Strewing Herbs Preparation
"A list of strewing herbs from the late medieval/early Renaissance period...contains many that are familiar to us today: sage, tansy, violets, roses, mints, pennyroyal, winter savory, marjoram, hops, germander, sweet fennel, cowslips, ladys-mantle balm, basil, costmary, lavender, juniper, rosemary, chamomile, daisies of all sorts, lavender cotton, and sweet woodruff. "Many traditional strewing herbs were valued primarily for their aromas; others also had cleansing or pest-repelling qualities, either raw or in various preparations. Herbs of the genus Mentha (mints), particularly pennyroyal, are flea and tick repellents. Cedar (Cedrus, Thuja, or Chamaecyparis spp.) shavings or branch tips remain popular as moth and flea repellents. Australian gum or eucalyptus leaves, pine needles, and sage have insecticidal properties. Scented geraniums, rosemary, basil, fir needles, and bay leaves are said to kill as well as repel insects. Juniper needles, chamomile, lavender, lemon peel, lemon balm, orange peel, oregano, thyme, and sweet woodruff are all insect repellents. Perhaps discovered by accident or trial and error are the disinfectant, antiseptic, or bactericidal properties of many medieval strewing herbs. Though less effective than when used in washes or infusions, the salient properties are found in the raw states of many plants. "Today, some of us may dimly remember older family members engaging in _real_ spring and fall cleaning, when virtually everything in a house was scrubbed, pulled up, laundered, taken down, oiled, put up, painted, washed out, or taken into the yard and beaten. Strewing herbs came into play as well: dried southernwood and lavender heads were added to the straw under the wool winter carpets before they were tacked down, lavender and cedar sprigs tied up in bags with woolens when they were stored away each spring, lemon oil used to polish wood floors and furniture." "You may place dried leaves, blossoms, and branches of favorite herbs under area rugs, either loose or in large, loose cloth bags - old pillowcases are ideal. (Dont use fresh herbs, or you may indeed have something to muck out!) You may also tuck bagged dried herbs under sofa and chair cushions, between the mattress and mattress cover of a bed, under the pillows in pet bedding - wherever their aroma will be released by pressure or warmth. A thick layer of freshly dried aromatic leaves or branches laid in newspaper and topped with a small area rug is a delight in closets. Wherever you use dried herbs, be alert for possible allergic reactions to them; in my experience, allergies and irritation of mucous membranes are particularly likely with the insect-repelling herbs, and fine dust may be released when bagged herbs are sat, stepped, or slept upon. "Check bagged plant materials frequently if you live in a humid climate. They are apt to mildew if rugs become damp or if the weather is unusually muggy. "Strewing herbs have an attractive outdoor use as well. You may scatter handfuls of lightly crushed fresh herbs around a patio or lawn just before a party...Pick the herbs early in the day to maximize their scents, keep the stems in water until ready to use, and use small stems or finely chopped larger stems to keep footing safe. Add an extra doormat if your guests will be coming indoors from the garden: damp herb bits can stick to shoes." Excerpts from Robbie Cranchs "Herbs Underfoot: The Many Uses of Strewing Herbs, Yesterday and Today" article in "The Herb Companion." Dec. 1992/Jan. 1993, Vol. 5, No. 2. Pp. 57-58. Posted by Cathy Harned.
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