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Health & Herbs in Medieval Times: Sage Wine from “Treatise on the Way of Preparing”

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Time: Early 14th century | Place: France | Language: Latin | Book: Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria ( Treatise on the way of preparing)Author: Unknown

Sage, oregano, thyme, dandelion root – these aren’t just herbs that flavor our favorite dishes, but plants that have medicinal properties and have been used in all kinds of medical ways. Medieval gardens were full of these kinds of plants, which were used for food and medicine in addition to providing pleasure, relaxation, and refreshment to the senses. Monks often cultivated the herbs in their monastery gardens, and were known as some of the most industrious medieval gardeners. In castles, women were often the primary gardeners.

Pleasure and practicality went hand in hand in medieval gardens. Games, dances, and romantic encounters took place there. In the kitchen garden, vegetables and herbs were grown for edible produce, while the physic garden contained an abundance of medicinal herbs, and the aesthetic garden contained flowers for decoration and pleasure.

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“Garden of Paradise”, 1410

 

No matter the size, these gardens were always enclosed – by hedges, stone, lattice-work, or rammed earth. The enclosed structures helped to confine and concentrate the fragrances of flowers and herbs, so that any visitor could smell the aromas and gain a sense of pleasure and calm upon entering. Roses were definitely the favorite flower in these gardens, but were accompanied by eyelets, peonies, lilies, and irises, among others.

In wealthy establishments, a cook was responsible for cultivating some of the gardens. The cook had to maintain awareness of the health of the people he would be serving. Having a garden at his disposal provided the cook with useful, therapeutic herbs to address people’s ailments through his food. Like a physician who had to know his patients, a professional cook had to know what to serve his clientele to preserve their physical health, and, on the other hand, what to prepare for a sick person to combat his or her illness. Thus in many ways, medieval cuisine offered a system of health through diet.

This recipe for Sage Wine comes from the medieval Tractatus de modo preparandi. Written in Latin, the book contains recipes for drinks, meats and game, fish, vegetables, eggs, and sauces.

 

The twenty drink recipes mostly call for the infusion of herbs and spices into wines, which provided a method of preserving, flavoring, or sweetening wines that soured or spoiled quickly. In addition, many of these herbs had medicinal or therapeutic properties: sage was known to be antiseptic, stimulant, tonic, antispasmodic, and anti-febrile. As a tincture or infusion, it was considered useful for diabetes, as it facilitated digestion and diminished blood glucose. This particular wine was used to treat disorders of the sympathetic nervous system (e.g., hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia) as well as asthenia (abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy).

Wineglass with scenes of Virgil and Febilla, ca. 1475–1500

Wineglass with scenes of Virgil and Febilla, ca. 1475–1500

 

Our 2015 Reconstruction:

Why add honey? Wines made from dried grapes or raisins wines were more popular in medieval Europe, and these were usually sweeter and more sugary. To account for this, we added honey to dry white wine to sweeten it.

How long to infuse? This recipe is fairly straightforward and simple, so really the only thing that you have to decide is how long to infuse the sage in the small portion of wine. We let the leaves infuse for about 15 minutes, and then mixed it back in with the rest of the wine.

Original Recipe in Latin:

Vt uinum saluiatum atque rosatum, sic conficitur : accipe saluie libras tres, et bene desiccate, uini boni et odoriferi modios tres, et saluia bene desicata cum sextaro uno illius uini, bene fricando inter manus, commisceatur et dimittatur in uase ligneo per spatium unius noctis; mane uero, ponatur in dolio, et dimittatur donec clarificetur.

Idem dico de rosis faciendis; et maxime, tempore uindemiarum.

Our modern version:

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of dry white wine
  • ¼ cup of honey
  • 8-11 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

Pour out one full glass of wine and heat it with honey and finely chopped sage leaves. Mix well, and then let it infuse for 10-15 minutes while covered. Then mix the small portion of infused wine back in with the rest of the wine and let it rest for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled, filtered or unfiltered.

So how was this medieval sage wine? We thought it was quite tasty and refreshing, similar to sangria but with more herbal fragrance. A very nice drink for a hot summer day!

Further reading:

Our Leftovers from this post:

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