Grey Abbey Physic Garden.

Picture showing 8 herbs in Grey Abbey Physic Garden, Mugwort, Rue, Lovage, Southernwood, Herb Bennet, Campion, Harts, Fennel

Grey Abbey Physic Garden, in view there are eight of forty herbs. Mugwort, Rue, Lovage, Southernwood, Herb Bennet, Campion, Harts Tongue & Fennel. The ruins of the Abbey are visible top right and the old cemetery top left.

Tansy – November

Medieval Abbeys & Monasteries usually kept within their grounds an area for the cultivation of herbs and plants which could be used to produce medicines. They would also have included plants which could be used for colouring wools and other fabrics. The Grey Abbey Physic Garden is a reconstruction of such a garden and contains herbs & plants which we believe the Cistercians would have grown.

Many of the plants in the garden, predate the formation of Grey Abbey and their medicinal use was known to the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians & Romans. Some of the knowledge of Arabic physicians came to Europe after the Crusades from the 1100s on. Benedictine monasteries were often the primary source of herbal medicine in Europe in the early middle ages. By translating Greek and Arabic text into Latin they broadened their knowledge base, and it is certain the Cistercians took this knowledge with them.

Harts Tongue taken in November at Grey Abbey Physic Garden, Greyabbey, Ards,

Harts Tongue – November

However, monastic medicine was eventually overshadowed when universities came on the scene from the 13th century onwards.

Through a system of trial and error medieval man used many of the herbs seen growing in our Physic Garden to treat common ailments.  These were used in teas, ointments, tinctures, baths, soaps and simply strewn on the floor of a room. Many were dried and could be stored for upwards of a year. Some were only harvested on certain days of the year when they were believed to be at their most potent.

Yarrow – November

During a time when the letting of blood was considered a cure, it will come as no surprise to visitors that medieval man also attributed magical powers to some of the plants. Many were used in love potions and to keep evil spirits away from the home. A guided tour of the Garden touches on these attributes as well as the claimed medicinal uses.

Finally, medieval and renaissance herbalism could not be considered to be entirely safe and no qualities ascribed to the herbs grown here can be entirely relied on.