Magiferous Plants in Medieval English Herbalism
By Martha S. Weil
Master’s Thesis, University of Kansas, 197?
Abstract: This study examines thirteen English vernacular medical texts, dating from approximately the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, for evidence of magiferous healing plants. Magiferous, or “magic-bearing,” plants are those which have both mundane and magical uses.
Magical medical action is often difficult to distinguish from mundane healing with certainty in these texts, owing to the ambiguity of many of the recorded elements and perhaps also to a lack of contextual continuity from their time ours. Certain characteristics are found to be particularly indicative of magical action, however. Most notable among these are numbers, especially three and nine, colors, times of day or year, and a variety of ritual practices associated with the gathering and preparation of the herbal materials. Magical means of healing are also found be particularly associated with such diseases as certain types of fevers; battle wounds; epilepsy and insanity; poisons and contagious diseases. Magical means are used apotropaically against the actions of supposed occult or supernatural agents, as well for curative purposes.
This study finds that magiferous plants are widely distributed across the time-span covered by the texts examined . Perhaps as many as one third of the species used medicinally are magiferous . The study includes a detailed analysis of thirteen such plants and a list of all species identified as magiferous.