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The Nine Herbs Charm To Cure Infection

April 2, 2020
by the gentle author

We publish the text of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm to cure infection, of which many ingredients – we are reliably informed – are to found locally at the last bombsite 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.

“may thou withstand the loathsome that yond the land fareth”

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.

You may also like to read about

A Lost Botanic World in Aldgate

Nicholas Culpeper in Spitalfields

10 Responses leave one →
  1. April 2, 2020

    I have an apple and fennel in the refrigerator, and some camomile tea, but that leaves me six herbs short of a cure. Darn it. Oh well, stay safe GA.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 2, 2020

    I wonder what the ‘venom’ refers to? Especially as they are supposed to be ‘flying’? And I’d love to know what all the different coloured venoms mean…

    Another left-field and thought provoking post – thanks GA.

  3. Nina Archer permalink
    April 2, 2020

    Lovely pictures -so apt for this particular times .. thank you (er… text is a challenge though …)!

  4. April 2, 2020

    Great Post. The power of herbs and apothecary.

    I really like reading through Old English to spot words which have survived into modern English like ‘is’ and ‘and’, and words that can be guessed like ‘behealdad’ (the last letter being, I think, thorn not d but my keyboard won’t do it.) But so much here is a foreign language.

    The history of language is the history of power and the history of the people. If anyone fancies a good read while holed up at home I would recommend Melvin Bragg’s The Adventure of English’. No linguistical knowledge required but you will learn some on the way as you voyage through history and culture. For more technical English and sociocultural knowledge, there are several good books by David Crystal like ‘Stories of English’ .

    Sorry GA for getting carried away here.

  5. paul loften permalink
    April 2, 2020

    My mother suffered from migraines throughout her life and I recall when she had an attack I would be sent down by bus to Dalston Junction. Just opposite the station, there was a tiny herbalist shop with a wonderful display of herbs for every ailment imaginable. Inside the small and dark space, an iron grey-haired woman stood at the counter and you would tell her what you needed the herbs for. She would go to a few of the jars that were lining the shelves behind her and pour them into a container and weigh them on an old scale with iron weights. Entering the tiny shop was like going back in time. it was quite an experience. The shop was there for quite a few years . Perhaps where the Balls Pond Road meets Dalston Lane could be a very good place for a mystical experience

  6. Saba permalink
    April 2, 2020

    Thank you, GA, for this treasure trove which I shall go through very slowly later in the day. The original text with translation is magical; the old illustrations a treat. Thank you, also, Bailey Jones for the book title. I shall give that a try.

  7. April 2, 2020

    Like many of your readers, I go “down the rabbit hole” when I come across a new-to-me term.
    Last year, one of those cosmic discoveries was…….”still room book”. Yes. A still room BOOK.
    Anything with “book” interests me, for a start. And I learned about the ancient practice of recording a book of cures, salves, remedies and other “home wisdom” in a book that would literally STAY with the property/home for the duration. So, for instance, an estate might have a still room as part of the holdings — and the Lady of the House would continually add to the book, contributing new information that emerged. I did not have a lot of luck finding images of such books — which at first was so disappointing — but then I decided to create a still room book of my own invention. Collage, mixed media, engravings, scribbling, herbarium fodder, etc. It was a blast. The images above are stunning – thanks for treating us, as ever.

  8. Chris Webb permalink
    April 2, 2020

    Old English is a beautiful language, and on all too rare occasions we get to hear Janina Ramirez reading snippets. She ought to make a CD, I would certainly buy one. I would also like prints of the illustrations to frame.
    I had to look at Wikipedia to refresh my memory on the old letters thorn and eth!

  9. April 6, 2020

    I have very much enjoyed these pictures, so much to learn.🥰😊😘💝🌻🌹🌼🌈💚

  10. Venetia permalink
    April 7, 2020

    Chris Webb: Michael Wood is another person who reads Old English so well. His series on Aethelstan (King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons) was shown again recently and, like you, I realised that I love the sound of that ancient version of our language.

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