Haewenhnydele: an Anglo-Saxon medicinal plant

Biggam, C. P. (1994) Haewenhnydele: an Anglo-Saxon medicinal plant. Botanical Journal of Scotland, 46(4), pp. 617-622. (doi: 10.1080/13594869409441772)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13594869409441772


The Old English plant-name, hæwenhnydele, occurs in herbal and medical texts and in glossaries containing translated Latin plant-names. Where it is linked with a Latin name, that name is always Herba Britannica, a cure for scurvy. Some scholars, rather naively assuming that the two names must refer to the same plant, have thought the identity of hæwenhnydele almost obvious, whereas others, knowing the frequently garbled accounts of herbal cures inherited by the Anglo-Saxons, have despaired of ever identifying it. An Anglo-Saxon translator, working on the Old English version of the Latin Pseudo-Apuleius, inherited an account of Herba Britannica which was a confusion of two different plants, compiled from several sources. The information available to him is discussed, in an effort to understand how he made an identification. Evidence such as the synonyms attached to the plant entry, the etymology of hæwenhnydele, and the illustration of the plant is presented. There is also a brief discussion of the two recorded occurrences of the rural plant-name, hawdod, from the 16th and 18th centuries, and whether this name could be cognate with hæwenhnydele. In the Durham Glossary, another name, vihtmeresvyrt, is linked with Herba Britannica and hæwenhnydele. This name is discussed, and found to denote a well-known source of Vitamin C, the cure for scurvy. This paper demonstrates that the attempts of the Anglo-Saxons to identify Herba Britannica, and to link their guesses with real herbal cures, are an impressive rationalisation of an almost nonsensical Latin plant record.

Item Type:Articles (Other)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Biggam, Dr Carole
Authors: Biggam, C. P.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Journal Name:Botanical Journal of Scotland
Publisher:Botanical Society of Scotland
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 1994 Taylor and Francis
First Published:First published in Botanical Journal of Scotland 46(4):617-622
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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