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The Nine Herbs Charm

May 15, 2018
by the gentle author

In celebration of the opening of the Wild City exhibition at Townhouse this week, we publish the text of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm to cure infection, of which many ingredients are to found at the last bombsite in the City of London in Aldgate. The charm is recorded in the tenth century Lacnunga (remedies) manuscript in British Museum and is published here accompanied by the translation by Þórbeorht Línléah and illustrated with plates from old herbals.

Artemisia Vulgaris (Mugwort)

Gemyne ðú, mucgwyrt, hwæt þú ámeldodest,
hwæt þú renadest æt Regenmelde.
Una þú hattest, yldost wyrta.
ðú miht wið III and wið XXX,
þú miht wiþ áttre and wið onflyge,
þú miht wiþ þám láþan ðe geond lond færð.

Remember thou, Mugwort, what thou declared
What thou advised at the proclamation of the gods (Regen, “council of the gods,” and meld, “proclamation”)
“Una” (First) thou were named, the eldest of worts (herbs)
Thou hast might against three and against thirty,
thou hast might against venom and against that which flies.
thou hast might against the loathsome that yond the land fareth.

Plantago Major (Plantain)

Ond þú, Wegbráde, wyrta módor,
éastan openo, innan mihtigu;
ofer ðé crætu curran, ofer ðe cwene reodan,
ofer ðé brýde bryodedon, ofer þé fearras fnærdon.
Eallum þú þon wiðstóde and wiðstunedest;
swa ðú wiðstonde áttre and onflyge
and þæm laðan þe geond lond fereð.

And thou, Waybread (Plantain), mother of worts
open to the east, mighty within;
over thee carts creaked, over thee queens (women) rode,
over thee brides cried out, over thee bulls snorted.
All of them thou withstood and dashed against;
so may thou withstand venom and that which flies
and the loathsome that yond the land fareth.

Cardamina Hirsuta (Hairy Bittercress)

Stune hætte þéos wyrt, héo on stane gewéox;
stond héo wið áttre, stunað héo wærce.
Stíðe héo hatte, wiðstunað héo attre,
wreceð héo wráðan, weorpeð út áttor.

Stune (Watercress) is named this wort, she on stone waxes;
stands she against venom, stuneth (dasheth) she against pain.
“Stiff” she is named, withstandeth she venom,
wreaked (driveth out) she the wrathful, warpeth (casteth) out venom.

Stachys Annua (Betony)

þis is séo wyrt séo wiþ wyrm gefeaht,
þéos mæg wið áttre, héo mæg wið onflyge,
héo mæg wið ðam laþan ðe geond lond fereþ.
Fléoh þú nú, Áttorláðe, séo læsse ðá máran,
séo máre þá læssan, oððæt him beigra bót sy.

This is the wort that with wyrm (serpent) fought,
she that prevails against venom, she that prevails against that which flies,
she prevails against the loathsome that yond the land fareth.
Put thou now to flight, Adder-loather (Betony, the lesser [and] the more
the more [and] the lesser, until he, of both, is cured.

Matricaria Discoidea (Chamomile)

Gemyne þú, mægðe, hwæt þú ameldodest,
hwæt ðú geændadest æt Alorforda;
þæt næfre for gefloge feorh ne gesealde
syþðan him mon mægðan tó mete gegyrede.

Remember thou, Mayweed (Chamomile), what thou declared,
What thou earned at Alder-fjord;
that never for that which flies life would be sold (given, lost)
since for him mayweed, as meat (food), was readied.

Urtica Dioica (Nettle)

þis is séo wyrt ðé Wergulu hatte;
ðás onsænde seolh ofer sæs hrygc
ondan áttres óþres tó bóte.

This is the wort that is named Weregulu (Nettle);
this sent a seal over the sea’s ridge
the undoing of venom, to others a cure.

Malus Domestica (Apple)

Þas VIIII magon wið nygon attrum.
Wyrm cóm snícan tóslát hé man
ðá genóm Wóden VIIII wuldortánas,
slóh ðá þá næddran, þæt héo on VIIII tófléah.
Þær geændade Æppel and áttor,
þæt héo næfre ne wolde on hús búgan.

These nine have main (power) against nine venoms.
Wyrm came sneaking. It slit a man
Then took up Wóden nine glory-tines (tines of Wuldor),
slew with them the adder that she into nine flew.
There earned Apple and venom
that she never would bend-way (slither) into house.

Anthriscus Sylvestris (Chervril)

Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel)

Fille and Finule, felamihtigu twá,
þá wyrte gesceop witig drihten,
hálig on heofonum, þá hé hóngode;
sette and sænde on VII worulde
earmum and éadigum eallum tó bóte.
Stond héo wið wærce, stunað héo wið éáttre,
séo mæg wið III and wið XXX,
wið feondes hond and wið færbregde,
wið malscrunge mánra wihta.

Chervil and Fennel, most mighty two,
those worts  were shaped by the witty Drighten,
holy in the heavens, where he hung;
set and sent [them] into seven worlds
for the wretched and the wealthy for all a cure.
Stands she against pain, stuneth (dasheth) she against venom,
that prevails against three and against thirty,
against the fiend’s hand and against far-braiding (shape-shifting?),
against maskering (bewitching) by evil wights.

Nú magon þás VIIII wyrta wið nygon wuldorgeflogenum,
wið VIIII áttrum and wið nygon onflygnum,
wið ðý réadan áttre, wið ðý runlan áttre,
wið ðý hwítan áttre, wið ðý hæwenan áttre,
wið ðý geolwan áttre, wið ðý grénan áttre,
wið ðý wonnan áttre, wið ðý wedenan áttre,
wið ðý brúnan áttre, wið ðý basewan áttre,
wið wyrmgeblæd, wið wætergeblæd,
wið þorngeblæd, wið þystelgeblæd,
wið ýsgeblæd, wið áttorgeblæd,
gif ænig áttor cume éastan fléogan
oððe ænig norðan [ænig súþan] cume
oððe ænig westan ofer werðéode.

Now prevail these nine worts (herbs) against the nine wonder-flying-ones,
against nine venoms, and against nine which fly,
against the red venom, against the foul smelling venom,
against the white venom, against the blue-gray venom,
against the yellow venom, against the green venom,
against the wan (dark) venom, against the woad (blue) venom,
against the brown venom, against the crimson venom,
against the wyrm-blister, against the water-blister,
against the thorn-blister, against the thistle-blister,
against the ice-blister (frostbite), against the venom blister,
if any venom comes flying from the east,
or any other from the north, any [from the south] come
or any other from the west over the tribes of men.

Ic ána wat éa rinnende
þær þá nygon nædran néan behealdað;
motan ealle wéoda nú wyrtum áspringan,
sæs tóslúpan, eal sealt wæter,
ðonne ic þis áttor of ðé geblawe.

I alone wot (know) of a river running
There the nine adders near it beholdeth; (keep watch)
May all weeds now from worts spring,
Seas to slip away, all salt water,
When I, this venom from thee blow.

Mugcwyrt, wegbráde þé éastan open sy, lombescyrse, áttorláðe, mageðan, netelan, wudusúræppel, fille and finul, ealde sápan: gewyrc ðá wyrta to duste, mængc wiþ þá sápan and wiþ þæs æpples gor. Wyrc slypan of wætere and of axsan, genim finol, wyl on þære slyppan and beþe mid æggemongc, þonne hé þá sealfe on dó, ge ær ge æfter. Sing þæt galdor on ælcre þára wyrta, III ær hé hý wyrce and on þone æppel ealswá; ond singe þon men in þone muð and in þá earan bútá and on ðá wunde þæt ilce gealdor, ær hé þá sealfe on dó.

Mugwort, Waybread (plantain) that is open to the east, lambcress (stune), adder-loather (betony), mayweed, nettle (weregulu), apple, chervil and fennel, and old soap: work the worts to dust, mix with the soap and with the apple’s gore. Work up a slop of water and of ashes, take the fennel, well it up (boil it) in the slop and bathe it with an egg-mixture, when he dons the salve, either ere or after. Sing that galdor (incantation) o’er each of those worts thrice ere you work them and on the apple also; and sing it into the man’s mouth and in both ears and on the wound likewise galdor, ere he dons the salve.

Wild City is at Townhouse, 7 Fournier St, E1 6QE, from Thursday 17th May until Sunday 17th June

You may also like to read about

A Lost Botanic World in Aldgate

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Shawdian permalink
    May 15, 2018

    I grow lots of different herbs for all kinds of uses cooking, medicinal etc. some just because the herbs look nice and they make good models for my watercolour paintings. Odd that yesterday I had just found your ‘Last Bomsite in the City of London, Algate, with the intentions of reading that today. Beautiful piece thank you.

  2. May 15, 2018

    I am an (amateur) herbalist, I use almost all of the 9 in teas and salves, powerful little plants! I loved this, and the poetry, the plants provide a deep connection to the Earth and the past.
    thank you!

  3. May 15, 2018

    In the past year, I came upon the new-to-me term, “still room book” and was captivated. (Let’s face it, any phrase with “book” pulls me right in…….) I was fascinated by the back story of these
    unique books, created over time, and always “kept” with the house. (from grand houses to
    cottages) Salves, medicinal potions, recipes, etc — All were recorded for posterity in these
    books. As I read through the words above, I could imagine them being inscribed in a still room
    book, perhaps accompanied by milady’s water color drawings of the herb cuttings.

    Your postings always take me back, and back, and back. Thanks for the journey.

  4. May 15, 2018

    Wow! They were keen on fighting venom. Excellent illustrations and rendering of Old English. I could recognise ‘heaven’ and ‘this’, which began with the old rune for thorn. I love how the verb ‘is’ has survived intact from Anglo-Saxon till now.

    Sorry I can’t attend the exhibition.

  5. Walter Braun permalink
    May 28, 2018

    Yours must be one of the best blogs in the world –
    Thank you!

  6. November 4, 2020

    I caught the part where they say to put it with soap. I wish my mother were alive to help explain it to me better, because she used to put a poultice of mustard sugar/honey and felsnappa soap on splinters that were deep. She was part indian so I wonder if there were some ties with the english. pretty amazing.

  7. Fabricio Zárate permalink
    January 10, 2021

    So, in a wonderful video by Leonerde Eald Englisc that explains why the translation: “set and sent [them] into seven worlds” it’s wrong.

    The text in old English is “sette and sænde on VII worulde”. The word “worulde” is in the dative case, indicating that it is the object recieveng the action, sette and saende (set and send).

    According to OE grammar, the plural form of the accusative for woruld is “woruldum”, and the singular “worulde”.

    So, to summarize, the text talks about seven herbs set and sent “in seven to the world”, not “in seven worlds”.

  8. Blackthorn permalink
    June 1, 2022

    Nice information

  9. December 4, 2023

    Hello! I’ve been researching the herbs in this charm and this post has been indispensable. Is it possible that the betony’s Latin binomial would instead be stachys officinalis as that is wood betony, rather than the stated stachys annua which is yellow woundwort?

  10. Alice Wilde permalink
    December 5, 2023

    Yes Imogen I think it was Wood Betony too. Also known as Hedgerow Nettle and Self-heal.

    I also think the ‘Stune’ is a land cress not watercress. Known as Hairy Bittercress.

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