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Beautiful Dangers

Medieval Herbal Tiles based on the Juliana Codex

Medieval Herbal: De Materia Medica

Plants in the Beautiful Dangers are either poisonous or have been thought to be poisonous at different times in history. All have were used as medicinal herbs for centuries. I've listed Dioscorides' recommendations in the individual plant summary in the sidebar. I selected the Beautiful Dangers herbs from the Juliana Codex/Vienna Dioscorides, the oldest known manuscript of De Materia Medica, itself the oldest known herbal, in use for more than 1500 years.

Pedanius Dioscorides

Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-c. 90), or Pedanius Dioscorides Anazarbus, was a Greek physician. He was from the small town of Anazarbus near Tarsus, a town renowned for the study of pharmacology at the time. Dioscorides worked as a surgeon with the army of Roman Emperor Nero, recording animals and sea creatures, as well as the existence and medicinal value of hundreds of plants, roots, seeds, herbs, and vines in southern Europe and northern Africa . About 70 A.D., he compiled that information into a five-volume work of medicinal herbs and attributes. Some time later, Dioscorides's herbal was first translated into Latin as De Materia Medica, which was in turn translated into Arabic as well as later Greek and Latin translations and then into Italian, German, Spanish, French, and English over the next 1500 years.

The Juliana Codex / Vienna Dioscorides

The Juliana Anicia Codex, also known as the Vienna Dioscorides, is located in the National Library in Vienna. It is an illustrated early middle ages (512 A.D.) translation, with 400 color ilustrations each occuping a full page opposite a description of the plant's medicinal properties. illustrated by a Byzantine artist for presentation to Juliana Anicia, daughter of the Flavius Anicius Olybrius, in Constantinople. No original copy of the original Dioscorides work has ever been found, so it is unknown if it contained illustrations. Scholars believe that the illustrations in the Vienna Dioscorides are based on illustrations from the Rhizotomicon of Crateuas of Pergamon (1st century B.C.). You can download all five books of De Materia Medica in PDF format.

I have made 12 tiles from the Vienna Dioscorides so far and will add more sets over time.

Medieval herb tiles, Vienna Dioscorides

From top left: Asphodel, Panax Heraklios, Artemisia Absinthium or Wormwood (Absinthe), Drakontaia, Strychnos, Rose, Cyclamen, Grape Vine, Wooly Bramble, Water Hemlock (Wild Parsnip), Physallis (Chinese Lantern), Cannabis Sativa.

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Vienna Dioscorides Pricing and Specifications

Title: Vienna Dioscorides Herbs

Tile: Tumbled Botticino marble

Complete Set: 12 individual tiles

Size: 6 inch square tiles (15.4 cm).

Also available on 4 inch tiles.

Thickness: 3/8 inch (1 cm)

Weight: 22 ounces (.62 kg) each tile

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Pricing Vienna Dioscorides Tiles

Per Tile : $77/p>

You are helping. $5 of the price of each Beautiful Dangers tile is donated to Direct Relief International. (Facebook)

Pedanius Dioscorides being given a mandrake root, from an illustration in the Juliana Codex 512 A.D.

Pedanius Dioscorides being given a mandrake root.
Illumination from the Juliana Codex, Vienna Dioscorides.

Summary of Medicinal Properties of Herbs Shown

From top left:

  1. Asphodel. The name is derived from a Greek ford for "sceptre". Dioscorides recommends it for treating gout. The roots were to be cooked in ashes and eaten. He also recommends it to cure ulcers, infections, tuberculosis, ear infections, toothache, and as a purgative and diuretic and to regulate menstruation.

  2. Panax Heraklios. "Panax" means universal remedy and Dioscorides prescribes its juices for stomach pains, ulcers, menstrual cramps, coughs, toothaches, convulsions, snake bites, ruptures, and headaches. Improved vision when rubbed on the eyes as an ointment. Mixed with honey, a remedy for indigestion.

  3. Artemisia Absinthium or Wormwood. Dioscorides remedied it a an ingredient in absinthe, a popular Thracian summertime drink. (Tracians were a group of Indo-European tribes who inhabited a large area in southeastern Europe). Artemisia is also recommend to pack clothing in order to repel moths and mice, and as a remedy for jaunce, to get rid of intestinal worms and parasites, and to assist digestion.

  4. Drakontaia. Arum. Dioscorides recommended it as an antitdote for snake bites. Rubbing the plant on the hands would prevent snakes from biting a person. Also used as an expectorant. The leaves, when beaten, were applied to fresh wounds.

  5. Strychnos. Black Nighshade. It is a relative of Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade. This poison of this plant is milder than Belladonna. Dioscorides recommended its leaves for treating skin diseases and infections. A decoction of the plants leaves could be used to treat indigestion and internal bleeding, as well as earaches.

  6. Rose. The rose was associated with Aprodite, Goddess of Love, as well as the Three Graces, and the Nine Muses. Dioscorides suggested rose petal paste as an eye salve and prescribed rose hips for coughing up blood. Dioscorides recommended that rose petal dust be mixed with wine for hemorrhoids, as well as headaches and earaches.

  7. Cyclamen. As a purgative, juice from the root stock was applied topically, over the bowels and bladder region or directly to the anus. Dioscorides mentions its use as an aphrodisiac, and also recommends it as an anti-toxin, skin cleanser, and to induce labor.

  8. Grape Vine. Dioscorides recommends grapes to improve the appetite and to relieve stomach paint. He also recommented grapes to treat severe diarrhea, and wine to reduce fever.

  9. Wooly Bramble. Dioscorides recommends using the flower in wine for diarrhea, and spreading an ointment made from macerated leaves and oil on the eye for infections and diseases. The flower, as a drink in water, helps to ease an upset stomach.

  10. Water Hemlock. Also called Wild Parsnip. Hemock is one of the most poisonous pants and is rarely used today -- it paralyzes the respiratory nerves. Dioscorides used it externally to treat herpes and St. Anthony's Fire, a skin infection appearing as patches on the face or legs and feet that often follows strep throat.

  11. Physallis. Also called Chinese Lantern, and Cape Gooseberry because it was first culivated on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Physallis, a plant in the nightshade family, prefers warm temperate and subtropic regions. Most species are native to the New World, although it there are species in Europe, China and South Africa as well. Dioscorides would have described the Harankash of Egypt, or possibly the Rasbhari of India. Dioscorides prescribed its stem as a sedative, and recommends its berries as diuretics. It can be used like a tomato and eaten in salads, or in desserts, or dried like dates and raisins. Dioscorides recommends for: Asthma, infections, laxatives. Good for stomach-related disorders.

  12. Cannabis. In Book Three of De Materia Medica, Dioscorides describes both major varieties of Cannabis: Cannabis indica -- the root (boiled and applied) is able to lessen inflamation, disolve edema, and disperse hardened matter around the joints.... Cannabis sativa is a plant of considerable use for twisting very strong ropes. The seeds eaten in quantities quench conception and the herb (juiced while green) is good for earaches.