Saint Hildegard's Herbal Medicines

herbal medicine Jul 09, 2024
Saint Hildegard's Herbal Medicines

In this continuation of our series on Saint Hildegard, the "herbalist trained by heaven," Judson Carroll delves into the remedies and recommendations of this revered medieval healer. Discover the herbs Saint Hildegard advocated for treating various ailments, as well as those she advised against. This excerpt from Christian Herbal Medicine: History and Practice offers a fascinating glimpse into her enduring legacy, and may even inspire you to cultivate some of these plants in your own herbal garden!

St Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

As I mentioned in part 1 of this article, Saint Hildegard had a very unique system of herbal medicine that was both physical and spiritual. She used herbs in some ways that are common to the western tradition of herbal medicine and the monastic medicine of the Middle Ages, but in many ways that are very different and specific to her teaching.

Although her books include many non-herbal remedies, prayer and fasting (etc), below are the plant medicines she recommended, with a brief description of how she used them. Some are straight-forward, others are clearly influenced by Saint Hildegard being a Christian mystic who received instruction on medicinal herbs from angels and “The Voice of the Living Light.”

St Hildegard's Herbal Remedies (& Foods to Avoid)

[Note regarding St Hildegard's term, "virgichtiget" or "gicht"– having consulted with those in the tradition of German Folk Medicine, it seems this is a term used for severe arthritis and paralysis... even stroke.]

Wheat - Saint Hildegard recommends whole wheat only for bread, not flour with the bran removed. She recommends cooked, whole grains of wheat to restore sanity or for mental clarity. She recommends a compress of cooked whole grains for back or loin pain, used hot. She also recommends a poultice of flour, and egg white to be placed on the wound of a dog bite.

Rye - She recommends rye bread for healthy people, but not for those with a weak stomach. She recommends it to help fat people lose weight. Rye bread poultices are recommended for lumps in the flesh, for scabies and genital crabs.

Oats - Of oats she says, "Oats are a happy and healthy food for people who are well, furnishing them with a cheerful mind and a pure, clear intellect." Oat water baths and saunas, she recommends for people who are "virgichtiget" - having consulted with those in the tradition of German Folk Medicine, it seems this is a term used for severe arthritis and paralysis... even stroke.

Barley - She does not recommend bread made from barley, but she recommends both baths infused with cooked barley and eating cooked barley for those who are sick or weak. She also recommends such washes for those who have hard and rough skin.

Spelt [Spelt Bread recipe here | Spelt Pancakes recipe here] - Spelt is very much associated with the Hildegard diet. She said, "Eating it rectifies the flesh and provides proper blood. It also creates a happy mind and puts joy in the human disposition. In whatever way it is eaten, in bread or other foods, it is good and easy to digest." She especially recommends a porridge of spelt and egg yolk as convalescent food.

Peas - She recommends peas for hot natured people but not for cold natured people, especially when sick.

Broad Beans - These she says are good for strong healthy people, but okay for the sick and weak as well - better than peas. She recommends eating beans, cooked with lard for "pain in the entrails", the broth eaten too. We may imagine this was a remedy for intestinal obstruction and constipation. She recommended a flour made from broad beans, used as a poultice to draw out pain in the flesh.

Lentils - Saint Hildegard was not fond of lentils as food (although I am!), but she recommended using them in a poultice for scabies and skin ulcers.

Millet - she was even less supportive of eating millet, "It only fills his stomach and diminishes hunger, since it does not contain nourishment. It makes a person's brain watery. It makes his stomach lukewarm and slow.... it is not healthy for a person to eat."

Panic Grass - She does not think much of panic grass as a food, but says it better than millet. Rarely is panic grass used anywhere except as a survival food. But, she says that (presumably the seed) cooked in wine will relieve burning hot fevers if frequently drunk.

Hemp - Hemp was also used as a grain. Saint Hildegard thought it to be a very good food for healthy people. "It is gentle and profitable to the stomach, taking away a bit of its mucus. It is easy to digest, diminishes bad humors, and fortifies good humors." But, she does not recommend it for those who are very sick and weak.

Nigella - She does not recommend eating the seed of nigella, but recommends it as a poultice for skin ulcers not caused by scabies. She also recommended the crushed seed mixed with honey as a fly poison.

Galingale [available here] - This relative of Ginger and Turmeric was once a widely used spice. Well into the 1800s, it would have been common even in American kitchens. She recommends a hot tea made of this herb to break a fever. She recommends it boiled in wine, drunk frequently to relieve pain in the back and side. She recommends eating galingale for pain in the heart or heart weakness. Other remedies include using this herb for bad breath, hoarseness, ailing and congested lungs, intestinal complaints, nasal congestion, phlegm, pain in the stomach or spleen, and even for palsy.

Zedoary - Zedoary is the old name for Turmeric. She recommends using this herb, infused in wine for people with shaky and weak limbs, mixed with galingale and honey. Other remedies include using this herb for excessive salivation, as a poultice for headaches, eaten baked into a cake with flour for a "heavy" stomach (indigestion due to overeating or eating bad foods)

Ginger - Saint Hildegard did not think Ginger to be a healthy food, but she did use it in herbal remedies for ailments including for "one whose body is dry and almost failing", infused in wine as a compress for oozing and irritated eyes, constipation, all stomach ailments, topically for pimples, the aforementioned condition known as virgichtiget (severe arthritis, paralysis or stroke).

Black Pepper - She warns against eating too much pepper, but recommends it as an appetite stimulant.

Cumin - She says that cumin is good for healthy people, but not for those with heart pain or lung ailments. She recommends cumin mixed with pepper and pimpernel, added to flour, eggs and water, baked into cookies as a remedy for nausea.

Feverfew - She describes as being "absolutely balanced and has a good vital energy." She recommends it to restore strength to an ill person whose body is almost completely failing. She lists it as good for digestion, good to reduce phlegm and congestion, a remedy for pleurisy, to clear the eyesight and to prevent illness.

Licorice - "No matter how it is eaten it gives a person a clear voice. It makes one's mind agreeable, and his eyes clear. It soothes his stomach for digestion. It is of great benefit to an insane person. If eaten frequently, it clears the furor from his head."

Cinnamon - She recommends cinnamon for paralysis caused by gout and malarial fevers, infused in wine. She recommends eating powdered cinnamon for nasal congestion.

Nutmeg [available here] - "If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up his heart, make his judgement free from obstruction, and give him a good disposition." She recommends using nutmeg baked into cakes or cookies. Who can argue with that?

Rose - Saint Hildegard recommended sleeping with rose petals over the eyes to make the sight clear, and to use rose petals as a poultice for skin ulcers. She says that an ointment of rose and sage infused in melted lard is good for muscle cramps and paralysis. She recommends a little rose be added to all medicines, "they are so much the better, because of the good virtue of the rose."

Lily - She recommended an ointment made from lily for leprosy. Moreover, she states "The odor of the first buds of lilies, and indeed the odor of the flowers, makes a person's heart joyful and furnishes him with virtuous ideas."

Psyllium (Plantain seeds) - Today, we use this as a common laxative. Saint Hildegard recommends psyllium cooked in wine as a remedy for fever. She also says, "It makes a person's overwhelmed brain happy by its sweet temperateness. It strengthens the brain by its coldness, as well as by its moderation, and helps restore it to health." Used as a warm compress, she recommended the same infused wine for fevers of the stomach.

Spike Lavender - She recommends infusing this in either wine or honey-water for pain in the liver or chest.

Java Pepper or Cubeb - This is one of the herbs that Saint Hildegard not only recommends to reduce congestion or lessen mucus, but to clarify the mind and reduce the passions of lust.

Cloves - She recommends cloves for a stuffy head and plugged ears due to sinus inflammation, swollen intestines, gout and hiccups. Cloves are antispasmodic to the digestive system.

Black Hellebore - Saint Hildegard recommended this herb, but it is toxic and I am not comfortable including its use.

Lungwort - She recommends lungwort infused in wine for lung inflammation.

Hart's-tongue Fern - This very useful herb is now rare due to over-harvesting. Saint Hildegard recommends it for complaints of the liver, lungs and intestines. She says that it is also good for pain in the heart and chest. This fern can be cultivated in pots.

Yellow Gentian - She recommends gentian for heart pain and stomach issues. It is also very good for the liver.

Wild Thyme - She recommends wild thyme to be eaten frequently for skin issues and to clarify thought.

Horehound - An interesting recommendation is her advice to cook horehound in water and let the steam enter the ears to combat deafness. She recommends a tea of horehound for sore throat, cough and feeble intestines.

Goatsbeard - She cautions that goatsbeard is generally not good for people and that it will cause miscarriage, but recommends it for the "gicht" (see above notes on virgichtiget).

Lavender [available here] - She recommends lavender to use against lice and says that, "It curbs many evil things and, because of it, malign spirits are terrified."

Fenugreek - She recommends fenugreek for malarial fevers.

Savory - Saint Hildegard says that savory is beneficial for both healthy and ill people to eat. "A person who has a frail heart and a weak stomach should eat it raw, and it will strengthen him. If one with a sad mind eats it, it will make him happy. Indeed, when it is eaten, it brightens and heals a person's eyes."

Sorrel - She does not find sorrel useful as food, at all.

Houseleek - We generally know this as a succulent houseplant called "hens and chicks". She warns against healthy, virile men eating this plant because she believed it would inflame lust. However, she recommends it for infertile men, taken cooked in goat's milk with eggs.

Bryony - Saint Hildegard regards bryony useless as a food for humans, and in most instances poisonous, but a wash made from this herb useful for ulcerated feet.

Woundwort - She recommends woundwort cooked and used as a poultice for very serious skin ulcers. She cautions against using it on puncture wounds, saying that it will close the wound too quickly, sealing infection inside.

Sanicle - (not American sanicle) She describes as being very healthy and useful to dispel mucus from the stomach and healing the intestines. She recommends drinking a tea of this herb to help with deep cuts and puncture wounds, such as with a sword.

Colchicum - She considers this herb very harmful for a human to eat.

Fern - Many ferns are used in German folk medicine. But, Saint Hildegard states that all ferns are useful for spiritual reasons.

"It (fern) holds within itself great power, namely such a power that the devil flees from it, and it even has certain energy which is like the power of the sun. As the sun lights up dark places, so the fern chases away apparitions, and evil spirits disdain it. In the place where it grows, the devil rarely practices his deceptions. The fern avoids and shrinks back from any home or place where the devil resides. Hail also rarely falls in the field where it is growing. Magic and incantations of demons - as well as diabolic words and other phantasms - avoid a person who carries a fern with him. If any image is prepared for carrying out injury or death, it is not able to harm one who has a fern with him. For a person is sometimes reviled through an image in such a way that he is harmed by it and becomes mad.

"In paradise, when the devil drew human beings to himself, a certain sign was made on the devil to remain on him, as a reminder until the last day. When a person invokes the devil by some words, through which his deceptions are accomplished, the sign is touched. He is often invoked to injure a person, or to fulfill the will of the person over whom the words are spoken. Sometimes a person is blessed by the image which was made, it furnishes him with prosperity and health. However, hatred and envy make evil, and evil is joined to evil. The wickedness of the devil always lies in wait for a person - looking at what evil has accumulated in him - and adds to it.

"A human being has both good and evil knowledge, and good and bad herbs were created for him. Fern sap has been placed for knowledge and in its honest nature, goodness and holiness are signified. All evil and magic things flee and avoid it. In whatever house it is, poison and phantasms are not able to complete their work. When, when a woman gives birth to a child, fern is placed around her, even around the infant in his cradle. The devil besieges the infant less since, when he first looks at the infant's face, he hated him intensely.

"Fern is also effective as the following medicines. One who is virgitchtiget should take fern, when it is green, and cook it in water. He should frequently bathe in that water, and the gitcht will cease. In summer, when it is green, put the leaves over your eyes often while you sleep. It will purify your eyes and take away their fogginess. One who is deaf, so that he does not hear, should tie fern seed (spores) in a little cloth and place it often in the ear, and he will again receive his hearing. And, one who is virgichtiget in his tongue, so that he cannot speak, should place fern seed on his tongue and the gicht in his tongue will cease, and he will again speak. Indeed, if a person who is forgetful and ignorant holds fern seed in his hand, his memory will return, and he will receive understanding; thus he who was incomprehensible will become intelligible."

I include this long passage, because it is one of the more difficult entries for modern readers to understand. For Saint Hildegard, the physical and spiritual worlds were inseparable. It would be easy for modern readers to dismiss such views as superstition. However, the Catholic Church forbids all superstition and Saint Hildegard von Bingen is a canonized saint. We must remember that our Lord cast out demons and warned against the works of the devil. The Apostles also condemned the sorcery of a man named Simon who sought to buy the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Tobit (one of those books that if it is not in your Bible, you need a better, more accurate and complete Bible) the Archangel Raphael drives away a demon with smoke created by burning part of a certain dried fish and uses another part of that fish to heal eyes blinded from infection! Our Lord, Himself, could have healed a blind man by His words alone, but he used earth and spit.

Why was the physical necessary? I do not know. Take from this what you will, but I have no doubt that a spiritual world exists with powers both for good and evil, and that those powers seek to influence humanity. I wear two small pieces of brown woolen cloth on a chord around my neck, known as a Scapular, because the Holy Mother of God stated, that those who wear this small symbol of faith and say the daily prayers associated with it would not suffer eternal fire (should they be faithful Christians, dying in a state of grace).

Saint Hildegard recommends several plants as protections against evil forces. I do not pretend to understand them anymore than I can fully understand the nature of the Holy Trinity. However, the Church does not teach that Christians must believe in Saint Hildegard's plants, while the Trinity is official doctrine. That said, I live in a home surrounded by many types of ferns, and I am glad that I do!

Arum - She recommends this herb for the "gicht" and for a mucousy stomach, but also taken in wine for one who suffers from melancholy rages.

Humela - This herb, she finds not at all useful, but warns that it will stir up riotous living and makes a person foolish.

Dauwurtz - She recommends for purging the stomach and taking fogginess from the eyes.

Tithymal - Saint Hildegard recommends this herb for gout and arthritis.

Cinquefoil - She recommends cinquefoil to help with strong fevers, used mixed with flour and olive oil, as a poultice on the stomach. For cloudy eyes, she recommends using this herb infused in wine, applying some to the eyelids before sleep.

Winter Cherry - She recommends be used topically for both eye and ear complaints.

Blind Nettle - Of this herb, she says, "a person who eats it smiles with pleasure, since its heat touches his spleen and thence his heart is made happy. When leucoma develops in one's eye, he should pull this plant from the earth and place it in spring water for a night. Then, having taken it from the water, heat it in a small dish and place it, warm, over the affected eye. If he does this for three nights, the leucoma in his eye will be cured and will disappear."

Sunnewirbel (likely dandelion or chicory) - She recommends that this herb be infused into wine with burdock for one who has a pain in the chest and a hoarse voice. She also recommends this combination of herbs for digestion.

Hops - She sates that this herb increases melancholy and causes a sad mind. But, she mentions that it is useful for preventing the spoilage of beverages. Hops is indeed, a sedative or depressant, now commonly used in beer.

Lilium - She recommends this herb for congestion in the spleen or stomach, weak intestines and difficulty fully exhaling the breath.

Sage - Saint Hildegard recommends sage against "noxious humors". For excess phlegm she says it should be taken infused in wine. She also recommends it for those who are "virgichtiget", and who have a palsy, head and stomach complaints, urinary incontinence, intestinal pains and the coughing of blood.

Rue - She recommends rue for indigestion, watering and foggy eyes, and pain in the kidneys and loins.

Hyssop - Hyssop, she recommends for the liver and lungs, especially for pain or sluggishness in these organs.

Fennel [available here] - She says that fennel aids digestions, makes a person happy, clears the eyes and diminishes phlegm. She also recommends it to aid in sleep.

Dill [available here] - Cooked dill, she says, "checks the gicht". Combined with yarrow, she recommends this herb to stop nose bleeds.

Parsley - Parsley is an herb far too often regarded as merely a garnish. Saint Hildegard wrote:

"Parsley is of a robust nature and has in it more heat than cold. It grows from wind and humidity. It is better and more useful for a person when it is raw, rather than cooked in food. When it is eaten it attenuates the fevers which lightly touch a person when they strike him. Nevertheless, it generates seriousness in a person's mind. But one who ails in his heart, spleen, or sides should cook parsley in wine with a little vinegar and honey. If he strains this through a cloth and often drinks it, it makes him well. But one whose stomach is ill should take parsley and twice as much fennel and as much soapwort as parsley and make a relish from them. To this he should add butter or beef fat and roasted salt, and eat it often, cooked. But one who has pain from eating garlic should soon eat parsley, and he will have less pain.

"One who is in pain from a stone should take parsley and add a third part saxifrage. He should cook this in wine and strain it through a cloth, and drink it in a sauna. Also, he should cook parsley and a third part saxifrage in water, and pour it, with the waters over hot stones in the same sauna bath. If he does this often, he will be better.

"Also, one who is tortured by paralysis should take equal weights of parsley and fennel, with a little less sage. He should grind these herbs together in moderate amounts in a mortar and add rose-tinged olive oil to it. He should place it over the place where he is suffering and tie it with a cloth.

"And one who has both soft flesh and a limb troubled by gout, from excessive drinking, should take parsley and four times as much rue, and fry this in a small dish with olive oil; or, if he has no olive oil, he should fry them with goat tallow. He should tie these warm herbs on the place where it hurts, and it will be better."

Celery - She did not think celery good as food. Although being more healthy cooked, she says it produces "an unsettled mind". Which is a shame, as celery is my favorite vegetable! She recommends the juice of celery and fennel for watery eyes. Celery seed, she recommends for the "gicht."

Chervil - She says that chervil heals broken wounds of the bowels and for pain of the spleen combined with dill.

Brooklime - "If someone eats it cooked as a puree, with lard or oil added, it will loosen his stomach as if it were a purgative. When eaten, it even checks gicht."

Watercress - Saint Hildegard recommended watercress for jaundice, fever and poor digestion.

Water Mint - She recommended this herb for indigestion due to overeating and for congested lungs.

Horsemint - She said that this herb should be pounded and applied as a poultice for skin parasites.

Field Mint - She recommended this mint as a poultice for discharge from the eyes and eaten to aid digestion.

Spearmint - This mint, she recommended to be taken, infused in wine for the "gicht" and for indigestion.

Garlic - Saint Hildegard recommended eating garlic raw, rather than cooked.

Shallots and Leeks - she recommended being cooked in wine before eaten, she considered raw shallots harmful.

Onion - She also recommended onion cooked, and said that it was good for people who have fevers or "gicht".

Cabbage - Oddly enough, Saint Hildegard may be the only German who did not like cabbage!

Radish - She said, "cleanses the brain and diminishes noxious humors in the intestines."

Lettuce - She recommended that lettuce be "tempered" with dill, vinegar or garlic. "Tempered in this way, it strengthens the brain and furnishes good digestion." She recommended it for swollen gums, taken along with wine.

Wild Lettuce - Wild lettuce has a sedative quality, somewhat like morphine for some people; it does nothing for others other than being a good digestive bitter. Saint Hildegard recommended it to quell lust in both men and women.

Mustard - She, quite sensibly, recommended mustard to be eaten cooked, dressed with wine or vinegar. Eaten this way, mustard greens are delicious and good for digestion. Raw, they are as she said, hot and hard to digest.

Elecampane - This herb, she says, is good for pain in the lungs, for migraine and clears the eyes.

Poppy - She recommends eating poppy seeds to induce sleep.

Mallow - She recommends mallow as a compress on the head for fevers and eaten for a weak stomach.

Burdock - Cooked in wine, she says this herb is useful for urinary stones.

Thistle - She recommends Lady's Thistle for pain in the heart.

Nettle [available here] - Cooked nettle, she says, purges the stomach and takes mucus from it.

Plantain - Saint Hildegard said that plantain infused in wine was good for the "gicht", but should be applied as a poultice for swollen glands. A stitch in the side could be helped by plantain tea. She also believed that plantain was a remedy for one who had been given a love potion. That is certainly an odd statement for our times, but traditionally such potions were not believed so much to engender amor, but to create a kind of obsessive mania or susceptibility to suggestion, which may have been caused by certain psychoactive properties, especially in members of the nightshade family. Saint Hildegard stressed that herbs such as mandrake and belladonna, which were used in many witch's potions, were very dangerous. Indeed they are, being not only hallucinogenic, but quite poisonous and able to trigger psychosis or schizophrenia. Such herbs were taken intentionally to induce visions and a sense of flying but could also be used to manipulate a person "under a spell." Many people throughout the centuries have been either wrongly accused of witchcraft, or have been honest practitioners of witchcraft, shamanism or other ancient religions who used their knowledge of herbs and spiritual forces for healing - such people follow pagan religions but should not be condemned as evil. The disposition of one's heart and the awareness of the moral consequences of their actions decides between good and evil intent, even if such practices are prohibited for the use of Christians. The use of herbs and dark spiritual powers for harm or to manipulate another person is, indeed, purposeful and willful evil. The denial of such a spiritual reality is modernist ignorance.

Manna - "placed over an open wound, draws out the poison and heals it. Cooked as a puree and eaten, it heals painful, ulcerated intestines."

Violet [available here] - Saint Hildegard recommends violets infused in oil, applied to the eyelids before sleeping for foggy eyes. She recommends violets infused in wine for melancholy and aching lungs. For a heavy head or kidneys (likely a dull ache), she recommends violets infused in fat as a salve - violets contain salicin, which is the origin of aspirin.

Orach - She recommends eating orach for digestion and scrofula (swollen infected glands).

Ground Ivy [a.k.a "St John's Herb," available here] - "It’s vital energy is profitable, so that if a person who languishes, and whose reason is failing, soaks it in warmed water, cooks it in a puree or a broth, and eats it often, with meat or small tarts, it will help him... If bad humors trouble one's head, so that even his ears ring, boil ground ivy in water. When the water is squeezed out, place the warm ivy around his head. It diminishes bad humors and opens up the hearing. Also, if he has pain in and around his chest, as if he has internal ulcers, he should, while he is in a bath, place this warm, cooked ivy around his chest, and he will be better."

Southernwood - She recommend southernwood to be used topically for scabies, boils and the "gicht". Southernwood is a member of the Artemisia or wormwood family, and has vermifuge, antiseptic, antibiotic and antiviral properties.

Mugwort - Mugwort is also an Artemisia. This one, she recommends eaten as a food. It is bitter, but not unpleasantly bitter (like collards or kale when cooked). She says, "it heals ailing intestines and warms a cold stomach." She also recommends it for food poisoning and used topically for skin infections.

Clover - She recommends clover flowers, infused in oil to clear cloudy vision.

Wormwood - Wormwood is the signature member of the Artemisia family. Saint Hildegard recommends this herb, infused in wine, frequently. The old German name for wormwood infused wine is the origin of the herbed wine we now know as vermouth. This popular addition to a martini was once a very popular medicine and tonic made by the Benedictines. While it is better to make your own, good commercial brands are available that are made from traditional formulas. She recommends applying this wine to the head for headaches, dropped into the ears to rid them of vermin, for toothache, pain in the chest (also applied as an infused oil), for melancholy, sickness in the loins, clear eyesight, to strengthen the heart, prevent the lungs from becoming sick, warm the stomach, purge the intestines and ensure good digestion! "Drink this (wine) every other day before breakfast, from May to October."

Henbane - This is one member of the nightshade family that Saint Hildegard does recommend for external use against parasites. She also recommends it, soaked in cold water, as a cure for hangovers when applied to the forehead, temples and throat.

Tansy - Tansy, as mentioned under Abbot Strabo's entry, can be highly toxic and is rarely used by herbalists these days. It has much traditional use, though. Saint Hildegard recommends it used in small amounts, cooked in food for cough and congestion. She also recommends it for indigestion and food poisoning. She recommends tansy infused in wine for urinary stones. For delayed menses, she recommends tansy as a sauna steam or a smoke of the herb, using it in baths, etc. However, if used at all, this herb must be used with great care.

Oregano or Wild Marjoram - She did not believe this (one of my favorite herbs) good at all as food. But, she recommended using it saunas for leprosy.

Yarrow - She recommends yarrow applied to the eyelids for "vision darkened by tears." Yarrow is universally used by herbalists for wounds and bleeding. Saint Hildegard used it similarly and recognized its antiseptic properties for use against infected wounds. She recommended it used externally for external wounds and internally for internal bleeding. She also recommended it taken, infused in wine for fevers. Yarrow's use for staunching blood has been known since the time of the ancient Greeks, who told of it in the legend of Achilles as battlefield medicine. Saint Hildegard's recommendation against fever shows her advanced knowledge of herbal medicine.

Agrimony - She recommends agrimony to purge mucus and phlegm especially for the intestines and stomach, and a bath of agrimony for leprosy.

Dittany - She recommends eating dittany, and taking it infused in vinegar, as a remedy for urinary stones. She also recommends this herb for heart pain and lameness in the limbs.

Chamomile - This would be German Chamomile, of course. She recommends this herb as a gentle remedy for painful intestines, to bring on menses and for a stitch in the side.

Gladiolus - She recommended an ointment made from this herb for scabies of the head, and a wash of the herb for other skin conditions. Infused into wine, she says it is good for one whose urination is constricted.

Horseradish - Saint Hildegard may also be the only German in history who did not think horseradish was good to eat! However, she did recommend the juice of the root to help stimulate appetite in an under-weight person. A dried powder of the rood, she recommended for heart pain.

Dwarf Elder - She recommended this herb for infected finger and toenails.

Black Nightshade - Black nightshade, she recommended be used topically for chest pain, toothache and pain in the legs and feet.

Calendula [available here]- She recommended calendula against poison, used both infused in wine and as a warm poultice on the stomach. She also recommended topical washes for scabies and other skin issues.

Mullein [available here and here] - Mullein, she recommended be eaten frequently for anyone whose heart is weak and sad. Infused in wine with fennel, she said it was good for hoarseness or chest pain. Mullein is commonly used for all complaints of the throat and lungs.

Germander - She recommended that germander be used only topically, as an ointment for scabies, and only for short periods of time.

Cornflower - Saint Hildegard recommends cornflower (or bachelor's buttons) infused in wine for broken bones, and as a hot poultice use topically. She also recommends it for those who are "virgichtiget".

Pennyroyal - She recommends pennyroyal compresses for "one whose brain is afflicted."

Peony - She recommends peony for malarial fevers, or any such fevers as reoccur every three or four days. She recommends peony root infused in wine for chest congestion.

Betony [available here] - This is one of those herbs for which Saint Hildegard has a uniquely spiritual view. This herb, she also recommends against love potions and spells.

For one who is foolish or silly and lacks knowledge, betony should be crushed to a juice and placed over his entire chest at night. It should be tied on with a cloth in the morning. If this is done often, he will return to his senses. If someone is regularly tormented by false dreams, he should have betony leaves with him when he goes to bed, and he will see and feel fewer false dreams. A woman who suffers inordinately with great menstruation at the wrong time should place betony in wine, so that its flavor passes into the wine. She should drink this often, and she will be cured.

Black Dock - She recommends black dock for "one who has lost his sense or intelligence or who is out of his mind."

White Dock - She states that white dock is stronger than black dock, and better for such mental issues. But, it is also useful to bring on delayed menses, when infused in oil and applied to the abdomen topically.

Pimpernel or Burnet Saxifrage - she recommends to be worn around the neck to protect against illnesses not caused by food or drink, but perhaps by evil forces. This must be viewed in the context of the Middle Ages, when germ theory and viruses were not understood.

Columbine - Saint Hildegard recommends columbine for scrofula and excessive phlegm.

Garden Spurge - She warns against eating spurge, but says that small amounts can be used as a purgative. This variety of spurge, as best I can tell is Euphorbia hirta, also called asthma weed (due to being used for lung conditions).

Hog's Fennel - She recommends hog's fennel for fevers and the "gicht".

Saxifrage - She recommends saxifrage for mucus in the stomach, stones and jaundice.

Celandine - This herb, she recommends used topically for infections due to touching unclean things.

Lovage - Saint Hildegard recommends that one not eat lovage raw, but that cooked lovage may be used for swollen glands and veins of the neck used as a poultice with ground ivy. Infused in wine, she says that it is good for a chest cough, combines with sage and fennel.

Ivy - She recommends a warm compress of ivy over the stomach for jaundice and for heavy menstruation.

Marshmallow - (althea) she says, prevails against fever. She recommends marshmallow infused in vinegar both for fever and headache.

Valerian [available here] - She recommends valerian both for pleurisy and pain from the "gicht".

Catnip - She recommends catnip, used topically for scrofula.

Herb Robert or Storksbill [available here] - Saint Hildegard recommends this member of the geranium family mixed with feverfew and nutmeg, taken as a powder, for heart pain, runny nose, cough and chest constriction.

Comfrey - She recommends comfrey for ulcers and wounds, but cautions against eating too much of it. Indeed, while comfrey is excellent for healing tissues, it can also feed cancer cells - it stimulates cell growth of any kind.

Birthwort or Aristolochia - She recommends birthwort mixed with feverfew and cinnamon, taken as a powder, as a daily tonic against all illnesses.

Chickweed - She recommends chickweed as a poultice for bruises - injuries both from falls and battle.

Black Hellebore - Hellebores are not much used by modern herbalists because of toxicity. Hippocrates though, found them useful. Saint Hildegard recommends taking the juice from this herb in wine for the "gicht" and jaundice. As it can be an "irritating purgative", I would probably choose other herbs for such condition.

Goutweed - This herb, she recommends for "gicht" or gout and pain in the stomach.

Vervain - She recommends a poultice of vervain for worm eaten flesh and placed around the neck for sore throat.

Summer Savory - In this instance, the "gicht" she describes seems more like a palsy or perhaps Parkinson's disease. She recommends summer savory combined with cumin and sage, taken in honey.

Arnica - Saint Hildegard warns against taking arnica internally, but not for the reasons most herbalists would - it can be quite irritating, even caustic. She believed that even through external use, it would inflame a person with uncontrollable and irrational lust, causing the person to become foolish.

Indian Chickweed - She recommended for maggots or worms in wounds.

Meygelana - She recommended eating his herb for scrofula or poison filled ulcers, but also for epilepsy, taken under the tongue during a seizure.

Tormentil - She recommended tormentil, infused in wine for food poisoning or "fevers which arise from noxious food."

Clary Sage - She recommended this herb as an antidote for poisoning, taken with honey and a small amount of rue, but also weak stomach and headache.

Geranium [available here] - Saint Hildegard recommends geranium with saxifrage both as tea and a steam to help with urinary stones.

Bennet - This herb, she considers as almost a last resort, if "one is failing in all his corporeal powers", taken as a tea. But, cautions against its use for healthy people.

Madder - She says that madder is effective against fever, taken as a tea.

Bloodwort - Bloodwort, she recommends for "superfluous and poisonous humors." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds unpleasant.

Masterwort - She recommends this herb for fevers. This herb contains aspirin-like salicin and is commonly used in German Folk Medicine for fever.

Smartweed - She also recommends smartweed, infused in wine, for fevers.

Bramble - This what we would call blackberries or black raspberries. She recommends the thorns to open infected swelling of the mouth, to let them drain. Such practices were common among all people where these berries grow before fine needles and scalpels. She also recommends a powder of this plant (most likely the leaves) against worms in infected wounds. The herb, infused in wine, she recommends for ailing lungs and chest cough.

Asafetida - this herb was much used in ancient medicine... so much so that it was harvested into extinction. The last known plant was photographed in a remote region of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Saint Hildegard recommended it for fevers.... quite unlike the ancient Greeks who found it useful for sexual issues.

Aloe - Aloe, she recommended topical poultice for daily stomach fevers, to strengthen a person and remove similar issues form the head. Similarly, she recommends this herb as a chest plaster for cough. Internally, she recommends it infused in wine with horehound and licorice.

Frankincense - Of this herb, she says it clears the eyes and purges the brain taken baked into cakes. She recommends topical use for severe headaches and malarial fevers.

Myrrh - The scent of myrrh, she recommended for bad dreams, melancholy and even emotion issues caused by evil spirits. Internally, she recommended it infused in warm wine for fevers.

Balsam - She recommended balsam for stomach fevers and insanity applied externally, either to the stomach or the head. Internally, she recommended it for one who was "virgichtiget", but cautioned that it was a strong, hot medicine to be used with great caution.

Spruce Pitch - Saint Hildegard recommended spruce pitch for maggot infested wounds.

Lupine - She recommended lupine for pain in the intestines, powdered and infused in wine.

Borage - She recommends borage as a compress for obscured vision and ringing ears. Taken infused in wine, she recommended for chest congestion.

Female Fern - She recommended this herb for those who ail in their intestines, but only for people who are very lean.

Lady's Thistle - She recommended Lady's Thistle for one who has a stitch in the side or heart (a sharp pain usually experienced when walking or running).

Ficaria or Lesser Celandine - An infused wine of this herb and basil, she recommends for burning fevers.

Woad - she recommends used as a salve, infused in fat, for palsy.

Primrose - Saint Hildegard recommends primrose to check melancholy and headache. It is mildly sedative and good for pain - used in beer before hops became popular.

Butterbur - She recommends external use of butterbur for ulcers and scrofula.

Coltsfoot - She recommends coltsfoot for indigestion, hardness/swelling of the liver and small "pea, or bean-like" swellings.

Asarum - Saint Hildegard recommends a tea of asarum for "a person who languishes a long time and is weak in his flesh." She also recommends this herb for chest weakness and lung pain, both used in baths and taken internally.

Mountain Parsley - She recommends this herb for palsy.

The plant on which Bearberries Grow - This herb, she says, nourishes the blood and promotes menstruation.

Thyme - Thyme, she says, carries off putrid matter from the head. Eternally, she recommends it for leprosy. She recommends an ointment made of thyme, sage and tithymol for palsy and stitch.

Polonia - Saint Hildegard recommends this herb infused in wine for gout.

Cockscomb or Yellow Rattle - She recommends mixing the sap of this herb with salt to kill external parasites.

Dorth - Powdered and mixed with fat, she recommends this herb for scabies.

Thistle - She recommends eating thistle as an anecdote for poison and used externally for rashes.

Danewort - She recommends danewort only be used externally - applied to the head for a rushing sound in the ears and to "mangy" finger and toenail beds.

Basil - Of basil, she wrote "A person who has palsy in his tongue, so that he is unable to speak, should place basil under his tongue, and he will receive speech. Also, one who has strong fevers, whether tertian or quartian, should cook basil in wine, with honey added. He should strain it and drink frequently, with or without food, at bedtime. His fevers will cease."


I think it would be appropriate to include a few quotes by Saint Hildegard:

"Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of the Earth's greenings. Now, think."

"Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you've got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You're a world—everything is hidden in you."

"All of creation is a song of praise to God. Love abounds in all things, excels from the depths to beyond the stars, is lovingly disposed to all things."

"All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God's brilliance, emerging from God like the rays of the sun."

"Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God's work. Humankind alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create. With nature's help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining."

Judson Carroll is a Certified Master Herbalist from the blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, who began his herbal apprenticeship at age 15. He is the author of 7 books on Herbal Medicine and Gardening and he hosts the Southern Appalachian Herbs Podcast. His weekly articles on herbal medicine are available through his Substack. Judson is a convert to Catholicism, who is orthodox in doctrine and very traditional… but still struggling to learn Latin, and the only guy in his parish with a southern accent! He may be contacted at southernappalachianherbs at

I'm Mary Fernandez, a Catholic mom of five with a passion for history and ancient remedies. Here at Humble Housewives, I dive into the world of holy saints and healing plants. Want to stay in the loop about new blog posts?