wormwood (A. annua). The Artemisias are all different plants with different properties. 

Stecados refers to the ornamental shrub,  Lavandula stoechas  which is also called French lavender. 

Storax was the name for a natural resin harvested from Liquidambar orientalis (Turkish sweetgum) during the medieval and early modern period. It was written about in Greek and Roman medicinal texts.  (When the N. American sweetgum  L. styraciflua was discovered they gave the resin extracted from it the same name and used it similarly.) Benzoin is the resin obtained from the Styrax tonkinensis tree, although some people incorrectly call this storax, too.

Succory or  is an older name for Cichorium intybus (chicory).

Sweet flag is  another name for Acorus calamus  which Parkinson called  "The Sweet Smelling Flagge."

Synamoun is one way Cinnamomum verum  formerly Cinnamomum zeylanicum (ceylon cinnamon) was spelled. If you see it spelled this way it is likely the recipe is referring to true cinnamon. 

Tansey is an egg dish such as a pudding, omelette seasoned with Tanacetum vulgare (tansy).

Tormentell is Potentilla erecta a member of the Rosaceae family.

Turbith  or turpith is a purgative made from the morning glory species Operculina turpethum. Sometimes the name was used to refer to the plant. 

Turnsall or Turnsole is Crozophora tinctoria  formerly Tournesol tinctoria (L.) Baill. which was used to produce a blue-purple ink.  This is one that is commonly incorrectly identified.  If you don't believe me try to make a blue dye of Heliotrope.

Walworte is a common name for the Erysimum genus also called wallflowers.


White thorn is an alternate name for Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) seen sometimes in Irish and Scottish sources. 

Monks-hood refers to Aconitum napellus which was also called wolf's-bane because it was used to poison wolves to keep them away from livestock. 

Woodbine is Lonicera periclymenum which is the native European honeysuckle.

Woundwort was another name for  Betonica officinalis  formerly Stachys officinalis (wood betony).  Hedgenettle, bishopswort and per Pliny vettonica are other common names.