The Medieval Still-Room
Women have been in charge of the healing arts long before the written word. Learning their art from the wise women before them, they were often skilled in midwifery, understood the healing properties of herbs, prayers, chants, charms; being a nurturer and provider of comfort in the home. Her skills determined how well the family lived in comfort, from the peasant farm to the manor house. A woman’s value within marriage was determined by her skills as a healer, nurturer, and her fertility.
The still-room was a small room off the kitchen or somewhere in the house or even an out building on the property, which contained a small still for distilling herbs to extract their essences for use in medicinal, cosmetics, salves, disinfectants, household cleaning and other uses. Be it peasant farm or manor house, the still-room was the woman of the houses’ domain. Here is where she would pass down her knowledge and skill to her daughters. When I was growing up, grandma called it the pantry.
Herbs, plants and flowers would be hung on racks or hung up near the rafters for drying. Spices would be stored here as they were just as likely to be used in healing as in cooking. The menstruums are the agents such as grain alcohol, apple cider vinegar, honey and glycerin to create tinctures, syrups, and preservatives. There would be a table near the still as a working surface. Shelves would hold such things as a mortar & pestle, bowls, spools, knives, anything needed to cut chop and mix the ingredients. There would be bottles, baskets, and kegs ready to be filled or that already stored the dried and prepared remedies, cleaning agents, slaves, etc.
Other activities such as candle or soap making, wool dying, food preservation, jams & jellies, cordials, liquors, liniments, perfumes, and everything else that sustained and added quality of life to the family might be made in the still-room.
The Still-room Book
From the late middle ages to the last century, the woman of the household would have kept a still-room book. In this book she would record such things as when to plant, harvest, dry and prepare herbs, plants and flowers for use in cooking & medicines. Recipes for the mordents and herbs used to dye yarns and fabric. Spice mixes for stews, soups and meat rubs. Charms, chants and prayers would be sprinkled throughout the book. Family secrets passed down through the generations. Dried herbs might have been pressed between the leaves of the book. All recipes for food, medicines (syrups, slaves, and liniments), and preservatives to cleaning recipes, and anything that was relevant in maintaining a healthy happy household would be in this book. These books would then be handed down generation to generation with each generation adding their own recipes to the book. Often, these books had no rhyme or reason as to how anything was categorized; they just kept adding page by page and you would have to flip through the book to find what you were looking for.
So, now everyone wants their own Still-room, right? I know I do, but I just can’t dedicate one room and I’m sure many of you can’t either. What I have are several ‘stations’.
Station #1 is an old narrow DVD shelf unit in my bedroom closet (this way I can keep everything out of the sunlight). This unit houses mason jars fill with herbs, essential oils, base oils, bee’s wax, mortars & pestles (I have a few), measuring spoons, amber bottles, salve tins, assorted jars, and finished projects such as casting herbs, magical oils, slaves & ointments.
Station #2 is a bookcase in my bed room for my herbal books and note books.
Station #3 is under my altar where I have more herbs, more containers, candles, a wooden herb grinder and a coffee grinder (for herbs only), a utility knife, ceramic bowls, and larger jars of finished products. My scale is kept in the kitchen.
For my Still-room Book, I have a section in the front of the book on weights & measures, how to sterilize equipment, moon phases & planetary timing, cautions and warnings. The rest of the book has recipes, folk lore, medicinal & magical properties of plants, herbs and flowers. There is no Table of Contents or Index; it is written as I create. Notes are made in the margins, sometimes pressed herbs or little sketches are added. It is whatever I make it to be.
What would/will your Still-room look like? What will you keep there?
How would you go about creating your Still-room Book?
Blessings on your Hearth & Home,
First published on 9/1/2014 http://www.elaynelockhart.com/blog/the-still-room