Wednesday, June 29, 2016

34 Griffon vultures went on a Summer Holiday in Denmark

Griffon vulture (from wikipedia)

34 griffon vultures arrived last week for some days to the North Jutland village of Volsted south of Aalborg. This is really a rare event. Only about six griffon vultures have been since in Denmark since 1858.

Usually there are no griffons in Denmark. They live in the Spanish mountains and in South Eastern Europe, but sometimes they might fly north with the summer heat. Flocks have been located in Holland .

The 34 griffons in North Jutland are probably young birds from last year - and they might fly south again when it gets cold in DK. They cannot find much food here, there are no carrions out in the Danish fields. 

The griffon vulture is black, brown and white with a wingspan about 2,8 meter and a weight of ca. 11,3 kilo. 

source: various articles in the Danish News. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beekeeping and the Sweet Honey Bee

honey bee/apis

Honey (fra Germanic: honang = "the golden")  is the storing-nutrients of the honeybees which they use in connection to overwintering. The bees gather nectare from flowers but also sugar from the excrements of the aphids, known as honeydew, and from nectaries in ferns and on leaves from some hardwoods.

beehives in France

The colour of the honey mostly comes from the flowers from where the nectare is taken - and it can be from white-yellow til greenish black. The taste also depends on which flowers the bees have visited. Clover and lime honey are light and mild, while heather honey, lavender honey and rosemary honey are dark and spicy.

The type of honey can always be determined by examination of the pollen grains in the product.

bee carrying pollen

Honey types:
flower honey ( mild with a fine characteristic scent)
forest honey (dark, neutrally sweet)
heather honey (dark and spicy)
herb-honey (each spice delivers a dark and very characteristic honey)
rape-honey (very mild, light with a quick crystallization)
clover-honey (mild, light and with a gentle taste).

In addition is also the artificial honey made from sugar, glucose and fruktose

Honey is used as a herbal medicine but mostly in German-speaking countries, where they have a long tradition to value the preventive effect on the health. It was known since antiquity that honey works antiseptic  - and the Egyptians used honey for treating wounds.

The content of antioxidants enzymes, vitamins and minerals make honey a more healthy product than pure sugar.

a jar of honey
Some bacterias can survive in honey which makes the product unsuitable for small children under 12 months. Their gastric fluid is not yet sour enough to kill the harmful bacterias -  and eating honey might give them a serious food poisoning( fx botulism) ( ) 

Before humans made sugar from sugar cane, honey was a very important and sought for sweetener, and often the only one known. Today honey is used as a laying on and as a sweetener which brings a characteristic mild taste to dishes, desserts, cakes, candy and drinks.

Globally are more than 20.000 species of wild bees.

Harvesting honey from wild bees is one of the earliest human activities and is still being practized in some  native societies i Africa, Australia and South America. Beekeeping was known by humans for thousands of years. At some point humans began to attempt to domesticate wild bees in artificial hives made from hollow logs, wooden boxes, pottery vessels, and woven straw baskets or "skeps". Traces of beeswax are found in pot sherds throughout the Middle East beginning about 7000 BCE.
 According to legend the Irish Saint Modomnoc introduced the beekeeping in Ireland in the 500s.

cave painting, 15.000 years ago
Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees date to 15,000 years ago. The honey was usually being collected by pacifying the bees with smoke and then break the tree or the cliff where the bee-colony lived which resulted in the destruction of the colony.Beekeeping in pottery vessels began about 9,000 years ago in North Africa. Honeybees were kept in Egypt from antiquity. Domestication is shown in Egyptian art from around 4,500 years ago. Simple hives and smoke were used and honey was stored in jars, some of which were found in the tombs of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun.

stele, Mesopotamia 760 BCE
There was documented attempt to indtroduce bees to dry areas of Mesopotamia in the 8th century BCE by Shamash-resh-usur, governor of Mari and Suhu. His plans were detailed in a stele of 760 BCE.

In ancient Greece the god Aristaios was the shepherd god for beehives. Beekeeping was also very specifically addressed by the Roman writers of antiquitiy like Virgil, and the life of the bees were described by Aristoteles.

In prehistoric Greece (Crete and Mycenae), there existed a system of high-status apiculture, as can be concluded from the finds of hives, smoking pots, honey extractors and other beekeeping paraphernalia in Knossos. Beekeeping was considered a highly valued industry controlled by beekeeping overseers—owners of gold rings depicting apiculture scenes.

Archaeological finds relating to beekeeping have been discovered at Bronze and Iron Age archaeological sites in Israel in the ruins of a city dating from about 900 BCE. Beekeeping has also been practiced in ancient China since antiquity. In the book "Golden Rules of Business Success" written by Fan Li (or Tao Zhu Gong) there are sections describing the art of beekeeping, stressing the importance of the quality of the wooden box used and how this can affect the quality of the honey.

P. Bruegel 1568: Beekeepers.
Beekeeping, 14th century

It wasn't until the 18th century that European understanding of the colonies and biology of bees allowed the construction of the moveable comb hive so that honey could be harvested without destroying the entire colony.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

European Honeysuckle (Woodbine) / Vild Kaprifolium (Gedeblad)

Lonicera periclymenum
The name after the genus Lonicera was given to the honeysuckle family by Carl Linneaeus (1707-78), the Swedish botanish, with honour of the German botanist Adam Loncer (1528-86). There are about 180 species of Lonicera. The Common honeysuckle (Danish: Vild Kaprifolie) has creamy white or yellowish flowers and red berries. The plant is usually pollinated by moths or long-tongued bees and develops bright red berries. Many of the species have sweetly-scented bell-shaped flowers that produce a sweet edible nectar. The powerful aroma attracts bees, moths, humming-bees and butterflies to its sweet nectar. Some lepidoptera species feed on honeysuckle. Some Loniceras have poisonous yellow or black berries.
Svinkløv Strand, North West Jutland photo: gb

woodbine on willow caused by Lonicera
Honeysuckle is a deciduous liana which together with ivory is the liana of the forest, twining around bushes and trees - but honeysuckle is in all its pretty variations popular in the garden for its sweet scent and it is great for covering fences and garden arches because of its fast growing - and it combines well with clematis. Other names for honeysuckle include woodbine, fairy trumpets, honeybind, trumpet flowers, goats leaf and sweet suckle. The old name woodbine describes the twisting binding nature of the honeysuckle through the hedgerows. 

Typical twining of Lonicera (wikipedia)
L. periclymenum is one of several honeysuckle species valued in the garden, for its ability to twine around other plants, or to cover unsightly walls or outbuildings; and for the intense fragrance of its profuse flowers in summer. It needs to be planted with its roots in the shade, and its flowering top in sun or light shade. Plants need to be chosen with care as they can grow to a substantial size. Growing to 7 m (23 ft) or more in height, it is a vigorous evergreen twining climber. It is found as far north as southern Norway and Sweden. In the UK it is one of two native honeysuckles, the other being Lonicera xylosteum It is often found in woodland or in hedgerows or scrubland.

The tough wood has been used for walking sticks and pipe stems. The charcoal was used for gun powder. The dried flowers are used for adding to pot-pourri, herb-pillows and floral waters. Scented cosmetics are made from the fresh flowers. The flowers can also be used in lemonade, decoration in desserts an pastry.

Lonicera on tree, wikipedia.
Honeysuckle (woodbine)  has been a valued part of Britain's ecology for centuries. It is mentioned by Shakespeare:
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxclips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine
British rock band Dire Straits mentions Honeysuckle in the opening lines of their 1980 song " Expresso Love":
"She gets the sun in the daytime
Perfume in the dusk
And she comes out in the night time
With a honeysuckle musk"
The plant was voted the County flower of Warwickshire in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.

Medicinal use in the Middle Ages:
red berries, Lonicera (wikipedia)
Culpeper stated that only the leaves of the honeysuckle were used medicinal to treat coughs, sore throat and for opening obstruction of the liver and spleen. Honeysuckle can be found in a Chinese herbal which is the earliest known existing pharmacopoeia written in AD 659. The Chinese used honeysuckle japonica as a cleanser and for removing poisons from the body.

Legend and Superstition
Honeysuckle has long been a symbol of fidelity and affection and there is much superstition attached to it. In Scotland it was believed that if honeysuckle grows around the entrance to the house it would prevent a witch from entering. It was also a promise of money. According to old superstition people had to put the first flower of a honeysuckle in the purse then it would never be empty -and if people brought the flower into their house then it would bring money to them.
There was also a promise to the garden people that if honeysuckle grew well in their garden they would be protected from evil.

In Victorian era there was a ban on young girls bringing honeysuckle into the house because it was believed to cause dreams that were far to risqué for their sensibilities.

photo 2008: grethe bachmann, Svinkløv, North Jutland
photo: wikipedia

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The first Danish Apoteks - Mummy Powder and Scorpion Oil

Danish Apotek, 1700s
Medieval pharmacy
The Danish
apotekerskilt, Tønder, foto: gb
word Apotek comes from the Greek word apothéke which means storage or repository. (English: pharmacy).
The history of the Danish apotek is linked to the common cultural history.The medieval church was encompassing, the medieval Chapters were cultural centers with tasks in administration, education, justice and disease control. Far back in time church people were engaged in medicine and many of those are known by name. Many medical and herbal books were published, but most of them are lost. The development of the apotek/pharmacy is seen in the Pharmacopoeia (= the authorized lists of the medcine which an apotek had to hold). The Pharmacopoeia of 1772 is a turning point. Although some uneffective medicine still was accepted after this time  - like the scorpion oil - the deciding principle was from now on a medical science which rested upon experience, and the old folk-remedies had to give way. The change must be seeen in connection to the interest of natural science and the new discoveries which grew up in the 1700s.

Apotekerhaven, Viborg,

Already in the 1400s were the first traces of an independent pharmacy state in Denmark. Before the permanent apoteks were established, the medicine were procured in other ways. The relict flora by the Danish klosters show the cultivation of medical herbs,  but herbs were also imported and sold in common trade. In the Hanseatic tariff lists from 1368-69 are fx mentioned cloves, sapphron, cumin, poppy oil and ginger. Although some of it was sold as spice, a big part was probably meant for medicine. The border between medicine and spice was undeterminable, also later in time. The oldest Danish apoteks/pharmacies did not look like a pharmacy of today, they were storages and sales of medicine , herbals, details and much more, fx wine. A command from king Hans in 1510 informs that his pharmacist had to send some wine for the king's use.
Viborg Bymuseum
Not until late in the 1700s a more rational production of medicine began to build upon a practical scientific experience, but it never displaced the ineffective compositions and folk remedies, which had great confidence among people, like frk. Thunes balsam (Miss Thune's balm) which uncritically was used for all kinds of diseases and small ailments.  A detailed description was printed in a medical paper in Copenhagen 18 March 1767:  "This balm is a safe healing remedy for all appropiate, wounds by fire or boiling materia , or where the skin is scraped. It also cures frost-boils in hands and feet. It cleans and heals all deep wounds either if they are chopped, cut, encountered, even fistuleuse or desperates, when it is hot injected or injected in another way."

Mortars in the serpentine stone were used in the Danish apoteks since they would supposedly jump into pieces if they came in contact with poison.

Lapis-pin, Museum, the pin in the top is the hell-stone
The primitive stage of the pharmacy and medicine is also seen in king Chr. 6's medical history.  4-5 years before his death he had an abscess on the gums, which was treated with Lapis infernalis, helvedessten (hell's stone). His valet got the dubious task to treat the king, and it went completely wrong. The stone passed down the king's throat, and the valet became so frightened that he concealed the thruth. A borax powder could have saved the situation, but the valet was so scared of the king's eventual rage that he just advised him to take laxative in order to drive out the rest of liquid from the abscess. This accident might have been a cause of the king's later sickness and death.

Mummy Powder

One of the oddest medical remedies, which was popular from the 12th to the 18th century in Europe, involved powdering the remains of the ancient dead. Mummy powder was among the first of the old medicines which the new medical science rejected. Nevertheless this strange médicament  - like the scorpion oil - was used in Denmark almost up till present. In 1866 Assens Apotek (in Denmark) sold mummy powder, and still in 1927 a German medical firm sold mummy. Asphalt - which was used by the embalming  - was higly recommended as a medicine from old times, and it was probably the confidence in this substance which was transferred to the mummy medicine. The belief in the eternal conservation of the mummy was also a part of it. People might have imagined that the embalmed body contained a substance which might secure them something like an everlasting life. In accordance to this the mummy medicine was also the part of a powder which could help against death itself. In the later folk medicine mummy was together with other substances used in a means against dropsy. At the Danish Apoteks (pharmacies) mummy was sold in the name armesynderkød ( poor sinner's meat). Several samples of the fabric have been preserved, some contains without doubt real mummy, while others probably consists of asphalt.

Mummy. Louvre
Mummy powder was obtained by raiding ancient tombs and plundering the corpses found inside. These could include the most famous mummies in history, Egyptian mummies, or other less well known corpses. Once the corpse was obtained, it would be ground down into dust. The powder could be mixed with various other substances and was prescribed to treat everything from headaches, stomach ulcers, to tumors. It could be taken orally or used as a plaster or salve. It was so popular that any apothecary carried mummy powder among its stock. Humans weren't the only beings alleged to benefit from mummy; sick hawks were thought to benefit from their own grade of mummy powder.

Ærø Apotek, Skorpionolie, Wikipedia
In ancient Danish medical books is mentioned a means against the poison of the scorpion - and this is obvious a loan from the South. In ancient times medicine against the scorpion's bite was sought after in the southern countries where the poisonous insect lived. Among the recommended means were some which used the animal itself as an antidote. The scorpion played a big role for the medical science up high in time, also in Denmark.
Common scorpion oil was produced by soaking 20 scorpions in oil from 1 pound of bitter almonds.

Besides this there was a medicine like the mixed mathiols scorpion oil for internal use which was used against plague-abscesses, smallpox, fever and paralysis. About year 1800 the scorpion slipped out from the part of the recommended medicine, but it lived on in folk medicine - and the scorpion oil was still sold at the Danish apoteks. In "Den gamle By" (Museum) in Århus is kept a bottle with scorpions found at Frijsenborg Apotek (established 1842) at the village Hammel. A pharmacist at Odder Apotek says in 1961 that it might still happen that someone asks for scorpion oil.
This medicine was from ancient times connected to the astrology. The scorpion gave name to a constellation, and it must be a reflection of this connection between medicine and astrology when the medical doctores at the University of Copenhagen were made responsible for making an almanac. The astrology had also its oppponents though, one was the archbishop in Lund (1201-23) Andreas Sunesøn, who said that "the stars do not show us future events as if man was in the happy possition of the gift of reason and was dependent on a star without feeling and life." Still today 800 years later some people might remember his sensible words.

Source: Danish Archaological Magazine: Skalk, nr. 2, 1961, Sundhed til Salg, Helge Søgård. 

photo from Viborg and Tønder: grethe bachmann
other photos from wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Silver Fyrkat-Bracelets from the Viking Period

photo: Replicas of the Fyrkat-bracelets.

On an excavation by the Viking fortress Fyrkat by Hobro (East Jutland) were in the early 1950s found two silver bracelets about the same size, but of a different shape, one twisted, the other smooth with a little jingling pendant. The twisted bracelet was found 1952, when a stolp hole was being emptied in one of the big curved-wall longhouses. Since it was late season the hole was first digged out fully the next year - and thirteen centimeter deeper was found the smooth ring with the little pendant. In the stolp hole had once been two uprights, and the bracelets were squeezed between those. There is no doubt that they were hidden in a space in the wall. Why? This can only be a guess.

Bracelets like these were modern in the period of Gorm the Old, Harald Bluetooth and Sweyn Forkbeard. The smooth bracelet is made of heavy silver thread, which gets a little narrower in the ends, the twisted made of two silverthreads and twisted together. The closing plait is rather different, but the size of the bracelets is approximately the same, a little more than 6 cm, which is what we today regard as a normal size. Their owner was undoubtedly a woman. A tough viking would hardly be able to wear them.Besides the closings and the pendant there are no frills on the bracelets, they were actually applied art.
Viking house Fyrkat
In the finds at Fyrkat were coins, but a real monetary system was not yet known, people paid with silver after weight, whether it was marked or not. A little ring like the pendant was a suitable change, but it often happens that jewelry is found cut into pieces. The silver jewelry from the viking period can be regarded as decorative cheque books.

The twisted parts in both bracelets are made in a way which is a little awkward, though natural for a left-handed person; they are possibly made by the same silversmith. He might have worked in the viking fortress itself, where craftsmen lived and worked with precious metals.
(source: Skalk 5/1976)

photo: grethe bachmann

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dragonfly/ Guldsmed

Dragonfly in culture
Dragonflies have often been seen as sinister. Names like "Devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter" link them with evil or injury. A folktale from Romania says that the dragonfly was once a horse possessed by the devil. In Swedish folklore the trolls use the dragonflies as spindles when weaving their clothes. They are often associated with snakes, a Welsh name is "adder's servant".
In East Asia and among Native Americans, dragonflies have a far better reputation, one that can also be said to have positively influenced modern day views about dragonflies in most countries, in the same vein as the insect's namesake the dragon, which has a positive image in the east, but initially an association with evil in the west.

They also have traditional uses as medicine in Japan and China.In some parts of the world it is considered lucky to have a dragonfly land on you, even to the point of yielding seven years of good luck. Images of dragonflies were common in Art Noveau, especially in jewelry designs. They have also been used as a decorative motif on Fabrics and home furnishings.
Art Noveau jewellery dragonfly

About 300 million years ago dragonflies could be about 1 m long and with a wing span of ab. 1,2 m.

photo : grethe bachmann

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pentecost in 16th Century's Scandinavia

An ancient tradition says that if you go out of your house and sweep towards the door on Pentecost morning , then you'll gather happiness for the rest of the year. 

feast in Sweden
Pentecost was in its natural form a feast of gladness with not very special customs, but since the Pentecost-period arrived in connection to the coming of summer it was born to absorb parts of the traditional spring and summer celebrations. The Catholic church had from the beginning favored this and the consequence was that no May-feast in the North in the 16th century was in its original form. The old traditions had been given up one by one. 

shooting birds
The second and * third day of Pentecost - where people had to rest -  were suitable for the traditional May-ride, the feast of the May-count or Parrot-shooting. 

If people had no old traditions the Pentecost days were celebrated with a special Pentecost drink.

* Until 1770 a third Pentecost day was celebrated, but it was abolished by the reform, which was carried through by Struensee.

Pentecost was an ecclesial spring feast, marked by numerous feast     customs, borrowed from many places - and they fitted perfectly well in the North, where no one asked from where they came. On Pentecost morning the sun was dancing like on Easter Saturday. The morning dew of Pentecost inherited the miracolous power of the May-day. At the high mass the church was decorated like in the homes on Valpurgis day. The May-countess and the street lamb became a Pentecost bride. In the Catholic period the church had observed in a tolerant way that the parrot king or the May-count on Pentecost day came to the church to be sprinkled with holy water or bring a sacrifice.

Fanefjord church, island Møn, DK.
Pentecost Sunday was named Hvide Søndag (White Sunday), and the whole week  was named Den Hvide Uge (The White Week). It was a natural thing to have a baby baptized at this feast, but there was however a strong counterweight, people did not like to let several days pass between birth and baptismal.

In a later period of Pentecost it was a custom in the town Odense and possibly also in other Danish towns that the blacksmiths on the third Pentecost day moved their guild sign.

The Pentecost Wolf in Norway

The belief in the blessing power of Pentecost caused a strange custom in Norway. It was assumed that the most dangerous of all Norse predators, the wolf, on Pentecost night had to obey the higher powers and give themselves up to human power. It is told in 1599:  "the night before Pentecost Sunday the peasants are out in the woods where they know the wolf lies with her cubs, and the peasants howl like wolves, and when the mother wolf hear people howl then her nature forces her to give an answer, she will howl and they will find her cubs, and so it happened that the peasants got both the mother wolf and her cubs because she would not leave them ". The hunters told that since the mother wolf knows that the human howling means that she cannot help answering, she will put her nose down into the ground to pretend that her howling comes from far away in order to mislead the humans, and then they cannot find her. 

Both the hunters and the peasants had a very solid opinion about this - if it was a natural thing or why it happened like this ? Everyone must judge for himself. They claimed that many wolf cubs were found and caught in that way.

source: Runeberg, Dagligt liv i Norden i det sekstende Århundrede. 
photo: wikipedia  
photo Fanefjord: gb