Saturday, September 21, 2013

More Herbal History for the Homemaker

"The real descendants, so to speak, of the herbal are the quaint old still-room books (see below for explanation of the still-room), many of which survive not only in museums and public libraries, but also in country houses. These still-room books, which are a modest branch of literature in themselves, are more nearly akin to herbals than to cookery books, with which they are popularly associated. For they are full of the old herb lore and of the uses of herbs in homely medicines.

It must be remembered that even as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries every woman was supposed to have some knowledge of both the preparation and the medicinal use of herbs and simples."

Old English Herbals by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde

Gathering Herbs by Camille Pissarro

"The still room is a distillery room found in most great houses, castles or large establishments throughout Europe dating back at least to medieval times. The lady of the house was in charge of the room, where medicines were prepared, cosmetics and many home cleaning products created...

Herbs from the kitchen garden and surrounding countryside were processed into what today we call essential oils, and infused or distilled, or brewed (etc.) as required to make rose water, lavender water, peppermint based ointments, soaps, furniture polishes and a wide variety of medicines. It was a working room: part science lab, part infirmary and part kitchen. In later years, as doctors & apothecaries became more widely spread and the products of the still room became commercially available, the still room became increasingly an adjunct of the kitchen. The use of still room devolved to making only jams, jellies, home-brewed beverages and as a store room for perishables such as cakes.

Originally, the still room was a very important part of the household, run by the lady of the house, and used to teach her daughters and wards some of the skills needed to run their own homes in order to make them more marriageable by having those skills. As practical skills fell out fashion for high born women, the still room became the province first of poor dependent relations, then of housekeepers or cooks. The still room was later staffed by the still room maid."

~ Excerpts from Wikipedia

Woman Gathering Herbs by Camille Pissarro


  1. I enjoyed this history of the still room. It's such a shame that its popularity faded along with the knowledge of the users. I imagine the first commercial efforts to mass produce remedies were looked on with joy since that would be one area where the home-maker could take a breather, but they, of course, had no idea what it would become. I'm so glad we have so many great books and the wonder of the internet to help educate us on the use of herbs.

    1. I completely agree! And you bring up a good point! They had a lot of work on their plates and this was one less responsibility at the time. We are fortunate to have many electronic helpers with our daily duties making these type of herbal projects doable and enjoyable...

  2. This is wonderful! I've studied herbal medicine for a long time and have not once come across this history. I feel generations of confidence and support behind me. Thanks for doing such a bang up job!

  3. Thank you for sharing such wisdom with us all! I am taking this new year and dedicating it to the study of herbals. Your blog will be a great source of study and inspiration. The mixture of Bible verses, quotations, graphics and informative words moves me, sincerly, April from Maine.