Markham’s The English Housewife

In 2015, I began recreating various recipes from The English Hus-wife by Gervase Markham.  This is an ongoing project, in which I strive to add one recipe each time I recreate the collection.  My focus has previously been on the chapter on Physica.  The following is the most up to date documentation for this project.  I hope you enjoy!

A Collection of Medicinal Infusions:

An Interpretation of 16th Century English Medicine

by Esa inghean Donnchaidh

Recipes taken from Gervase Markham’s

The English Housewife:

Containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman; as her skill in physic, cookery, banqueting-stuff, distillation, perfumes, woll, hemp, flax, dairies, brewing, baking, and all other things belonging to a household


In 1615, Gervase Markham (ca.1568-1637) published a compilation of advice for housewives spanning “all the virtuous knowledges and actions both of the mind and body, which ought to be in any complete housewife.”  It is from a 1986 reprinted copy of this work (edited by Michael R. Best) that I curated this collection of medicinal infusions from the sections on Medicine (titled Of the inward virtues which ought to be in every housewife. And first of her general knowledges both in physic and surgery, with plain approved medicines for health of the household, also the extraction of excellent oils fit for those purposes), and Distillations (titled Of distillations and their virtues, and of perfuming).


Markham and His Manual

Gervase Markham (ca.1568-1637) was the youngest son from a noble family in their financial decline.  He was born approximately ten years after the accession of Elizabeth I and four years after the birth of Shakespeare (Best, 1986).   Believing in the traditional, chivalrous values of late Medieval England, Gervase held a particular ideal for the nobility of the aristocracy of his day.  He was an amateur naturalist and scientist, and an accomplished horseman.  As an un-wealthy gentleman, Gervase would have been well-read and educated, but also required to work.  Gervase translated many works from French, and his writing indicates a classical and modern (for his time) education.  As an educated and well-read nobleman, albeit one who must work for his supper, he began his career as a writer and likely picked up some work as a horseman.  As a writer, Markham published four books on equestrian arts, four on military practices, four on rural sporting activities, and one on the domestic arts, amongst many plays and poetry published in various forms (some published during his life, and others published posthumously).  Gervase may have played on the edge of the courtly social circle.  References to “the younger Markham” performing horse tricks for the Queen ca. 1600 may be referring to our Gervase.

Markham’s manual that I am recreating here indicates a noble, rural household of Tudor England as the target audience.  The English Housewife was originally published as Part II of an overall domestic manual for the rural household, with Part I on Husbandry[1].  I read of rumblings of his effeminate nature, which some attribute to his interest in the domestic arts, but I believe his domestic manual was merely modeled after his own life.  His research interests appear to change from play writing and poetry to the many aspects of husbandry after his marriage on February 23, 1601.  The editor of the 1986 edition from which I am working asserts that Markham’s The English Housewife was directly inspired by the sections on housewifery in Maison Rustique, or, The Countrey Farme (Estienne, Charles pre-1564 and translated from French to English in 1600), which Markham would later edit with additions to make them more accessible to English readers.

Through his domestic manuals, he became more of an ethnographer or social scientist, compiling and recording such valuable, ephemeral knowledge that would be quoted later by other seventeenth century scholars.  The English Housewife may be as interesting a period piece for what it omits as what it includes.  It is notable that The English Housewife omits one of the primary duties of a complete housewife: childbearing.  Another one of Markham’s works, Hobsons Horse-load of Letters (fiction), sex is mentioned; however, Markham’s religious beliefs are believed to have been more Puritan-leaning, which may indicate why Markham focused more on the “virtues” of the ideal Tudor housewife.

Since our knowledge of the time indicates that not many women would have known how to read, we can assume that the target audience was Ladies of a higher social position who received some education and ran a household.  Gervase is quick to attribute the success of his domestic manuals to his subjects of observation:  “I am but only a public notary who records the most true and infallible experience of the best knowing husbands in this land.” –Gervase Markham (Best, 1986).

The Tudor Housewife

Shifting our focus to the housewife, we see an Elizabethan noble woman who is responsible for all aspects of operations of her home, which would have included staff, livestock, children, wards, and Lords.  Her burden of knowledge is great: she must be an expert in management, culinary arts, medicinal arts, handcraft of all sorts.  Of specific interest to this medievalist and for the purposes of this recreation is, of course, her duty in medicine.

Of Her Virtues in Physic

To begin then with one of the most principal virtues which doth belong to our English housewife; you shall understand that sith the preservation and care of the family touching their health and soundness of body consisteth most in her diligence, it is meet that she have a physical kind of knowledge; how to administer many wholesome receipts or medicines for the good of their healths, as well to prevent the first occasion of sickness as to take away the effects and evil of the same when it hath made seizure on the body.  Indeed we must confess that the depth and secrets of this most excellent art of physic is far beyond the capacity of the most skillful woman, as lodging only in the breast of the learned professors; yet that our housewife may from them receive some ordinary rules and medicines which may avail for the benefit of her family, is (in our common experience) no derogation at all to that worthy art.  Neither do I intent here to load her mind with all the symptoms, accidents, and effects which go before or after every sickness, as though I would have her to assume the name of a practitioner, but only relate unto her some approved medicines, and old doctrines which have been gathered together by two excellent and famous physicians (Dr. Burket, Dr. Bromelius), and in a manuscript given to a great worthy Countess of this land (for far be it from me to attribute this goodness unto mine own knowledge), and delivered by common experience, for the curing of those ordinary sicknesses which daily perturb the health of men and women.    

(Markham, Pg. 9)

The duty of the housewife as the keeper of the health of both the body and the soul of her family was not new when Markham penned his manual.  These medicinal practices were referred to at the time as “kitchen physic” (see Robert Greene’s work), known to be ordinary, simple, and wholesome.  This medicinal tradition spans Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny up to and including Bancke’s Herbal (1525).  The few complex recipes, most notably the compound waters, were attributed to the well-known (male) medical authorities of the time.

Medicine in Elizabethan England was based on several theories of the day, including The Doctrine of Signatures and Theory of Antagonism (Theory of Humours), both of which are indicated in Markham’s chapter on Physic.  Aspects of these theories overlap with astrology, alchemy, and the “conjuring arts” as supported by period sources and many scholarly works.  For the purpose of this project, I will limit this discussion to specific examples.  Some of Markham’s recipes provide glimpses of traditional folkloric (magick) traditions.  Examples include “the urine of a man child,” and “the woman’s milk that nourisheth a man child,” because males were seen as being more potent, and that potency would be transferred into the healing properties of the concoction.  Other examples include “for a woman to milk her breast upon the earth” to cause her milk to dry up, and for a man to become sterile for spilling his seed (masturbation).  Markham, in favor of experimentation and scientific methods, was clear in his doubt of such practices.  Examples of his commentary include “though this medicine be somewhat doubtful” (37) and  “…but I will refer it to trial.” (172).  Where the Humours are mentioned in the following recreations, Markham and the housewife are working within the context of the accepted Theory of Antagonism, based on the belief that the body is made up of the four elements  expressed in our bodies as the humours, which possess four attributes: hot, cold, dry, and moist.  To bring balance to the body, one would increase the opposing humour.  For example, cold herbs treat fevers and hot maladies, as in Oil of Camomile.

English Herbal Tradition

Among the English Housewife’s great knowledge of physic, she would also have great herbal knowledge spanning the cultivation, processing, utilization, and applications (both medicinal and culinary) of all the products of her home garden and spices from abroad.

…it is meet that our housewife know that from the eight of the calends of the month of April unto the eight of the calends of July, all manner of herbs and leaves are in that time most in strength, and of the greatest virtue to be used and put in all manner of medicines; also from the eight of the calends of July unto the eight of the calends of October the stalks, stems, and hard branches of every herb and plant is most in strength to be used in medicines; and from the eight of the calends of October unto the eight of the calends of April, all manner of roots of herbs, and plants are the most of strength and virtue to be used in all manner of medicines. (Markham, pg. 132)

The above quote is consistent with my modern herbal knowledge of plant potency and prime harvest times, adjusting for changes in the seasonal calendar as one moves from England to the American mid-Atlantic region.   In Markham’s time, as is true today in many alternative medicine circles, astrological medicine was commonplace.  Much like the magickal traditions described above, Markham treats this tradition with skepticism.  One example, treating the falling sickness (epilepsy), Markham’s recipe includes that the plant should be picked “morning and evening during the wane of the moon, or when she is in the sign of Virgo” but goes on to say that “this medicine is somewhat doubtful” (37).

Part I: The Oils

Clove Infused Almond Oil: To Make Smooth Hands

This is a recreation of clove infused almond oil to be used to soften hands according to the recipe published in The English Housewife (1615).  I have chosen to only use information presented in Markham’s book for the purposes of this project.  At a later date, I may revisit this infusion and utilize other period sources to attempt to shed some light on the areas in which Markham was vague in this recipe, and fill in gaps where period housewives would have known what to do from experience (e.g. extraction methods, tools, measurements, etc.).

The Recipe:

“To Make Smooth Hands” from the section on Medicine (titled Of the inward virtues which ought to be in every housewife. And first of her general knowledges both in physic and surgery, with plain approved medicines for health of the household, also the extraction of excellent oils fit for those purposes).

The recipe reads:

To Make Smooth Hands

To make an oil which shall make the skin of the hands very smooth, take almonds and beat them to oil, then take whole cloves and put them both together into a glass, and set it in the sun five or six days; then strain it, and with the same anoint your hands every night when you go to bed, and otherwise as you have convenient leisure.

(Markham, pg. 249)

The Recreation:

Step 1: Beat the Almonds into an Oil

Markham provided stark instructions for extracting the oil from the almond, which I would argue is the most difficult step in this recipe!  I opted to use almond oil extracted by modern methods and using modern equipment that would have been unavailable in 1615.  Because modern methods for oil extraction were used, I have not included that process in the documentation.  At a later date, I may revisit this project and attempt to further research and recreate period methods of oil extraction.

Step 2:Take whole cloves and put them both together in a glass…

Interestingly, Markham did not include the ratio of oil to cloves.  One may assume, as I have, that the ratio would have been intuitive to the “complete” housewife, who herself would have likely been well versed in oil infusions.  In the absence of this information, I have defaulted to my modern understanding of herb-to-oil ratios for infusions, and have chosen a 1:2 ratio of cloves to almond oil.

Step 3: …And set it in the sun for five or six days…

As above with extraction methods and ratios, Markham is likewise vague in his approximation of steep time.  I would again assume that the complete housewife would have experience in infusions, and therefore would be able to make an informed decision regarding when the oil had been sufficiently infused.  Setting the glass in the sun would have created a low heat in the oil, effectively creating a “slow cooker” for the oil infusion.  My window sill steep time was impacted by the available sun at the time of infusion.  I let my oil sit in the sun for 6 days.  (19 March to 25 March 2015)

Step 4: …Strain it…

While the English housewife would have known exactly what to use to strain the cloves out of the oil, I am left wondering how my modern choices of strainer would have compared to what was available in period.  In the modern practice of traditional herbalism, cloth is often used to strain fine bits out of infusions of vinegar and waters.  Using a cloth to strain oil is possible but would result in losing much of the oil to the cloth itself.  I have chosen to use a metal tea strainer for ease of use and effectiveness.

To Use: …And with the same anoint your hands every night and when you go to bed, and otherwise as you have convenient leisure.

three steps of clove oil


Based on the method of extracting the oil from the almond through “beating,” and the limited options for straining the finished oil, it is apparent to me that the period housewife would have needed to create a very large amount of almond oil in order to have a useable amount of the infused oil by the end of the process.  She likely would have been well versed in extracting and infusing oils, and much like the modern traditions of herbalism and cooking, I believe she would have had a broad base of knowledge to draw upon when following Markham’s recipe and would have known how to effectively prep her ingredients and ensure proper, useable amounts.

With regard to the effectiveness of the infused oil for the intended purpose of softening hands, I used the oil on my hands regularly until it was spent, and found it to be quite effective.  My initial impression was that the clove infusion was likely to create a pleasant spicey aroma and questioned, from what I know of the herbal properties of cloves, if the infusion would add much to the effectiveness of the oil.  It may have been placebo effect, but I did feel that the clove oil absorbed better into my hands than plain almond oil does (an oil that I use on my skin often).  It felt thinner to me, and I have considered the possibility that the clove infusion could have made the oil thinner and therefore more readily absorbed into the skin rather than the tendency of some heavier oils to sit on top of the skin without penetrating, therefore doing not much more than clogging pores.

Oil of Chamomile

This is a recreation of Oil of Camomile [sic] to be used for treating “any grief preceeding from cold causes” (Markham, pg. 56) according to the recipe published in The English Housewife (1615).  “Cold causes” refers to the plant as having hot and dry [2] properties, particularly the white chamomile variety.  I have chosen to only use information presented in Markham’s book for the purposes of this project.  At a later date, I may revisit this infusion and utilize other period sources to attempt to shed some light on the areas in which Markham was vague in this recipe, and fill in gaps where period housewives would have known what to do from experience.  It may be of note to the reader that this recipe also appeared a few decades earlier in A Niewe Herball (Lyte, 1578).


The Recipe:

“To Make Oil of Camomile” from the section on Medicine (titled Of the inward virtues which ought to be in every housewife. And first of her general knowledges both in physic and surgery, with plain approved medicines for health of the household, also the extraction of excellent oils fit for those purposes).

The recipe reads:

To Make Oil of Camomile

To make oil of camomile, take a quart of Sallat oil and put it into a glass, then take a handful of camomile and bruise it, and put it into the oil, and let them stand in the same twelve days, only you must shift it every three days, that is to strain it from the old camomile, and put in as much of new; and that oil is very sovereign for any grief proceeding from cold causes.

(Markham, pg. 56)

The Recreation:

Step 1: take a quart of Sallat oil and put it into a glass

The first step in Markham’s Camomile oil is as straight forward as it appears, once the sallat oil is determined (see Appendix A).

Step 2: take a handful of camomile and bruise it and put it into the oil

While a “handful” is vague, indeed, chamomile being gentle in nature there is no real risk in overdosing here other than perhaps a little sleepiness.  Bruising of botanicals should be gentle, and immediately the herbalist will smell the release of the fragrance from the herb for instant feedback.  Adding the botanicals to the oil, rather than the oil to the botanicals as I prefer to do, means the oil takes a bit longer to reach all the buds and the “shifting” becomes necessary to reach those inevitable floating buds that just won’t steep otherwise.

Step 3: let them stand in the same twelve days

Step 4: shift it every three days

“Shifting” here refers to a gentle shaking of the container to create a more even steep and reach those floating botanicals, which will sink, and slowly float up to the top of the container by the next scheduled shift.

Step 5: strain it from the old camomile, and put in as much of new

I found this step most interesting.  To strain oils is common practice for me, as botanicals left in oil can lead to deterioration and contamination of the oil (likewise, it should be noted that oils do not keep as well, and should be stored refrigerated or in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months.  Be mindful if your oil goes rancid).  The straining of the oil herb and adding new serves to make the oil look very nice in a glass container, and facilitates further steeping of the new buds, but without an indication from Markham on how to store and for how long, I believe this step creates more risk than benefit for the amateur herbalist (see below in “analysis”).


The recipe for Oil of Camomile leaves fewer questions in the mind of this medievalist than did the Clove Oil.  I am left with the lingering question from step 5, the adding of new herbs after straining, and the lack of instruction regarding storage of the oil.  I attribute this, as I have with so many other omissions throughout this recreation, to the knowledge base of the original intended audience.  Again, I turn to my analysis of women’s work more so than this particular recipe itself.  I believe the women making Oil of Camomile would have known the appropriate sallat oil, size of handful, and storage methods that best served them and their intended use for this oil.

Similarly, Oil of Lavender may also be substituted for chamomile oil “in all respects as you did your oil of camomile” (Markham, pg.56) also indicating the herb’s hot and dry properties to treat cold causes (Oil of Lavender was not recreated for this submission, but is a planned addition to this collection of infusions for the future).

The recipe reads:

To Make Oil of Lavender

To make oil of lavender, take a pint of Sallat oil and put it into a glass, then put to it a handful of lavender, and let it stand in the same twelve days, and use it in all respects as you did your oil of camomile.

(Markham, pg. 56)

Part II: Waters

Of distillations. Of the nature of waters.

Therefore first I would have her furnish herself of very good stills, for the distillation of all kinds of waters, which stills would be either of tin, or sweet earth; and in them she shall distil all sorts of waters meet for the health of her household…  

(Markham, pg. 125)

Markham’s distillations offer a challenge in that the waters chosen for recreation are not recorded as true recipes, but rather, as a list of various herbal waters with their medicinal virtues.  Markham is considerably more vague in his instructions for distillations than he is in his instructions for oils.  The chapter begins with the quote above, noting that a complete housewife would have quality stills of earth or tin (or glass, according to some of Markham’s recipes) with which she would distill.  Very few of the distillations published here have recipes, and those that do, tend to be blends of multiple herbs where the recipe is merely the ratio of herbs present but omits most or all instructions for the distillation process.  Judging by the recipes that are, indeed, published here, it seems that most herbal distillations are created by beginning with distilled water, adding the herbs, and possibly distilling a second time to achieve the final product.

My contemporary interpretation of herbal waters is as follows:

Gently heat distilled water

Pour over dried herbs

Steep covered for 20-30 minutes

Strain and store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place.

The following waters have been recreated here according to the above interpretation:


Water of Fennel

“to make a fat body small, and also for the eyes” (Markham pg.130).


Water of Rosemary

the face washed therein both morning and night causeth a fair and clear countenance; also the head washed therewith, and let dry of itself, preserveth the falling of the hair, and causeth more to grow; also two ounces of the same, drunk, driveth venom out of the body in the same sort as mithridate doth; the same twice or thrice drunk, at each time half an ounce, rectifieth the mother, and it causeth women to be fruitful; when one maketh a bath of this decoction, it is called the bath of life; the same drunk comforteth the heart, the brain, and the whole body, and cleanseth away the sports of the face; it maketh a man look young, and causeth women to conceive quickly, and hath all the virtues of balm”   (Markham pg.130)

Water of Borage

which is good for the stomach, and for the iliaca passio [3], and many other sicknesses of the body” (Markham pg.131).

The Recreation:

Step 1: Gently heat distilled water

Previously distilled water was heated to approx. 180 degrees F (steam, but not boiling) over the stove

Step 2: pour over dried herbs

Dried herbs had been placed in glass containers, over which the warm water was poured

Step 3: Steep covered for 20-30 minutes

The herbs were set to steep for 20 minutes, which was realistically closer to 25 when taken into account the time before cover was placed (which is when I started the timer), and after while I strained slowly through cheesecloth and set the water in a new, clean container for storage.  The covering is the most important step here, because it prevents the phytochemicals of the plants from escaping via the steam while steeping.

Step 4: strain and store in an air tight container in a cool, dry place

The herbal water was strained through cheesecloth and set in a clean, air-tight container for storage.





The water of borage created a deep tea, the fennel medium, and the rosemary produced a clear water.  The rosemary was by far the most fragrant, followed by fennel, and lastly borage.  As a distiller, I plan to revisit this recreation and set the herbs into the water before distilling to find out if different results are achieved.  My expectation is that, with a similar amount of heat being present, results will be comparable.  The advantage to the latter method is that there are no particles of your original herb in your final distillation, which cannot necessarily be said for straining.

Part III: Wine

Rosemary and Sage Wine: For Heart Sickness

This is a recreation of herb infused wine to be used for sickness of the heart according to the recipe published in The English Housewife (1615).  I have chosen to only use information presented in Markham’s book for the purposes of this project.  At a later date, I may revisit this infusion and utilize other period sources to attempt to shed some light on the areas in which Markham was vague in this recipe, and fill in gaps where period housewives would have known what to do from experience (e.g. period wine making.).  The recipe is found in the context of a collection of recipes for physiological heart conditions, such as too much fat around the heart, leading me to believe that this recipe is intended for those determined to have unhealthy hearts rather than the alternative colloquial “heart sickness” that could refer to a broken heart.

The Recipe:

“For Heart Sickness” from the section on Medicine (titled Of the inward virtues which ought to be in every housewife. And first of her general knowledges both in physic and surgery, with plain approved medicines for health of the household, also the extraction of excellent oils fit for those purposes).

The recipe reads:

For Heart Sickness

Take rosemary and sage, of each a handful, and seethe them in white wine or strong ale, and then let the patient drink it lukewarm

(Markham, pg. 30)

The Recreation:

Step 1: Take rosemary and sage, of each a handful

Several points omitted here will influence the product of the recipe.   The first is the species of rosemary and sage used, which is important for sage in particular as there are several varieties that would have been readily available and even grown in kitchen gardens.  Secondly, Markham did not include if fresh or dried herbs are called for in this recipe. Thirdly, the measurement “of each a handful” becomes problematic here, because dried herbs are significantly more potent than fresh.  Therefore, a handful of fresh herbs would dry to about half to 1/3 their original volume.  Taking this into consideration, my “handful” of each herb will change according to whether fresh or dried are used at the time of infusion.  My experience as a contemporary herbalist informs my dosing.

In the absence of these details, I have chosen to use rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) and salvia officinalis (sage) picked from my garden and dried using a slow dehydration method.  Secondary sources consulted indicated that these were likely species grown and readily available to a common culinary herb garden in England in the Middle Ages.  I believe the women utilizing this manual in 1615 would have known exactly what species of rosemary and sage to use, when to harvest them, how to prepare them, and whether dried or fresh herbs were best for each respective recipe.  As a contemporary herbalist, I am simply making educated guesses within what is available to me today.

Step 2:and seethe them in white wine or strong ale…

Here again I am faced with deciphering the recipe due to Markham’s omission.

How much wine or ale?

Is the amount the same regardless of which carrier is used?

If ale, what kind of ale?

If white wine, what kind of white wine?

Is the amount of carrier liquid impacted by the choice of dried vs. fresh herbs?

How long should the herbs steep?

One may assume, as I have, that the amount of carrier liquid, duration of the seething, maybe even the choice of wine vs. ale, would have been intuitive to the period lady of the house, who herself would have likely been well versed in these medicinal libations.  I, however, am not.  In the absence of period understanding, I again turn to my contemporary herbalism training.

My contemporary interpretation of Step 2 of this herb infused wine is as follows:

1 ounce dried herbs to 1 pint of white wine.

Place the herbs in the bottle and pour the wine over top.

Cap tightly and shake well.

Store in cool, dark place for 2 weeks; shaking daily.

After the two-week steep, strain with cheesecloth, rebottle, and cork.

For my recreation, I am using 1 pint of white wine.  I chose wine simply because I want to test my infusion, and my health prevents me from consuming ale.  I chose a commercially available and economical pinot gris (I have plans to revisit this recreation, partnering with a period wine maker, to create a more period end product).  I dosed a heaping palmful of each rosemary and sage, equaling approximately 1 oz. total dried herbs.  This ratio of 1 oz. dried herbs to 1 pint wine has effectively produced a 2:1 wine to herb ratio, which is supported by modern herbal practices.

Step 3: …And then let the patient drink it lukewarm.

Again, this reenactor is faced with questions.  When, at what dose, and how often is the infusion to be consumed?  Since other of Markham’s instructions are much more specific when treating much more specific diagnoses, I infer that the dosage, much like the diagnosis of “heart sickness,” is more general and may even be preventative or intended to manage, rather than treat, the ailment.

sage infused wine


Within a matter of hours, the wine had rehydrated the herbs, effectively creating the 1:1 ratio desired for fresh herbs.  This indicates to me that whether dried or fresh herbs, the medievalist cannot go wrong.  Other than the recipe omissions, as discussed elsewhere in this document and explained further in the Part IV, this is a straight forward, simple slow steep infusion.  I would recommend this recipe to beginners in period recreations.

Part IV: Analysis

Taking this collection of infusions as a whole, patterns emerge.  The most noticeable and significant pattern for me are the many omissions, most frequently regarding dosing.   When I refer to dosing, I am referring both to the dose of herbs in the original infusion (ratio of herb to carrier, potency of dried vs. fresh, length of steep) and dosing of the final infusion to the patient.

The frequent recipe omissions, cited repeatedly in the recipes recreated here, are indicative of the collective and ephemeral knowledge making up “women’s work” in the Middle Ages, and indeed throughout history.  As with so many other projects that attempt to recreate women’s work, many of the details were not written down but passed orally and shared collectively among women of a shared culture, geography, kinship group, etc.  I believe the woman utilizing this manual in 1615, like those from whom the recipes were collected in the mid to late sixteenth century, would have known exactly what species of herbs to use, whether to use dried or fresh, and what a “handful” looks like, etc. as is indicated in Markham’s introductory notes (see “on herbs” in the Introduction, and Markham, pg. 132).  As is customary with folkloric culture, much of the detail was lost to time and disinterest of new generations.

While I do believe much of these omitted details would have been common knowledge among women as passed down and shared collectively, that same knowledge base would have changed according to sub-culture, region, and kinship group.  Therefore, I am confident in my summation that, to at least some extent, the dosing was trivial.  There was “wiggle room,” if you will.  It is the intrinsic medicinal properties of the herb, collected in the proper astrological phase (indicating a very specific time of year, maturity, and moisture content within the plant) to which we can attribute the healing that takes place.

I will refrain from the modern feminist tangent that is the guide to housewifery being authored by a man, and leave the reader to ponder the implications of the overarching concept of a complete housewife, and what it would have meant for a noble woman to be all things to all members of her house, including physician and surgeon, as the title of the first chapter of Markham’s compilation suggests, all the while maintaining soft hands.

[1] “Husbandry” in this context refers to the work of “husbandman,” a landowner or farmer who made a living off the land.

[2] Further explanation of the humors and properties of “cold,” “hot,” “wet,” and “dry” have been determined to be outside the scope of this documentation.  More on the hot and dry properties of chamomile can be found in Lyte, pg.184

[3] Iliaca passio: phr. Late Lat.: iliac passion, severe colic, a disease affecting the ileum or lower portion of the small intestine (Fennell, pg. 456)

Appendix A:  Sallat Oil

Two of the infusions in this collection call for sallat (salad) oil, requiring this herbalist to venture into a rabbit hole of period cooking to discover what oil would have been most common in Tudor England for the average noble family.

Having initially determined that the target audience for Markham’s work was a woman of means, I put myself through a simple thought exercise to check myself for bias or assumptions.  If a recipe in my modern mundane life asked for salad oil, I would assume olive oil, and had I been working out of The Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti then I would have felt comfortable in my assumption.  However, I am not recreating Italian medieval infusions but English Tudor infusions, and while I was certain olive oil would have been imported to England by this late in period, I could not safely assume that it would have been so readily available that one would have it on hand as the “go-to” oil for salads and such household uses.  If imported oils were luxury items, where is the line of demarcation among late period English households to indicate when a luxury imported oil may be used for an infusion?  Would she have to be royal?  A noble? A merchant’s wife?  Further, understanding that olive trees are not prolific in England, am I assuming olive oil to be the best choice when compared to other, readily available oils? For some direction, I consulted Lady Caitlin Ennis (Catherine McGruire) via the great Book of Faces.

Below is an abridged reprinting of her counsel:

One derives the probability of olive oil as the dressing oil for a salad in a roundabout way.  Briefly, cooking fats for the most part were comprised of butter and animal fats.  Olive oil was perhaps not as common in England initially.  It was obtainable through trade with Spain, Italy, and Southern France.  Butter was the most common used cooking fat in Elizabethan times, and most historians generally concur that olive oil was reserved for salads; such as Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery (Washington and Hess, 1996).  In the section titled “The History of Olive Oil” in Maguelonne Toussant-Samat’s The History of Food, it states, “English Cookery books from the end of the Middle Ages to the late Renaissance seldom specified that the oil mentioned in recipes should be olive oil.  That could either be because the use of olive oil was taken for granted, or because the writers could not be explicit about the nature of the oil…” Toussant-Samat goes into further detail, offering other possible explanations for this, such as, issues with obtaining quality oil, that oil was doctored, etc.  In conclusion, olive oil was definitely considered a luxury product throughout the late medieval period into Elizabethan times.

Gervase Markham specifically mentions Rape Oil (canola oil today is made from rapeseed) in The English Housewife for use in oiling wool.  In other places, specific oils are mentioned; yet, while there is a recipe that mentions using oil for salads, olive oil is not specifically mentioned.  Among other historical sources, Forme of Cury (The Chief Master Cooks for Richard III, 1390) specifically mentions olive oil once in a recipe for salad.  John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (Gerard, 1597) mentions olive oil specifically as a dressing for raw artichokes.

Despite Markham’s lack of mention of olive oil as a sallat oil in the text from which I am taking these recipes, I feel comfortable moving forward with olive oil as my carrier oil where sallat oil is specified.  As mentioned above, upon reading a mere few pages into The Complete Housewife, it became clear to me that this text was intended for a woman of some means, and likely would have presented a life comparable to that of a noble women in Tudor and Elizabethan England.  That said, myself being a noble woman in the Known World, I find it most appropriate to use the luxury imported oil of the olive for my medicinal infusions, as well as to dress my sallat.

Sources Cited

Markham, Gervase (1615, 1986) The English Housewife: Containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman; as her skill in physic, cookery, banqueting-stuff, distillation, perfumes, wool, hemp, flax, dairies, brewing, baking, and all other things belonging to a household. M.R. Best (Ed.). Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press

The primary focus of this interpretation, and the source for all the recipes recreated.  For more information on this source, see “Markham and His Manual: An Introduction” beginning on page 3 of this document.

The Chief Master Cooks of King Richard III (1390) Forme of Cury

Source consulted regarding the use of olive oil as the Sallat oil referred to in the Oil of Camomile [sic] and the Oil of Lavender recipes as cited in Appendix A.

Gerard, John (1597) The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. London: John Norton

Source consulted regarding the use of olive oil as the Sallat oil referred to in the Oil of Camomile [sic] and the Oil of Lavender recipes as cited in Appendix A.

Lyte, Henry (1578) A Niewe Herball

Source referenced on Markham, pg. 56 regarding the “hot and dry” properties of white chamomile, informing the choice to use chamomile oil to treat all manner of “cold causes.”

Washington, Martha (XXXX, 1996) Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. Karen Hess (Ed.). Columbia University Press.

Source referenced in Appendix A to support the general opinion of historians that olive oil was present in the middle ages, and would have been regarded as an appropriate salad oil; as referenced in the Oil of Camomile [sic] and the Oil of Lavender recipes.

Fennell, Charles Augustus Maude (1892) The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases. Cambridge: At The University Press

Source referenced for the definition of “iliaca passio” in the section on the Water of Borage.