Christmas shop, Ebeltoft

Christmas shop, Ebeltoft
Christmas shop - Ebeltoft

Friday, December 02, 2016


Scandinavian Jul in the Viking period and in the early Middle Ages.
(source: Middelalderhistorie, Århus Universitet)

Candle in Vor Frue Kirke, Århus/ GB
The word Jul or the Old Norse Jól was used long before Christianity came to Denmark and Scandinavia. Jul was the term for the winter feasts when days of the year again began to grow longer - but today it is difficult to know what these ancient feasts really meant to people. 

Carl Larsson, Midvinterblót, (wikipedia)
The linguistic history of the word Jul are somewhat lost, but it has probably German roots. An early example of the use of the word is in the Gothic language spoken in Central and South Eruope in late Antiquity and in the early Middle Ages. The word Jul is first seen in the 300s. It was among others used in the form jiuleis which was the name for November or December. A few centuries later it is seen in Old English where it occurs as goiuli giulæi or youle  - as a description  of the period December-January. In Old Norse ( the language in Scandinavia in the Viking Age) the word seems to have had several meanings, but everything points to that the Old Norse Jól can be translated into feast. The word seems to have spread in Europe in Antiquity and early Middle Ages, the periods which in Denmark are named Iron Age and Viking Age. It was everywhere used about the same time of the year, but it is uncertain what the word actually covered -  also in the Nordic context.

Viking House, Fyrkat/ GB
There are no contemporary written sources which describe the before-Christian Jul. A few Nordic sources like scaldic verses and sagas, which use the word jul/jól, were written down in the Christian period, and they therefore reflect the world view of the Christian writer. In most source-cases where jul is mentioned, it is used about the Christian celebration, but a few Nordic sources indicate that the jul in Scandinavia  - also in the time before Christianity -  was a special event in December or January.

Harald Haarfager/ wikipedia
This is seen in the probably earliest Nordic source which mentions the word jul. It is a scaldic verse ( ab. year 900) by the scald Thorbjørn Hornklofi,  composed to king Harald Haarfager of Norway (king ca. 872-930). The  verse sounds like this: "the king will drink jul out ... and make Frej's play". The first words probably refer to how a ruler in the Viking Age had to move around a lot if he wanted to keep his power. It is not clear what is meant by Frej's play, but the drink sacrifice took a central role in the before-Christian religion, where the Vikings drank to honor gods like Frej and Odin. Maybe the verse refers to a sacrifice like this.

Odin, Hugin and Munin/wikipedia
Another scaldic verse pays tribute to king Harald Hardrada of Norway (king 1046-1066) for his victory at the battle field. It was said that the king prepared jul for Hugin's hird. Hugin was one of Odin's ravens, so the verse refers probably to the men killed in the battle and being food for the ravens. Maybe here is also referred to the unusual numbers of food taken in at the feasts of jul.

Hakon the Good/ wikipedia
The Icelandic Christian chronicle writer Snorri Sturlasson mentions jul in a saga about the Norwegian king Hakon the Good  (king ab.
933- 959). The saga was written down in ab. 1230. He describes that king Hakon decides to celebrate jul at the same time as the Christians. The saga also tells the story about a Viking chief, who after being a Christian, still held on to the tradition to celebrate three big feasts during each year, three yearly sacrifice feasts: one at the beginning of winter, one in midwinter and one in the start of summer.
Snorri Sturlasson,C.Krogh/ Wikipedia
When he became a Christian he continued celebrating three feasts each year, which were now named gæstebud (banquets): one in autumn, a jul-feast in winter and one at Easter. How the feasts were celebrated is told by Snorri: "the Christian king Hakon was invited to a jul-feast by some heathen farmers, who according to tradition wanted the king to take part in the sacrifice. (blót) The Christian king would not take part in this, but he needed to have the support of the farmers, so he found a compromise: he eat a little horse liver and drank some memorial cheers without crossing his drinking cup. Making the sign of the cross was a Christian custom which the farmers would never accept.

Jolagjafir/ wikipedia
The sagas holds also the first example e of the word julegave (Christmas gift). It is seen in a description of Norway's king Hakon (king 1093-1095). He was supported by a part of the Norwegian population if he refrained from filing the traditional taxes which the Norwegian people had to give the king, including julegaver/jolagjafir. In other parts of the sagas are examples of julegaver which remind of the phenomenon, known today. Scandinavian Viking chiefs gave gifts to their families around the turn of the year, and thus he followed a custom which had spread in the European courts. Princes also used gifts traditionally to attract important people and thereby establish or hold on to their social status. In time these gifts were connected to the jule feast.

Jul in Lejre, Zealand/ wikipedia
The German history writer Thietmar of Merseburg wrote in the beginning of the 1000s about a sacrifice feast which was held each year at Lejre in the Danish isle Zealand. Archeologists have here found a very important place, which probably functioned as the royal court of the Danes. According to Thietmar the Danes sacrificed humans and  animals in Lejre at a time where Christians celebrated the Holy three kings on 6 January, these sacrifices were held in order to please the underground people. Thietmar's descriptions reflects a Christian's negative view upon a heathen society -  and it is not certain if his description can be connected to the before-Christian jul, but it indicates that people of Scandinavia in December or January celebrated ritual blót-feasts.

Sacrifice place, reconstruction, DK/ wikipedia
After the introduction of Christianity in Denmark several sources mention how Danish kings kept magnificent feasts in order to celebrate the Christian jul. German history writers like Arnold of Lübeck describe in the 1100s how Danish kings had great drinking feasts. Similar descriptions are also seen in the Danish chronicles. The history writer Saxo wrote ab.year 1200 about a jule feast at the Danish court. The king invited the greatest men of the kingdom to magnificent feasts where they eat and drak for several days.

Sacrifice of food,reconstruction, DK/ wikipedia
Some are of the opinion that the before-Christian jul was at winter solstice, 21 or 22 December, others that it was at midwinter night between 19-20 January. Both suggestions could be true. There were probably several ritual feasts, which were held on various times in December or January. The feasts have varied from district to district, maybe even from family to family in some cases. There was probably a summer solstice feasts,  a feast at midwinter, and in other cases a fertility feast. The jól of winter was regarded as one of the intersection points of the year.

Feast in Middle Ages/ wikipedia
The jul was a ritual event, connected to the middle of winter. It seems that great men from the social elite often were the focal point of important feasts. Like the king the powerful men of the kingdom were often central in the ceremonies which were connected to the practice of the before-Christian religion - and they played undoubtedly an important role in marking the Jul. They drank, eat and sacrificed, and the sacrifice was probably held in one of the great halls where the elite resided. The jul-feast contributed to hold on to and to develop the social and religious structures of society.

Earliest Danish cross, Vor Frue kirke, Århus/ GB
In Scandinavia the word jul survived the introduction of Christianity, while other parts of Europe began to use words, which came from Christianity, like the English Christmas, the German Weihnacht and the Spanish Navidad etc. Likewise the considerable intake of food and drink seemed to live on in new forms. People did not cheer in the honor of Odin and Frej, but celebrated the birth of Christ. Although it immediately looks as if central parts of the before-Christian jul continued after the introduction of Christianity, it is important to say that the informations were written down by later Christian writers. They saw the past through a Christian lens and might therefore have transferred a part of their contemporary jul-celebration to their description of the past.

Source:, Århus Universitet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Coltsfoot/ Almindelig følfod

Tussilago farfara

Coltsfoot/ Almindelig Følfod is a low growing perennial herb in the daisy family Asteraceae. The name Tussilago is derived from the Latin tussis meaning cough, and ago, meaning to sast to or to act on. Tussilago farfara is the only accepted species in the genus tussilago although more than two dozen other species have at one time or another been considered part of this group, most of them are now regarded as members of other genera. Other common names include tasth plant, ass's foot, bull's foot, coughwort (Old English), farfara, foal's foot, foal's wort and horse foot. Sometimes it is confused with Petasites frigidus or Western Coltsfoot. It has been called bechion, bechichie or bechie from the Ancient Greek word for cough, also Urgula caballina: horse hoof,  pes pulli: foal's foot and chamæleuce.

Coltsfoot/photo:grethe bachmann
Coltsfoot is often found in colonies of dozens of plants. The flowers resemble superficially dandelions. They appear in early spring, march-april,  before the dandelions. The leaves resemble a colt's foot, they usually do not appear until after the seeds are set, so the flowers appear on stems with no apparent leaves and the later appearing leaves then wither and die during the season without seeming to set flowers. The fruits are nuts. The plant is typically 10-30 cm in height. The leaves have angular teeth on their margins. Coltsfoot grows on banks and in the edge of roads.

leaves of Coltsfoot/ wikipedia
History of agriculture/ wikipedia
Coltsfoot is native to Europe and parts of western and central Asia. The plant is widespread across Europe, Asia and North Africa, from Svalbard to Morocco, to China and the Russian Far East. It is also a common plant in North America and South America,  where it has been introduced most likely by settlers as a medicinal item. The plant is often found in waste and disturbed places and along roadsides and paths. In some areas it is considered invasive species.

Coltsfoot/ Danish: Følfod ( foal's foot), grows wild in Denmark, it is common in the whole country as a pioneer-plant and in raw soil with high content of potassium and magnesium, often on clay ground or calcareous ground with seeping water .Coltsfoot can become a nasty weed and is very difficult to get rid of.  The plant was once a terrible and troublesome weed in the winter crop. It was said that "Følfod is the worst trouble of all to the farmer", and in 1875 the farmers were by the parliament urged to establish parish unions which should work for the extermination of følfod and other difficult weeds - and prices were given to fields without weeds. Where especially many coltsfoot grow there is usually marl in the underground.

Simon Paulli, physician/wikipedia

Folk Medicine  in Denmark: The dry pulverized root  was used against pain in the heart ( beg. 1400s). Henrik Smid 1546: destilled water of the flowers to drink, and juice from the leaves and destilled water af coltsfoot, especially together with elderflower and nightshade as a cover upon plague- acbscesses, also used against all inflamed wounds and burns  and malaria. Simon Paulli 1648: good for those who are afflicted by cough. Upon the pharmacy was made juice from the fresh flowers, a syrup against hoarseness and cough. The pharmacy had also a coltsfoot-medicine for pain in the chest. The root was used as a decoction for breast disorders. Destilled water from the whole plant against hepatitis.The juice could be rubbed at spots and pimples in the face and upon sunburns
1700s-1800s Root, leaves and flowers were written into the pharmacopoeia in 1772. The leaves smoked as tobacco helped against tightness in the chest. Tea of leaves for a spring cold. A tea from the flowers stimulated spit up, and it helped in all lung-diseases and colds. Coltsfoot was often used against cough. A decoct from the first leaves, fresh or dried, against slime in the lungs. A leaf was bound on nose and mouth against rhinitis. A wise woman adviced to bind leaves upon erysepelas and with sugar upon excemia. It was said about the leaves of coltsfoot: "the upperside purifies, the underside heals".  Coltsfoot was also used to treat diseases of the livestock.

photo Mols Bjerge/grethe bachmann

Other Use: North Jutland farmers dyed black with coltsfoot (1686-1810). On the Faroe islands  they used it to dye green. The dried leaves were smoked or mixed into the tobacco or mixed in tea. In Jutland coltsfoot was put into the bed against flees and lice. The fresh leaves can be eaten as cabbage or spinach or be cooked and served with butter. Coltsfoot  is one of the best fodderplant for the cattle and it can also be used as a swine fodder.
Source to Folk Medicine in Denmark: Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik 

Info from wikipedia:Coltsfoot has been used in herbal medicine and has been consumed as a food product with some confectionery products, such as coltsfoot rock . Tussilago farfara leaves have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally (as tea or syrup) or externally (directly applied) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, locomotor system, viral infections, flu, colds, fever, rheumatism and gout. Coltsfoot is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera  species including the gothic and small angle shades.

Toxicity: please read Tussilago in wikipedia

Monday, October 17, 2016

Petasites / Common Butterbur, DK: Rød Hestehov

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
Petasites hybridus

Butterbur / Rød Hestehov is in English also called  Pestilence wort, Bogs Rhubarb or Devil's Hat, in Danish Pestilensurt or Tordenskræppe. It is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the daisy family Asteraceae, native to Europe and northern Asia. The preferred habitats are moist, fertile soils, often by rivers, streams and in wet meadows. Synonyms include P. officinalis, P. ovatus, P. vulgaris and Tussilago petasite.

Another name is Sweet Coltsfoot. The Latin Petasides is derived from petasos, the Greek word for the felt hats worn by shepherds with reference to the large size of the leaves. The Danish name Hestehov means Horse's Hoof , also a reference to the large leaves. The English name Butterbur is supposed to have been given it because formerly the large leaves were used to wrap butter in during hot weather.
In the Middle Ages it was called Pestilensurt in Denmark, an indication of its value in time of the plague. The 'plague-flower' gained a succesful reputation among the few remedies during the time of the Black Death. It was used as a remedy against the plague by the monks in Denmark during the 1300s.

The flowers are produced in the early spring, before the leaves appear. They are pale pink, with sev
eral inflorescenes clustered on a 5–20 cm stem. The leaves are large, on stout 80–120 cm tall stems, round, with a diameter of 40–70 cm with petioles up to 1.5 m. Butterbur has special value for the bees because of the early flowering. In some districts the plant is considered  a landscape-weed, since it is able to spread heavily in optimal conditions.

Helix pomatia/ photo grethe bachmann
Red Hestehov was originally introduced in Denmark as a medical plant, maybe during the black death. It now grows wild from earlier cultivation by castles, manors, klosters and ruins. The plant is a characteristic mark for the gardens of these places, often together with the Helix pomatia (Burgundy snail), probably brought to Denmark by the monks in the Middle Ages. A snail dish was a favorite meal in the klosters

Hans Christian Andersen wrote about the huge leaves of Hestehov in the fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling":"In the midst of the sunshine there stood an old manor house that had a deep moat around it. From the walls of the manor right down to the water's edge great burdock leaves grew, and there were some so tall that little children could stand upright beneath the biggest of them. In this wilderness of leaves, which was as dense as the forests itself, a duck sat on her nest, hatching her ducklings. She was becoming somewhat weary, because sitting is such a dull business and scarcely anyone came to see her. The other ducks would much rather swim in the moat than waddle out and squat under the burdock leaf to gossip with her......."

Petasites hybridus/ wikipedia

The Danish name Hestehov refers to the leaves = like the hoof of a horse. Actually it was originally referring to a colts foot. Another Danish name is Tordenskræppe ("Thunder rumex"). The thunder name might be because the leaves were used as a protection in a thunderstorm -  or it was  referring to the flowering in the month of March, the month of the Thundergod, Thor. It might also refer to the size of the leaves and the rumble from heavy rain upon them.

In the Middle Ages it was known as Niels Bugge's Blood and Niels Bugge's Roses after king Valdemar's most dangerous opponent, the magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was murdered in the town Middelfart in 1359. This indicates that the plant was introduced in Denmark around that time. After hostile negotiations with king Valdemar Atterdag the Jutland magnate Niels Bugge of Hald was killed by fishermen at Middelfart, supposedly on the king's orders - according to the legend at a place near the king's castle where now grow many butterburs. The commoners believed that Niels Bugge's blood fled over the leaves, leaving the dark spots,  and the plant could never be destroyed. Three houses in the street were forever fined, the socalled Buggesmoney, which the town Middelfart paid right up to 1874, where the Danish parliament abolished the unusual punishment 

Petasites hybridus/photo grethe bachmann
In Denmark grow 5 species of Hestehov, most of them considered as introduced. Especially the Red Hestehov (P. hybridus) causes problems, among other places by water streams. Locally the Japansk Hestehov (P. japonicus) can also be very spread, while the White Hestehov (P. albus) is less common.Red Hestehov is considered invasive and can be defeated by mowing and grazing. When Red Hestehov withers in the autumn, the soil gets exposed, and when the plant grows along water streams this exposure of the soil might create erosion along the water in winter, due to that there are no plants to protect the banks and to hold on to the soil. Still in only few places the Red Hestehov is considered serious landscape-weed. In several communes the plant is not existent or very few.
Five Petasites in Denmark:
Petasites albus = White Hestehov
Petasites hybridus = Red Hestehov
Petasites japonicus = Japansk Hestehov
Petasites fragrans = Vellugtende Hestehov
Petasites spurius = Filtet Hestehov 

Black Death/wikipedia
Folk Medicine: The plant came originally to Denmark as a medical plant in the Middle Ages. It is known from the Viking period in the Aarhus-area. The crushed leaves were used against plague-abscesses and wounds in the Middle Ages, later the plant was/is used against cough, cramps and pain in stomach and  abdomen. Beer-essence from the roots was drunk against gout
Simon Pauli 1648: "Butterbur  has a special hidden power to resist the infection from plague". At the pharmacies was made an essence from the root, which was taken in together with  hartshorn jelly. This medicine was better than the pulverized root or a decoct of it. The extract could also be used against malaria.  

Hartshorn jelly or a decoction of burnt hartshorn in water was used to treat diarrhea. Hartshorn was used to treat insect bites, sunstroke, stye  and snakebites. When people went outdoors they chew the root as a protection against infections, especially in the days of the black death. From the plant oil was made a balm which was placed into a container, which delivered a good scent in times of the plague  - or people rubbed their nostrils and temples with the balm as a protection.The leaves were bound around the legs in order to remove dropsy. The root of Petasites was written into the pharmacopoeia in 1772. Tea of Petasites was sold at the Danish pharmacies still in 1946.
Livestock: The root was used against liver and lungdisease of horse. A part of vinegar and beer decoct against the swine disease in 1600-1700. The leaves were also used as cattle fodder, evt. mixed into the hay. 
Play: Children used the big leaves as an umbrella or as a an apron.

Gerard writes of the Butterbur:
'The roots dried and beaten to powder and drunke in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venim and evill heate; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty filthy ulcers, if it be strewed therein.'

Culpepper says:
'"t is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits: . . . if the powder thereof be taken in wine, it also resisteth the force of any other poison . . . the decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded.... The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin. " Another species are known as the Winter Heliotrope, or Sweet-scented Coltsfoot (P. fragrans)

Potential medicinal uses (see wikipedia for more info)

Preliminary trials have shown a preparation of Butterbur root to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. A commercial extract Petasol butenoate complex
ZE 339) has proved helpful for allergic rhinitis An evidence-based 2005 systematic review including written and statistical analysis of scientific literature, expert opinion, folkloric precedent, history, pharmacology, kinetics/dynamics, interactions, adverse effects, toxicology, and dosing is available
from the Natural Standard Research CollaborationButterbur extracts may contain harmful alkaloids if the preparations are not carefully and fully purified. These chemicals are toxic to the liver and may cause cancers. Thus, due to the potential for contamination, taking butterbur supplements is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is safe practice to consume butterbur extract that has been prepared by a reputable laboratory.Long-term health effects and interaction of butterbur with other drugs have not been well documented. (Please read further information in wikipedia about Butterbur)

Source: Brøndegaard, Folk og flora, Dansk etnobotanik.

photo grethe bachmann
photo from wikipedia 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Eupatorium: Bonesets, Thoroughworts, Snakeroots/ DK: Hjortetrøst

Eupatorium purpureum, Sletterhage/photo:gb

Eupatorium is a genus of flowering plants in the aster family Asteraceae. They have from 36-60 species depending on the classification system. Most are herbaceous perrennial plants. A few are shrubs.

Most Euparium are called bonesets, thoroughworts or snakeroots. The genus is named for Mithridates Eupator, king of Pontus.

The habitat for Eupatorium is Asia, North America and Europe.

In Denmark are four species of  Eupatorium: (growing wild or cultivated:

Eupatorium purpureum, Red Hjortetrøst (introduced in DK in Middle Ages by monks)
Eupatorium cannabinum, Hamp- Hjortetrøst
Eupatorium rugosum,White Hjortetrøst (Ageratina altissima)
Eupatorium japonicum, Japansk Hjortetrøst
The Danish name Hjortetrøst ( meaning "consolation of the deer") refers to that people and hunters in the old days believed that a deer hit by an arrow was healed by eating the plant.

Eupatorium purpureum, wikipedia

Eupatorium purpureum, Red Hjortetrøst  is a vigourously growing  perennial with a stiff,upright growth. It is a fine garden plant. The pink flowers are gathered in small baskets, they are seen from July. The seeds sprout willingly.  It grows in the river valleys in the eastern and central USA and Canada. It  was introduced in Denmark in the Middle Ages by the monks in their kloster gardens. 

Eupatorium cannabinum, Hamp-Hjortetrøst , a perennial herb that grows on moist ground. It is wild-growing in Denmark but is also used as a garden plant. The pale red or pink flowers are seen in  July-September. The fruit is a nut. It is spread in North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, Caucasia, Central Asia., Himalaya and China and in most of Europe. In Denmark it is common in the Isles and in East Jutland - or else very rare. It is overall connected to light-open and moist or wet ground with nutrient soil. It is among other places found at the banks of Gudenaa river. It is used as a garden perennial at garden ponds or along water streams and is much used in swampy areas in natural gardens.

Eupatorium cannabinum in old Danish folk medicine: It is said to contain similar healing properties as Agrimony. A decoct was recommended for liver and spleen. The plant was useful against malaria, jaundice, mange and itching. The juice was given for children's intestinal worms.Some meant it healed wounds. If a deer was hit by an arrow it was cured if it eat the plant. Hunters claimed that wounded deer eat the plant.  The flowerstalk was written in the pharmacopoeia in 1772. The plant was also mentioned as a means for horses with liver and lung disease.

Eupatorium rugosum/ Ageratina altissima, White Hjortetrøst or White Ageratina is an upright growing perennial with one or few hairy or smooth stems. The snowwhite flowers are seen in July- October . The fruits are dry nuts. It has its habitat in the northeastern USA and Canada where the plant is a part of the vegetations along forest glades and in the zone between forest and prairie . Grows wild in Denmark.

Eupatorium japonicum, is native to China, Japan and Korea. It grows wild in a few places in Denmark


Medieval garden, wikipedia
The common names for the plants are all based on the previous usage of one species, Eupatorium perfoliatum, as an herbal medicine. The common name apparently derives from the herb's use to treat dengue fever, which was also called breakbone fever because of the pain that it caused. The name thoroughwort also comes from Eupatorium perfoliatum, and refers to the perfoliate leaves, in which the stem appears to pierce the leaf (i.e. go through, note that in older usage "thorough" was not distinguished from "through", compare for example the word thoroughfare).

Eupatorium rugosum contains some chemical connections, which are not poisonous in themselves but they change in the liver into very poisonous connections. Cows eating the plant excrete these poisonous conections in the milch, which then is deadly poisonous to humans (and the calves). The poisoning was called the milch-disease.Boneset, although poisonous to humans and grazing livestock, has been used in folk medicine for instance to excrete excess urid acid which causes gout. Caution is advised when using boneset, since it contains toxic compounds that can cause liver damage. Side effects include muscular tremors, weakness, and constipation; overdoses may be deadly.

Bjerreskov/photo GB

Eupatorium are grown as ornamental plants, in particular in Asia. Tobacco leaf curl virus is a pathogen occasionally affecting plants of this genus. The foliage is eaten by some Lepidoptera larvae, including those of Orthonama obstipata.

photo from wikipedia

photo: Hjortetrøst Sletterhage and Bjerre Skov: grethe bachmann

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Fork

Bronze Persian forks, 8-9th century
The word fork comes from the Latin furca, meaning "pitchfork". Some of the earliest known uses of forks with food occurred in ancient Egypt, where large forks were used as cooking utensils.  Bone forks had been found in the burial site of the Bronze Age Quija culture (2400–1900 BC) as well as later Chinese dynasties' tombs.
Ancient Chinese forks

The fork as a kitchen and dining utensil is generally believed to have originated in the Roman Empire, as proved by archaeological evidences. In the Roman Empire bronze and silver forks were used, indeed many examples are displayed in museums around Europe. The use varied according to local customs, social class and the nature of food, but forks of the earlier periods were mostly used as cooking and serving utensils.

Ancient Roman serving fork

The personal table fork was most likely invented in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, where they were in common use by the 4th century (its origin may even go back to Ancient Greece, before the Roman period). Records show that by the 9th century a similar utensil known as a barjyn was in limited use in Persia within some elite circles. By the 10th century, the table fork was in common use throughout the Middle East.

Ancient Roman table fork

Theophano S

The personal table fork most likely originated in the Eastern
Byzantine fork
Roman Empire (or Byzantine) Empire. Its use spread to what is now the Middle East during the first millennium AD and then spread into southern Europe during the second millennium. It did not become common in northern Europe until the 18th century and was not common in North America until the 19th century. The first recorded introduction of the fork to Western Europe, as recorded by the theologian and cardinal Peter Damian, was by Theophano Sklereina , the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, she nonchalantly wielded a golden one at an Imperial banquet in 972, astonishing her Western hosts. By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the  Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and continued to gain popularity due to the increasing presence of pasta in the Italian diet.

By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and continued to gain popularity due to the increasing presence of  pasta in the Italian diet. At first, pasta was consumed using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes, a design better suited to gathering the noodles. In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century and was almost universally used by the merchant and upper classes by 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de Medicis entourage.
cutlery with Medici coat of arms

Catherine de Medici

French cutlery
However, forks were not commonly used in Western Europe until the 16th century when they became part of Italian etiquette. The utensil had also gained some currency in Spain by this time, and its use gradually spread to France. Nevertheless, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century. For a long period the use of fork was considered as a sign of snobbery and the church blamed people for this extravagant lifestyle. God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating. -St. Peter Damian"God created man with ten fingers and they are supposed to be used for eating the food. It is a it is an insult to replace them with a tool!"

In the 1500s the Europeans began to use a fork instead of the wooden spoons or the fingers. People at court in England had small fine boxes with their personal cutlery, but according to a British food columnist Bee Wilson (consider the fork - a history of invention in the kitchen there is a French satirically sketch from 1604 which show people who use a fork as sexual misfits).  Wilson also has an interesting consideration that the use of knife and fork had an influence on the dentition. Before the use of fork people bit chunks of meat off with their teeth but with the fork they could eat the meat in small bites. This trained the muscles in the jaw in a various way  - and during the 1600s the Italian nobility began using the fork and then France and Britain gave up to the fork while the Scandinavian waited until the beginning of the 1700s.

Medieval fork
But the fork's adoption in northern Europe was slow. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Corvat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, seeing it as "excessive delicacy": It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain, although some sources say that forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 17th century.The fork did not become popular in North America until near the time of the American revolution.

cutlery 1700s.
Edward 1.
Gold and silversmiths were the creators of the production of the first forks with first two then three  and four teeth and in the first many years the cutlery was a personal possession of rich people. They brought it with them in a fine box when they were invited out for a dinner or on a journey. From written sources is known that the English king Edward I shortly before 1300 owned a fork and that the Duke of Torraine a century later owned two forks and nine dousin spoons!

In Denmark there was no major spread until the time of Christian IV, one of the reasons of this restraint was the hostile attitude of the church which claimed that Christ had used his fingers when heate. And a strange warning was found in one of Luther's writings: "God keep you from a stab by a fork for it makes three holes!" A fortable fork was a rare thing in Denmark 400 years ago.

Danish table 1700s, "Den Gamle By", Århus

King Christian IV noted in his diary that he had bought a knife and a fork of gold with diamonds from two Frenchmen - a very unusual buy. Christian IV was probably won for the new utensil during his travels in Europe where the fork was taking hold  The high ranks in Denmark followed him, but it took still one hundred years before this modern table utensil was accepted in the broader ranks. People still managed well in the old way -  the old five fingered fork and a pointed knife.

various forks
The industrialization in the 1800s meant that the factories produced cutlery in less precious metal and the price went down so more common people could buy it.

Skalk Jan Koch, Danish archaeological magazine,1979, "Den skæve gaffel" Ellen Andersen, bordskik, 1971. Erik Kjersgaard: Mad og øl i Danmarks middelalder, 1978. 
English Wikipedia, and wikipedia photos.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Flax/ Linseed (DK: Hør/ Hørfrø)

Asian Flax/photo Høvblege, Møn:gb

 Linum usitatissimum

var. humile = linseed (oliehør)
var. vulgare = flax (textile flax) 
Wild flax (wikipedia)
Linum catharticum, wild flax ( vild hør),  common in loamy and warm soil

History and Folkore about Flax/Linen in Denmark 
(source: Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik) 

linseeds (wikipedia)
At the Danish island of Bornholm were in clay pots found prints of linseeds from Bronze Age. Finds of yarn and linen fabrics from the same period were probably imported wares. Linseed was probably cultivated at Bornholm in Bronze Age 800-400 BC as a nutrition. ( - eating the oilrich seeds evt. mixed with barley). From early Roman Iron Age are known several imprints of linseeds in claypots, mostly together with barley and burnt seeds.

Tollundman, Silkeborg Museum( photo SBN/GB)
Linseeds amounted a substantial part of the Tollund-Man's gastric contents. ( Iron age, ab. year 0.)

From the time before 1 BC are not known any finds of Danish cultivated flax. The textile flax must have arrived to Denmark from eastern Europe. Flax was in the 1200s used as a payment of medium of exchange. Already towards the end of the Middle Ages the cultivation had reached an extent. In 1312 taxes were paid from flax in Århus district. Not until ab. 1400 it seems that linen was of importance as a commercial product. The linen was in the Middle Ages used for towels, dishtowels, cloths, curtains, rugs (esp. a cover for horses), sacks and purses.
14th century, depicting linen, wikipedia

In 1506 the Jutland farmers objected to pay taxes of flax( flax was not corn) but the magistrate was against them. Provisions for the linseed production were found in many city laws. The linseed farm had to be securely fenced etc. Before and during the Absolutism the government tried with regulations to support and expand the breeding.

Flax, Open Air Museum in Brede, Zealand(wikipedia)
Chr. IV let fetch seeds from Riga for the Zealand and Scanic farmers and let hire measurers to control the linen trade and instruct the merchants in the market towns to have good seeds. In order to diminish the expensive import of linseeds (for soap) a regulation in 1687 decided that 1/4 of the city field had to be sowed with linseed and hemp or beets. Violation resulted in a fine. According to a regulation in 1741 it must be reported which city fields were suitable to be sown with linseed, hemp or tobacco.The regulations seemed not to have had much effect. In ab. year 1800 was not cultivated half of the country's consumption of linseed and hemp. In 1837 the city fields were sown with linseeds and nothing with hemp.

The government urged from 1748 people
Linen laid out for bleaching in field,( J.Th. Lundbye).
to take care with the treatment of linseed in order to produce a finer linen = just as fine as the imported linen. Several linen weavers were established and an import ban for foreign work. After 1780 were spinning mills all over the country. The production of linen yarn, linen and linseed oil was af the utmost importance ab. 1800,  but the farming was too small and the production often of a bad quality. It was still necessary to import significant amounts. About 1850 it was known that the Danish handicraft could not compete with the factory linen and the cotton fabric from abroad. The Danish domestic production had to be customs protected.

The farming of linseed had a big upturn during WWI an WWII.

Rules about sowing
The sower, van Gogh, Wikipedia

The farmer had to sow linseed on the 100th day of the year = 10 april. Then the growth would succeed best and avoid frost damage - or he might sow on the 1. of May -  or in the first half of May. The 16th of May was called "linseed day" or "Saras day". If the seeds were sown on a Saturday the wearer of the linen would get lice. The seeds had to be sown close to the farm so the seeds could hear the gate creak!

The sower had to creep while he was sowing the linseeds, women must not sow , they were only allowed to look -  or the sower had to roll up his pants high, and he had to walk on his toes or swing his legs as high as he wished the linen to grow, and keep his head high and throw the rest of a handful of seeds over a horse's head.


Medieval woodcut, wikipedia
The witches had no power over the linseed, but they were always  conspiring to destroy it - as a protection against them a harrow with teeth upwards had to be placed close to the linen field.
If  a May branch was put in a flax field on Midsummer's day the trolls would stay away.

A flax field was a very pretty sight when it was blooming like a big light blue carpet and flax was almost considered a sacred plant because baby Jesus was swept in linen. Women had to curtsey respectfully when they passed the flax field

A swarm of bees must not be pursured in the flax field.

The evening before Walpurgis day linseed had to be strewn around the farm against witchcraft and trolls. To avoid sickness in cattle linseed and earth from the church yard had to be strewn  in the stable and put in a cross over the back and head of the cow. Linseed upon the beams of the stable healed sick pigs.
The seeds were a part of the fodder for bewitched chickens .

People were protected against ghosts when they carried a bag with linseed, magistrantia and fly-rowan. This was effective against ghosts, spectres and other supernatural beings. Against nightmares people strew linseed upon the treshold and went backwards to bed

Linseeds in the coffin tied the dead to the grave, but if the seeds were put in the coffin before the body, they worked opposite.

Linseeds put in the pillow for newborn children made them bright and healthy.

Old Medicine, Viborg Museum, photo gb.
Folk Medicine

The seeds crushed with salt heals snake bites.  Crushed with incense in water and rubbed on watery eyes. Burnt seeds mixed with oil and butter on pillow against hair loss.

 Henrik Smid 1546: Decoct of seeds with honey in water internally and the cooked seeds as a cover for intern diseases. Linseed oil rubbed on stomach against colics. Linseeds or the oil rubbed on burns.

Simon Paulli 1648: Crushed seeds cooked in milch or water upon swellings. Raw flax yarn cooked in lye as a cover, easing lower back pain caused by blatterstone.

The linseeds were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1722

Medieval pharmacy, wikipedia
Linseeds were a common laxative, sold at the pharmacy as blatter tea. The tea was used as gargling for a sore throat and the crushed seeds as a cover. The linseed oil and against colics and poisoning. The linseed- tea to drink for colics, kidney pains, painful urination, dry cough and blood cough. Seeds cooked with sugar candy against cough. Linseeds and lard cooked in vinegar as an ointment for poison in the body. Linseed decoct was said to cure gangrene, sciatic and sinus infections. Seeds cooked with oats and alun in beer put on erysipelas. Frost in hands rubbed with linseeds cooked in water.

Domestic animals.
Linseed and linseed oil were used for cattle, horse, dogs, sheep and chicken.

Source: Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik Folk og Flora
Photo: grethe bachmann 
Photo Copy:wikipedia


   For further info about flax/ linseed see English Wikipedia.