Saturday, July 23, 2011

Plants as Common Knowledge

During the workshops at Plimoth I got the feeling that one of the many things we’re missing as part of our portrayal of the Renaissance mentality (music and formality highest among them) is a general knowledge of plants.

There are a lot of machines that are a part of our general knowledge today, the different makes of cars, types of cell phones, operating systems on computers, ways to get around the internet. These are things that generally you can expect the average American to know. There are definitely people out there who can name and identify more different types of cars, and there are folks with more in depth knowledge of cell phones, but if you asked a group of Americans to pick a flip-type cell phone out of a line-up of phones, they could generally have no problems with that task.

This weekend I heard stories of a new pilgrim being sent out into the garden to find carrots, and she could not find them because she had no idea carrots grew underground, or one who was given a tray of cabbages to plant in her garden and she planted the leaves in the ground, and the roots sticking up. These are extreme examples, but serve to illustrate my point. People in the past would have known a lot more about plants. They would have been able to identify a good number of plants, or at least plant types, they would have known what plants are harvested at what time of year if only by the regularity that such things showed up on the dinner table. Just like today we all know which over-the-counter meds cure headaches, and how to put on a Band-Aid everyone would have known which plants are best for small cuts, and which are good for stomach troubles.

I re-learned a lot about plants and herbs this weekend, and will be happy to share what I know. Would anyone be interested in a list of common historical herb remedies or a common vegetable harvest/availability chart?

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