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Mandrake legend

The paper presented below is meant to show how modern, up-to-date research should deal with plants of the Middle Ages.

Anne Van Arsdall, Helmut W. Klug, Paul Blanz: The mandrake plant and its legend: a new perspective.

This paper demonstrates how the contemporary legend about mandrake plant evolved from classical through early-modern times. A major misconception about the Middle Ages and the era directly preceding it is an assumption that the different elements of the mandrake legend were always widespread and well-known. Our paper stresses the importance of distinguishing different stages in the mandrake legend in the centuries from ca. A.D. 500 to 1500, showing that not all concepts we know today were associated with the plant at any given time or place in the past. We base our research strictly on historical documents (illustrations, literary and botanical/pharmaceutical texts) carefully correlated in time. Our findings bring an important corrective to many folkloristic assumptions about the mandrake legend that have been handed down and accepted at face value for years. In fact, more research is needed to pinpoint when and where various elements of the legend originated and how (and how far) they spread, especially for the time after the 12th century.

Digital version.

About the ‘Medieval Plant Survey (MPS)’

The knowledge of herbs and healing was handed down from Antiquity to the Middle Ages which accounts for the little change within the materia medica of that time. But changes do occur, for example, in the evaluation and use of plants. Some plant’s habitat is limited to the Far East area and therefore it hardly gains ground in Western Europe; others are simply substituted with similar, native plants. The image of some plant undergoes a positive reevaluation in the course of their tradition; others, though, are assessed in a totally negative way. As people of the 21st century we Read more

The Use of Spices in Middle High German Cooking Recipes

The use of spices in general and the amount of spices used in particular has been discussed comprehensively over a long period of time but the topic still holds enough potential for heated discussions. Some of the many dated conclusions – the myth that spices are used to freshen up spoiled meat, for instance – have at least been permanently rejected but there is a vast amount of open questions like: What defines a ‘spice’ in medieval times? Why are spices used? Which spices are used and are some spices used more than others or are certain spices used for particular purposes? There are a lot of general theses on their use (Baufeld, Bober, Hirschfelder, van Winter, Weiss-Adamson, Wiswe, etc.) but none of those seem to Read more

Gewürze in deutschsprachigen Kochrezepten des Mittelalters

Die Angaben zur Verwendung von Gewürzen ist – wie die verwendeten Gewürze selbst – seit der Erforschung von mittelalterlichen Kochrezepten ein vieldiskutiertes Thema, und die möglichen Erklärungsvorschläge polarisieren auch noch die moderne Forschung. Man hat zwar das Argument, dass (vor allem die exotischen) Gewürze verwendet würden, um verdorbenes Fleisch genießbar zu machen, endgültig als nicht haltbar erklärt, trotzdem bleiben die Menge der verwendeten Gewürze, die Gründe für deren Verwendung und das damit implizierte Fachwissen zentrale und nach wie vor nicht ausreichend geklärte Streitfragen. Es gibt verschiedene Erklärungsmodelle, welche die Infor­mationen, die Kochbücher in Bezug auf das Würzverhalten bieten, zu beschreiben versuchen: Die gängigsten interpretieren Gewürze als Maß für den Reichtum Read more