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Medical Plants and Plant Based Medicine: Gardening and Medicine Production in the Late Medieval English Gentry Household

Recorded on 25 May 2023

Speaker: Caitlin Williams (Queen Mary, University of London)

The late medieval garden has often been imagined as a female space. References to women’s bodies as akin to the enclosed garden are common across the period and these allegories have been the focus of much of the historiography. My doctoral research focuses on domestic medicine in late medieval England. It explores gentry women’s everyday life in the period through understanding their involvement in medicine and keeping their household healthy. An excellent knowledge of herbalism was central to women’s ability to practice medicine domestically, as in order to produce medicine, they would have had to have been able to grow the plants or identify them in the wild. 

This paper shares some of my doctoral research into women’s gardening knowledge and labour. The premise of domestic medicine is that it was both more accessible and cheaper than consulting a university-trained physician. For this to be true, a reliance on plants, both native and easily cultivated, is required. The garden and women’s medical knowledge are central to domestic medicine. 

This paper will focus on the middle English medical manuscripts that for the basis of my thesis, conduct literature and archaeobotanical reports. Through this I shall explore how medieval women gained and used horticultural knowledge to support their medical practise. 

Caitlan Williams is a third year PhD candidate in the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London and Events Coordinator for QMUL Women in History Forum. Her research focuses on the role of gentry women in late Medieval English health care. 

IHR Seminar SeriesHistory of Gardens and Landscapes