Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The first Danish Apoteks - and some strange Remedies

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rosemary /Rosmarin

Spice Herb

Rosmarinus officinalis.

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” 

William Shakespeare, Hamlet 

Rosmarinus officinalis is an evergreen halfbush which is often sold and cultivated as if it was a perennial. It is cultivated for its aromatic leaves, used in various Mediterranean inspired dishes. The plant contains a strongly fragrant tacky rresin. The leaves are narrow and grey-greenish and the little flowers are pale blue to dark blue . tTe flowers arrive early spring (in Denmark often in March-April). The fruits are nuts, each with an Elaiosome. The roots go very deep with many fine side roots. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs. The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin  "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" The plant is also sometimes called anthos, from ancient Greek, meaning "flower". Rosemary's natural habitat is in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, where it prefers light-open, dry places with a calcareous and nutrient-poor soil. Rosemary is used as a decorative plant in gardens where it may have pest-control effects.

Rosemary in Denmark.
In Denmark rosemary is one of the oldest houseplants, it was cultivated around 1500s and maybe even earlier. In 1559 the king's gardener had to provide rosemary plants for the king's herb garden, and in 1618 were 60 rosemary plants provided for the royal garden at Rosenborg slot. It is told about one of Chr. 4's daughters that she did not tolerate the scent of rosemary since it reminded her of the death of her childhood friend. Rosemary is mentioned in the first Danish garden book from 1647. It was said that it should be planted and cultivated in "posh gardens" . The plant was also a part of the verse in some Danish psalms. Rosemary was used as a houseplant outside in summer and inside in winter, but the cultivation ceased almost completely around 1850, and in 1880 Rosemary was referred to as a rare plant.  

Medicine/Folk Medicine
Christiern Pedersen 1533: wine decoction to drink against various diseases; to smoke the crushed plant into the nostrils against headache and sneezing; a water- or beer decoction of rosemary and 
rue (herb-of-grace) -  or a wine decoction of rosemary against epilepsy. The leaves were eaten as an appetizer. The dry leaves to take with a drink against stomach pain. Crushed rosemary upon haemorroids. Rub black teeth with a powder of burnt twigs.
Henrik Smid 1546: wine decoction of flowers to drive out jaundice, to counteract shortness of breath, stimulate the digestion , this decoction was an antidote, it was cleansing the blood and it was diuretic.  Destilled water from the plant in order to regain a lost voice. Rosemary sugar strengthens the brain and heart and counteracts poison.
Simon Paulli 1648 said:  " this herb is one of the very best for the weaknesses of the head and extremely good to use against strokes, epilepsy, catarrh, weak eyes, dizziness, toothache, pain in the tongue and in the whole body, stitches in the chest, shortness of breath , vomitting, jaundice, colic, flatulence, diarrhea ". Malaria patients were cured with Rosemary oil. The pharmacy had a Rosemary balm, which was rubbed under the nose in times of the plague . 

The rosemary leaves and flowers were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772  and in a medical book in 1807.

In the 1700s and 1800s:  rub rosemary oil on the forehead against frenzy. Wine and rosemary for a weak heart ; rosemary as a component in snaps against gout. Tea of rosemary and lemon balm against various diseases; rosemary tea was a good help for the whooping cough. Old peope should bathe their weak eyes with rosemary in snaps; a decoction of rosemary against toothache and against hair loss.

Live stock: horses were smoked with rosemary for various horse-diseases. A decotoion of rosemary drove out lice, mange and scab of livestock.

Other use: Rosemary is used in the kitchen for both food and drink. The leaves are used to flavor various foods, such as stuffings and roast meats. The dry leaves in vinegar and for giving a steak a taste of game .Rosemary oil is used for purposes of fragrant bodily perfumes or to emit an aroma into a room. It is also burnt as incense, and used in shampoos and cleaning products.

According to legend, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea, born of Uranus' semen.  The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the "Rose of Mary"

In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. From this association with weddings, rosemary was thought to be a love charm.

In myths, rosemary has a reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.) In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day and sometimes Remembrance Day  to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Hungary water was first prepared for the Queen of Hungary Elizabeth of Poland to " ... renovate vitality of paralyzed limbs ... " and to treat gout. It was used externally and prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tops into spirits of wine. Don Quixote, (Part One, Chapter XVII) mixes it in his recipe of the miraculous balm of Fierabras.

Music/ TV 
The song "Scarborough Fair " (popularised by Simon and Garfunkel) has the refrain "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" which is also the title of their third studio album.

Rosemary and Thyme is the name of a British TV detective series, starring Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferrim.
Rosemary song by Suzanne Vega, first published 1998 on her album Tried and True. 

Source: Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, folk og flora, bd. 4. / Dansk wikipedia /British Wikipedia
photo: wikipedia
sketch: gb

Friday, March 18, 2016

What Children say.....................

The shortest distance between two people is a smile.
Victor Borge

Sweet and funny quotes from children:

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email." -- 4 year old girl, misquoting the Lord's Prayer

A boy calls his granny to wish her Happy Birthday. He asks her how old she is and she tells him: "62". The boy is quiet for a moment, then he asked. "Did you start at 1?"

A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to "honor" thy Father and thy Mother, she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?" Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, "Thou shall not kill."

A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned to salt." His son asked, "What happened to the flea?"

Kids about Love and Marriage : 
 "It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I'm just a kid. I don't need that kind of trouble." -- Kenny, age 7

"I'm in favor of love as long as it doesn't happen when Dinosaurs is on television." -- Jill, age 6

"Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too." -- Greg, age 8

 "If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don't want to do it. It takes too long." -- Glenn, age 7

 "When a person gets kissed for the first time, they fall down, and they don't get up for at least an hour." -- Wendy, age 8

"One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it's something she likes to eat. French fries usually works for me." -- Bart, age 9

"Don't forget your wife's name. That will mess up the love." -- Erin, age 8

And here's Erin again.  
 "Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the trash." -- Erin, age 8

Kids about Science:
"South America has cold summers and hot winters, but somehow they still manage."

"Water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. There are 180 degrees between freezing and boiling because there are 180 degrees between north and south."

"There are 26 vitamins in all, but some of the letters are yet to be discovered. Finding them all means living forever."

"There is a tremendous weight pushing down on the center of the Earth because of so much population stomping around up there these days."

"Many dead animals in the past changed to fossils, while others preferred to be oil."

"Genetics explain why you look like your father, and if you don't why you should."

 Exam and papers of young students:
 "The Magna Carta provided that no free men should be hanged twice for the same offense."
 "Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes."

"Milton wrote 'Paradise Lost.' Then his wife dies, and he wrote 'Paradise Regained.

"Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms."

 "Queen Victoria's reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality."

"Without Greeks, we wouldn't have history."

"One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intollerable."

 "In the Olympics Games, Greeks ran races jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java."

Have fun!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Danish Kitchen in the Middle Ages

.A Brief Summary 


The medieval food in Denmark is first of all known from cookbooks handed over from the 1200s and forward. They tell us about what was used in the upper class kitchen,  and since the information is supplied with archaeological examinations and accounts, it can bring us a broader picture, which reveals that the medieval Danish kitchen had a surprisingly international mark. The commodities used were mostly locally produced, but the cooking was similar to the French, English and German sources and the spicing was strong and Middle east.


P.Bruegel: Fight between Carnival and Lent
An important element in the medieval food culture were the numerous Lent days. The Catholic church of the Middle Ages dictated common Lent each Wednesday and Friday, a stronger diet in the 40 days before Easter and in shorter periods up till other ceremonials. All in all it gave 180 Lent days a year. There were special rules about the food in over half the year. The Lent before Easter demanded to renounce all animal food -  but butter, egg and cheese were allowed on the weekly Lent days. Lent food was first of all renouncing meat. Instead people had fish.


The basic food was for the main part of the population mostly bread and butter, made by rye and barley, and to this in lesser amount came oat, wheat, buckwheat and millet. The daily bread was baked on rye, while the broad population had wheat bread only on festival occasions. The barley was used for beer brewing and for porridge. Corn could be stored and used all year, but the food was in general much dependent on the season.

Cattle and swine were usually slaughtered in November and December, and most of the meat were conserved by salting. Poultry like hens, chicken and geese gave fresh meat all year. Cows and sheep gave milch in summer, but not in winter where the fodder was too bad. The milch was not drunk, but conserved as butter and cheese. Meat came also from wild-living animals, but game-hunting was mostly reserved for king and aristocracy.
Plucking cabbage in the garden.
Food like fish played an important role during the numerous Lent days -  and fish were eaten both  fresh salted and dried  Vegetables are almost never mentioned in the written sources, but they must also have been a big part of the food. Even in the cities many people had their own cabbage garden,  where they cultivated green cabbage, peas, beans, onions, red beets and spice herbs.


The meat - which had been salted down - had to be  watered out in several changes of water hefore it could be used as food. Therefore it was often spiced heavily while cooking. One of the myths of medieval food is that the strong spicing had to drown the taste of rotten commodities, but this was not the truth . The price on spices was very high and it must have been cheaper to get hold of some good meat instead.
Medieval dinner at a prince's house
Royal accounts show that Middle east and Indian spices like saffron, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cumin were bought in large quantities. It was probably mostly the upper class who could afford the exotic spices on a daily basis, while the less fortunate impersonated the fine food as much as possible at their festivals. An example of the medieval taste for spices is delivered in todays Christmas food where the composition of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove dates from the fine food of the Middle Ages.
Spice herbs like parsley, marjoram and thyme plus garlic, horse radish and mustard recur in the recipes and must have been available to everyone, since they can be cultivated in Denmark. Sugar must also be included with the spices. Sugar was bought in the shape of cane-sugar, imported from the Middle East and therefore very costy. The dishes were instead sweetened with honey and raisins.

Brewery 16th century

Another myth about the Middle Ages is that everyone drank beer all the time - which is not quite wrong. In return most beer was very thin and with a low alcohol procent. The quality of water was extremely bad, especially in the cities - and this is one of the explanations why people preferred beer. The water was boiled during the brewing process, and even though people knew nothing about bacterias they might have experienced that beer gave lesser problems about sickness than the drinking water. Beer was brewed in most large households for their own use for both adults and children. A stronger beer was brewed for festivals, and if people could afford it they bought the strong German beer which was of a good quality. Wine was imported too, and sweet wine was preferred, eventually sweetened with honey and spices.

source: Danmarkhistorie, Mad og drikke i Middelalderen, Aarhus Universitet, Kultur og Samfund.
photo: wikipedia