Upon the hill, Egtved

Upon the hill, Egtved
Upon the hill, Egtved

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Middle Ages - Sickness and Health

When considering the Middle Ages it is not easy to imagine how awful it must have been to experience terrible diseases like leprosy and plague. The help from magic, wise women, doctors and monks was not enough to help people, and common diseases were also treated in many mysterious ways. But while looking upon their paltry chances with today's eyes, people back then did not know anything else than what was at hand. I wonder if they trusted their healers? There are many awful stories about plague and leprosy. I have chosen to write it as objectively as possible.  

A main part of medieval people believed that magic and wise women was the only available cure for a disease, and the saints of the church and the sacred wells were also considered miraculous healers. Physicians existed, but they did not possess such a divine power. Their knowledge about anatomy and infection was extremely limited. When the abbot Jan of Roskilde in 1182 was called to assist the feverish king, Valdemar the Great, he treated him with sweat-generating drugs. But in vain. In the morning lay the king dead in his bed, and the contemporary chronicle writer Saxo, who told the story, was unsparing in his opinion, as he wrote: "... his death was a clear evidence of how little you can rely on medical art."

The church established the frames of medical art, saying that it was more important to cure the soul than the body. The pastoral care had a greater significance than the medical occupation, and the doctors were told not to do anything, which might bring the soul in danger.The body was considered a temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore was surgery condemned by the church. It was preferably medicine, which was the education at most universities. A surgical practice had to develop outside the established medical circles, like by army surgeons or by the barber, in the bathhouse and even by the executioner. He had through his main job a certain possibility to do anatomical studies himself, while the medieval physicians - if they studied anatomy at all - stuck to the authority of the classic authors and to speculative theories. Not until in the beginning of the 1500s came a breakthrough for modern anatomy, based on dissections of the deceased.

The medieval physicians relied to the doctrine about the four elements, earth, air, fire and water, combined with the four human temperaments, the choleric, the melancholic, the phlegmatic and the sanguine. In much medical treatment were the patients given emetics to drive out the superfluous bile - or they were bled to drive out too much and harmful blood. One method was to attach leeches to suck blood from the patient. The leeches, still seen in some Danish moors, are probably descendants from the leeches brought to the country by the monks. Another method was the use of a bleed iron, a special, sharp-cut iron. And this was a dangerous treatment. It was impressed in a document by king Erik Plovpenning's personal physician, Henrik Harpestreng that the doctor had to be very careful when doing this. He had to be absolute sober and work in a well lit room; he had to know the right veins, and the iron had to be shining and thin, not to give too deep wounds. There were more riscs than these mentioned, and furthermore was it not advisable to bleed children and old people. And slaves, for if it went wrong - if the slave was wounded or killed - then there might be claims for compensation. In the klosters was a "Brother Bleed", who treated his fellow brothers with the bleed iron in order to curb their carnal desires. But in 1163 came a new order from he pope that monks and priests must not shed blood, so "Brother Bleed" was now unemployed.

The Medicinal Herbs.
Well-educated monks came to Denmark with the klosters, they came from a warmer climate in southern Europe and  brought a knowledge about kitchen gardens and orchards, which  far surpassed the Vikings' cabbage yards with angelica, onion and cabbage. In excavations have been found testimony about the plant medicine the monks used, like the henbane, which flourished from the earth during excavations. There is no doubt that those plants are direct descendants from the plants in the medical kloster gardens. In many kloster sites grow today several plants, which go back to the period of the Catholic church, like columbine, hop, hound's tongue, sweet flag, comfrey, great mullein, Spanish chervil and soap wort. Herbal medicine is usually connected to medieval klosters, and many medicinal plants are mentioned popularly as "klosterplants", although the medical use of these plants go much further back in time. Seeds of henbane and other wellknown medicinal plants like common fumitory, madwoman's milk, Opium poppy, greater celandine og ground elder are found in Denmark in archaeological excavations in settlements from Iron Age and Viking Period. From far places like India, China and Egypt exist written sources with several thousand years' old descriptions of herbal medicine and disease treatment.

According to the Greek view of medical care, based on Hippocrates, was a good health dependent on a maintenance or recovery of the balance between the body fluids by the help of food intake, and first of all medicinal herbs. Food and medicine were one and the same thing, like said in an old English manuscript: "Food is the best medicine." The close connection between medicine and food is exemplarily illustrated in several manuscripts by  the physician Henrik Harpestreng. His works include books about herbs and stones: treatments with medicinal plants and gemstones and semiprecious stones, and cookbooks with detailled recipes with a frequent use of herbs and spices like cumin, saffron, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. Other manuscripts from the Middle Ages include an anonymous work from the 1200s. Unlike Henrik Harpestreng's works this manuscript is quite unscientific and filled with superstition, and it describes some incredibly outrageous treatments, ( like using stools and urine from humans and animals, and this is even the least repulsive treatment in the book). A book from 1546 by a physician Henrik Smith ( king Christian 2.'s personal physician) shows the niveau of  Danish medical art at that time, and it was clearly based on foreign authors like Hieronymus Bock and Leonard Fuchs. The book attaches diet and includes medical advice and treatments for both children, women, old, righ and poor. It has a whole chapter about the plague, which killed the author himself in 1563. His books were reprinted up till the 1900s, and they were used inside the established medical science well into the 1800s.

Not only exotic herbs and spices or imported, cultivated plants were considered effective - many home and quite common plants like stinging nettle and chickweed were ascribed important medical properties. Scientific analyses of deposits from archaeologic excavations deliver a wealth of informations about daily life. In the cities lived many people and animals close together. This resulted in accumulation of large quantitites of mainly organic waste, which could not be removed in a natural way. Some klosters had more elegant solutions of this problem, like at Øm kloster near Ry ( Mid Jutland), where in a drainage from the kitchen section were found rests of kitchen- and medicinal herbs like greater celandine, white horehound, ground elder, caper surge,  black mustard, common mallow, Opium poppy, sage, great mullein, ironweed, madwoman's milk, drug fumitory and henbane. The material from Øm kloster shows also a content of kernels and stones from apple,cherry plum and Damson plum, maybe from trees in the kloster orchard. Other finds show that walnut and peach were possibly also cultivated at Øm kloster, and it seems that a fig-tree might have grown in a warm, southward spot in the Black Friar's kloster in Odense. (Funen)

In the cities were waste and garbage removed in a more accidental way than in the klosters, especially in the first part of the Middle Ages. Rich citizens might have stone-built latrines, but while other inhabitants had to be content with more primitive solutions, the cities were very marked by manure and waste, which must have caused a lot of illness. The common hygiene standard was bad, and analyses of deposits from latrines show that people must have suffered from intestinal worms, like whipworm and eelworm. Clean drinking water was  a large problem in the medieval cities. The water came from lakes and rivers, often contaminated with organic waste, and it was a major disease factor.  People preferred beer and drank huge quantities. Beer was brewed from malted barley with addition of sweet gale or hop. The use of boiling water during the making put the dangerous microorganisms out of action, and  people avoided miscellanous diseases from contaminated water.

The food itself was of course also a very decisive factor in both sickness and health. The beer was together with corn, legumes, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish an important source of nutrition for common, hard-working people. The bread was baked from rye- or barley flour; wheat bread was a luxury for the rich. Oats was considered horse food, while porridge from oats or barley was a common part of  human food, like millet was seen here and there. Examinations show that oil plants like linen and big-seeded-false-flax might have been an ingrediense in bread and porridge, and from about year 1300 and forward was buckwheat also a part of the food. Vegetables are not very prominent in written sources, and they are difficult to trace in analysis, but they must have been of great importance in daily life. The word "cabbage" denoted not only the cauliflower, but every edible green herb, and it might have been so that cabbbage, gathered in nature, especially in spring,  gave an important addition of vegetables like the vegetables in the cabbage yard.

Medieval people lacked our indispensable sweets, but they were avid collectors of  wild nuts and berries -  like hazelnuts, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry and even sloe, when it had got its first night's frost. The diet was versatile, but people in big parts of the medieval society knew all too well powerty and famine. The balance on the edge of starvation might have been the lot for a majority of people in the Danish Middle Ages. Mortality was high among children and young people. According to examination of skeletons from some medieval cemeteries died about half of everyone born, before they were 20 years of age. The cause of death is unknown. Most children and young people had no symptoms in the skeleton of sickness or sign of serious disturbances in their growth.  Fertile women's mortality was higher than among men of the same age, and death in childbirth was common, although the midwives, who built their knowledge on the experience of centuries, were quite good. In order to find out people's height were taken measurements of skeletons, and they showed that the average height of women was 155 centimeter and of men 165 centimeter. Although such measurements are not precise it seems that the medieval Dane was a lot smaller than the average Dane of today.


They had no real knowledge about infectious diseases in the Middle Ages, although they knew that some diseases were spread by infection. During the plagues they tried to clean the air by burning fires without effect, but the isolation of the leprous must be considered a precaution with a certain effect.Leprosy is mentioned for the first time in Denmark in 1095, and the latest report about this was from 1270,  about a leprous lady, fru Kirstine from Linköping, who was sick in the fifth year, and who had visited king Erik Plovpenning's sacred grave in Ringsted three times. This is a testimony of that lepers from the Nordic countries could move freely in the roads and be received in churches and shelters until the end of the 1200s. After that time they are not mentioned in reports, but only in wills and legal paragraphs, which tells us that people had given up trying to cure the disease and now only tried to protect themselves against the sick by isolating them in the newly established leprosy-hospitals,  *Sct. Jørgensgårdene. 

* Sct. Jørgen = Sct. George

In Denmark was at least 31 Sct. Jørgensgårde in the Middle Ages. The responsibility for doing a diagnose was not  left to a sole man, but to a commission of special experts. A leprosy diagnose was crucial, it was the same as a death sentence. A procession of priests lead the patient to the church, while family, friends and neighbours joined the entourage, thereby showing last respects to the unfortunate. A requiem was held, which the patient heard with covered face. After the service gave the priest him cape, hood, gloves, belt, knife and a rattle and led him out from the church yard. Here poured the priest earth over his head three times, saying: " My friend, you are dead in this world."  The procession started again; they went to Sct. Jørgensgård, where they were received by the superintendent and the king's bailiff.  The leper was told about several bans he had to comply - like he must not be where people had gathered, he must not touch a child or give it something he had touched himself, if he walked across a bridge or along railings he had to wear gloves, if he went begging in the city he had to walk in the middle of the street using his rattle etc. He now had to live in Sct. Jørgensgård for the rest of his life. 

The healthy people, who voluntarily took care of the lepers in order to comply with the Christian message of charity, had to go to the hospital and stay there too. The common perception of a disease as something not self-inflicted caused that people did not look down on the sick and the suffering,  or on the poor and weak. To help them was a duty to all Christians, and it even benefited the helpers, since doing good deeds was a plus at doomsday.

On 14. october 1443 is written in city court of Copenhagen that no leper must be in the cities. "if he(she) who is a leper, will not voluntarily leave the city, then the mayor will on his behalf let him and his properties be brought to the nearest Sct. Jørgensgård". But 100 years later was the leprosy practically overcome - and after this were the Sct. Jørgensgårde abandoned and placed under Helligåndshospitalerne ( = kloster-hospitals) .

Leprosy is still widespread in Africa, Asia and Middle- and South America and is considered one of today's terrible chronic diseases. The main part of patients are - like in the old times - outcast of society and left to a hopeless and uncertain future, where facing death is a merciful deliverance. Infection happens probably by close skin contact or drops from the nasal mucosa., but many experts consider leprosy less infectious among existing diseases. Today has WHO  programs to fight leprosy and free distribution of medicine in the infected districts.
Plague or Black Death.
In the Middle Ages was a lot of  superstition connected to several diseases. Some believed that the devil had caused the plague and that jews and lepers were the devil's assistants. Killing jews and lepers happened in several countries in Europe.

The plague or the Black Death came to Denmark in 1349; it's not known how, but according to tradition came it from a Norwegian ship, which was shipwrecked in North Jutland, where the crew was found dead. In the following year raged the disease violently in the country, but the informations are few and incomplete. It is assumed that half the population died. Large areas were completely deserted still 20 years after the plague. Valdemar Atterdag built a castle in Randers from 11 demolished churches. A legend is told from Bornholm that all survivers at the island could not even eat a whole lamb. In 1354 was at the Danish court-meeting in Nyborg Castle issued amnesty because of the lack of people. The mortality in Schleswig and Holstein was even larger than in the Danish kingdom, in Schleswig was not left even one fifth of the population.

Decameron:Robbing clothes
According to some informations from the plague-period was the disease considered as a punishment for the sins of humans, which gave the priests an opportunity to do masses, pilgrimage and flaggellant expeditions ( about whipping), while other people  indulged in wild debauchery, like Boccaccio, who witnessed the plague epidemic in Florence. People considered the plague as a precursor to doom. Many fled, while others locked themselves off from the outside world, like pope Clemens 6. in Avignon - others tried to avoid the plague by burning fires, or make incense of  juniper and vinegar. Medicine was used in huge numbers, especially theriak, sweating treatments, and wine. Furthermore was used exorcising, blessing and invoking the saints.

Beer Jugs. Shop, Elsinore.
  It is said that the custom of saying prosit (may it benefit you) or in Danish: "Gud velsigne dig!" (May God bless you) origin from that period, since the illness started with a sneeze.

Modern medical knowledge about the disease has been built up since 1894, when plague broke out in Hongkong and spread to India. Plague does not usually occur among humans, but is found in rodents; in Europe was the most important animal-host the black rat. The infection is transferred by flea-bites. Fleas from dead rodents seek alternate hosts - and among these are humans. In humans is the bacteria primarily spread via the lymphatic system, and an abscess coccurs = bubonic plague. 60-80 % die often after a few days, and in some cases is the attack so violent that the patient dies without outer symptoms. If a patient gets pneumonia, can the infection be transferred directly from human to human = pneumonic plague, which is 100 % deadly with a very short course of illness. No plague could be treated medically before antibiotics were developed in the 1900s.    

Middelalderens Danmark, 1999, Sygdom og Sundhed, Per Kristian Madsen og David Earle Robinson;  Skalk, Arkæologisk Magasin, Nr. 2, 1959,  Sct. Jørgensgård, Vilhelm Møller-Christensen; Skalk, nr. 3, 1971, Møg, Paul G. Ørberg; Skalk, Nr. 2, 1996, På Lægernes Ager, Birte Ludovica Rasmussen.

photo: grethe bachmann

Friday, July 22, 2011

Peony/ Pæon

Paeonia officinalis

These popular, gorgeous hardy perennials are commonly called Peony. The herbaceous Peonies are the most popular. They are mostly natives to Asia Minor and Europe. They are valued for their beautiful flowers and usually colorful foliage.

Paeonia officinalis is spread in gardens all over the country. It was introduced to Denmark from Middle- and South Europe as a medicinal plant and was attributed all sorts of charitable properties. The Silk Peony, Paeonia lactiflora, which origins from China and Korea, followed the track of the Paeonia officinalis and spread from the Danish vicarage-gardens to private gardens.
Other Danish names are Tandbær (= Toothberry) and Bonderose (= Peasant-rose)

The Latin officinalis says that the plant was a recognized medicinal herb, which among other things cured epilepsia.  And the peony was used against epilepsia. The crushed root or seeds were extracted in wine and drunk in stomach trouble, jaundice, kidney-disorders etc. Hippocrates recommended root and seeds against menstrual pain,  hysteria and bladder disorders. Plinius mentions the plant as a means against insanity, and the flower stirred in syrup was taken for migraine.

The medical parts contain a substance called peregrin which can be cleaved in glucose - and a fragrant substance pæonol. Flowers and seeds cause vomiting and diarrhea. The plant contains also tannins.

Peonies were cultivated in the old closter gardens. They are often seen in paintings with Virgin Mary.

Peony-seeds worn around the neck of small children prevented toothache and epilepsia. If you wanted to pluck peonies, then it had to happen in the night, for if a woodpecker saw it, then he would peck out your eyes. The plant got its name after Paeon, a healer who appears in the Iliad. According to the legend he healed Pluto with the roots of a peony - and Asclepius became so furious that he killed Paeon. Pluto transformed Paeon into a peony, and since then was the plant used as a medicinal plant by the Greeks. They used among others the fleshy roots in liver diseases and at childbirths. If you wore a piece of peony-root around your neck, it would bring you strenght and power of love.

In another version of the legend is it Zeus, who saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.

The peony is among the longest-used flowers in ornamental culture and is one of the smallest living creature national emblem of China. It is a traditional floral symbol of China together with the plum blossom. The ancient Chinese city Luo yang is a cultivation centre for the peonies. In Japanese medicine was the root used as a treatment for convulsions.

Peony is the state flower of Indiana from 1957.

Peonies tend to attract ants to the flower buds. This is due to the nectar that forms on the outside of the flower buds, and is not required for the plants' own pollination or other growth.

Peonies are a common subject in tattoos, often used along with koi-fish.

Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske klosterurter ,2001.

photo June 2011: grethe bachmann

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What Children Say.....

First here's Søren and Jimmy:

I'd rather have a pet than a girl-friend. I think cats are prettier than girls.
Søren, 8 years

....rabbits are prettier than girls too.
Jimmy, 9 years.


Boys don't look like angels. Not even when they smile.
Cornelia, 7 years.

Every time you get married you'll have a ring. So you can only get married ten times.
Kirstine, 7 years.

A grandma is someone the whole family has come through. It is not so strange that she's got a  slabby skin.

Fainted people are often very relaxed.

Ladies are softer in their corners than men.

If you've got nosebleed you'll stop bleeding if you stand on your head until your heart stops beating. 

If you are out walking and the brain falls out then you cannot find home for then you cannot think any longer. 

The brain is swimming around inside your head.

Grandmas have large bottoms, for they have had so many on their lap that their lower parts have been squashed out.

If your skin is itching, then you'll just have to smear it in Tiger Balm. It works at once, for a mashed tiger is very strong.

If you had no bones you would be very flat and as soft as a snail or a soft ice.

Body language is when you fart.

The lungs are protected by the bra.

When someone dies, he'll be put into the earth and the vicar says: "Earth to earth and you'll have to stay there." And then he empties a bucket of earth down on your head.

I know a lady who is so Christian that it is called religious. She is as pious as a cat.
Anne Merete, 8 years.  

The muscles are small balloons filled with spinach.

Some women have beard, but you must not say it loud, as they react.

Some women have large breasts, others are almost topless.

Some men have got hair on their back, especially criminals and life guards.

When my mum found a boyfriend she invited him home. Then he stayed for a little while, until he found a girlfriend.
Kim, 7 years.

I never understood why my ears have to be washed that much.

And here we meet Jimmy again, this time together with Claus: 

If you go and ask them if they'll be your girlfriend, then they say either "yes" or "no".
Claus , 8 years
..........or they don't answer at all.
Jimmy, 9 years.

I have taken this from a Danish source, and if I have translated it in a clumsy way, then please forgive me. I hope it is understandable after all!
Grethe ´)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lindenborg River Valley in Himmerland

A corner of Lindenborg River Valley
father and son on  canoe tour
Lindenborg Manor
Lindenborg Å (river)
Lindenborg river is a 47 km long river in East Himmerland. It has its source south of Rold skov, which is also  the source of the waters of Simested. Simested river runs south, while Lindenborg river runs north, where it passes Lindenborg manor and runs out into Limfjorden.


Both rivers are good fishing places, but what is especially interesting about Lindenborg river are at least 16 spring-areas in a stretch of about 15 km along the river. Two of these springs are Lille Blåkilde and Blåhøl,  the water-richest springs in North Europe - they both give 150 liter pr.second. The reason for the many  springs is the chalk just below the surface. The rain water seeps down through cracks in the chalk, from where it gradually is being pressured from the chalk above. Upon weak spots like in river brinks is the water pressed out like a spring. Even in the hardest winter has the water a temperature all year of 7-9 degrees Celsius, the plants grow along the springs and the water is clean and drinkable.

chalk in the land
Lindenborg river vally is a part of the designated Natura 2000 area nr. 18 (with Rold skov, Lindenborg river valley and Madum lake), and  Habitat-area dn bird-protection-area,  total 8.748 hectare. 

Lille Blåkilde is an impressive spring, it has three types of springs. They run together into a large brook, which gives 150 liter water pr second. By the help of radiotopic isotopes was measured that the water from the brink fell like rain about 50 years ago.

the river valley at Gravlev
path along the river
flowers on the river brink
Everywhere in this large calcareous area in Himmerland is an important and interesting flora. The orchids love this calcareous soil, and there are many rare orchids like the rare lady-slipper in Rold forest - and on the cliffs and banks along the river is a flora worth a study for an avid botanist. There is also a rich bird-life, and  the clean, fresh water is a fine habitat for a rich, varied macro-invertebrate community. (An invertebrate that is large enough to be seen without the use of a microscope).

Yellow Bedstraw
Yellow bedstraw/ Gul Snerre ( Galium verum) is also named Virgin Mary's bedstraw. In the old days, before the Catholic church had changed the heathen plant names, it was called Freja's bedstraw. Before Christianity was it considered sacred and dedicated to Freja, who was the goddess of love, marriage and home. Therefore was the flowers put in the bed under women giving birth. After Virgin Mary took over the name, people believed that she had plucked the soft flowers for the baby Jesus to put in his crip.
But in daily life was the plant also put among the bedstraw in order get rid of fleas. The house wife hang it in the ceiling of the living room, partly as a decoration, since its yellow colour stays firm like an Eternelle, and partly for its spicy scent. When children had scabies they were given a bath with a decoct of yellow bedstraw. The plant was also used earlier for spicing beer. It contains an enzym, which makes milk run together. The Latin word verum means milk-running herb. The root was used for dyeing linen krap-red, and the flower tops to dye a yellow and olive green.

Hoary plantain
                                                                                                                                                                  The cyclist lady by the bridge told us that a cat had come down to her and her husband in the morning when they passed the brink by the river and placed a  dead mouse in front of her as a gift.


Spiked Speedwell
Spiked Speedwell/Aks Ærenpris (Veronica spicata) grows in Scandinavia and across Middle and South Europe to Asia Minor and East Asia. It grows in dry calcareous soil, often on cliffs, hills, pastures and often along the coast. In Denmark it grows here and there along the coast of Limfjorden and Kattegat and at the island of Bornholm, but it is rare in other parts of Denmark. It is a popular cultivated plant in the garden.

Parsnip/Pastinak (Pastinaca sativa) is  wild in Denmark,where it is common along roads and in meadows.  It is a very old cultural plant which earlier was used largely, but it was later supplanted by carrot and potato.
It has been cultivated for several thousand years in Central- and South Europe and was  an important part of everyday food. In Denmark was parsnip known since the Middle Ages, where it was used in medicine. The parshnip is somewhat similar to Hamburg parsley, but is larger and coarser. The parsnip, which grows wild, is not the same as the well-known parsnip roots we cultivate for food. The wild parsnip has a lesser root, but it is not edible. The parsnip contains a vegetable poison, named psoralen, the same as in Giant Hogweed, but it is not as strong in parsnip. The sap can in combination with sunlight give blisters and wounds of the skin, which remind about burns.

Wild Mignonette
Wild Mignonette/Gul Reseda (Reseda lutea) is a species of fragrant herbaceous plant. Its roots have been used to make a yellow dye called "weld" since the first millenium BC, although the related plant Reseda luteola was more widely used for that purpose. The wild Mignonette grows in dry calcareous soil and is much visited by bees. It is rare to see other insects than honeybees in wild Mignonette, which is rare in other plants.

Sct. John's Wort

Sct. John's Wort/Prikbladet Perikon  (Hypericum perforatum) grows wild everywhere in Denmark. It grows in a dry and poor soil, where it is doing well among grass and other plants. The plant contains substances, which have inhibitory effects on depression. It is valuable a valuable bee-plant. The blooming buds are fine for a pretty and well-tasting snaps. The plant is used in herbal medicine as an adjunct or replacement for Prozac. Use of Sct. John's Wort can make the skin sensitive to sunlight.

The use of  Hypericum is not a proven treatment for depression. If the depression is not treated correctly and enough, then the state of the disease might worsen. Combined with certain  antidepressants hypericum can worsen side-effects like nausea, anxiety, headache and confusion.

The name Sct. John's Wort origins from the Middle Ages, where the tradition was to burn the flowers of the herb on Midnight's Eve (Sct. Johns day = 24 June). The superstition said that itiwas possible to drive away evil demons ( insanity) from the family, if they burnt the flowers of Sct. John's Wort. Later was it known that brandy with Hypericum was good for depressed persons.

Small Burnet
Small Burnet/Salad Burnet/ Blodstillende Bibernelle (Sanguisorba minor) . The Latin sanguis means blood and sorbeo means absorb, referring to the wound-healing and blood-purifying properties of the plant. It was used to heal many diseases in the old days, like the dried root was used against cancer. The Small burnet grows in dry, grassy soil, often on limestone soil. The leaves have a fine taste like cucumber and can be used in salads, soups, drinks etc.  The young leaves are considered interchangeable to mint leaves in drinks. The plant has a respectable shistory, it was called a favorite herb by Francis Bacon and was brought to the New World with the first English colonists.

 photo June 2011 and June 2010: grethe bachmann (please enlarge the small photos)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cranberry Fritillary/ Moseperlemorsommerfugl

Boloria aquilonaris 

Naturplan foto: stig bachmann nielsen
Cranberry Fritillary has a wing span of 32-42 mm. It is recognized by the multicoloured  underside of the back wing and on the tip of the back wing, which creates a sharp angle. The upperside reminds of the upperside of other fritillaries, but the front wings are pointed and narrow, and the black spots in the middle field make usually a distinct coherent curved line.

The size varies much, and some populations mostly have small individuals. The spread of the dark marking of the upperside vary and the details of the underside vary considerable as to markings and colours.

It flies middle June till late July. Its habitat is bogs with cranberry. It overwinters as a tiny caterpillar in low bog-vegetation, mostly upon the underside of a cranberry leaf. The fodderplanmt of the caterpillar is cranberry.


photo:grethe bachmann
Cranberry Fritillary lives in Scandinavia, Poland, Czeck Republic, Slovakia,  Austria, Germany, Switzerland and in a few localitites in France.

In Denmark has the Cranberry Fritillary has disappeared in many places because raised bogs have been destroyed. At Fyn (Funen) and Sjælland (Zealand) are only left 3 or 4 localitites. The species have disappeared in many places in the eastern part of Jutland, but lives well in other places.

A natural high water level has to be maintained in the rest of the raised bogs, so they do not overgrow - and the bogs must not be exposed to grazing or manuring. Many localities are marked by drainage trenches, which should be filled up - or else grow the bogs into forest, because the peat is exposed to air.

Source: Michael Stoltze, Dagsommerfugle i Danmark, 1998

Cranberry Fritillary, bog north of Madum sø, Himmerland, July 2011: 
stig bachmann nielsen Naturplan foto: & grethe bachmann 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Folklore - Mermaids and Mermen and the North Sea,

They lived in the deep blue sea, in magnificent homes, they lived a life almost like humans on earth.

The most famous and popular was the mermaid, also known from H.C.Andersen's fairy tale about the little mermaid with the tragic life. The mermaid appears in various connections, often as the beautiful elf-maiden with long hair, or equipped with a fish-tail - or only her feet looking like fish-tails, while the rest of her body is human like in the fairy tale. One of her baits is her voice. She's able to stand in the water and sing as lovely as any elf-maiden.

She comes up from the waves and try to lure the fishermen and the sailors to sail longer out into the sea. They lose landfall and end down in the depth together with her, like the in the similar tale about the elf-maiden in the moor. The mermaid does not mean any harm, she has followed a fisherman on his lonesome sailings, she has fallen in love with him and wants to live with him forever. She is also able to catch a farmer on the beach. The result of a romance like this was the island Bornholm's protection figure Bonavedda, a vætte (a spirit), who had inherited the mer-people's psychic talents from his mother.

Ship in the waters by Ærø
The legends describe the mermaid with sympathy. There was a secret understanding between her and the sailors, because she knew the mood of the ocean better than they did - and she could warn them, when a storm was on its way. Upon the island of Ærø is a big stone on the beach, named Havfruestenen (the Mermaid Stone). The sailors and captains of Ærø went to this stone, where a mermaid gave them advice before they went to sea. If a mermaid showed in front of a ship, she was the cause of alarm. The sailors considered this as an omen of bad weather. Women did not like the mermaid. A woman in the fishing village Harboøre in West Jutland complained that a mermaid was in bed with her and her husband each night.

Although people usually considered the mermaid sympathetic, she had one fault - and this was a big one in those days. She was not a Christian, she belonged to the people of the vætter (spirits).  But maybe the clerics were most troubled by that?

Mermen hated priests, and they tried to drown them. Maybe that's why sailors do not like to have clerics onboard.

Galloway bull at Strandkær
The mermaids could defend themselves if they were offended. A mermaid drove her cattle up upon the beach at Tisvilde (Sjælland) and let it graze on the Tibirke field. The stingy farmers drove her cattle into a pen  and would not give it back to her, unless she gave them her shining belt. She did, and she got back her cattle and drove it towards the beach. She told her mer-bull: "Muddle up now!" And the bull muddled up earth and sand from the beach with its mighty horns, and the north wind blew up, and the town and its fields were buried in sand.

The merman was not as popular as the mermaid. He could be both evil and dangerous. A merman once kidnapped a beautiful fisher's daughter, Gertrud, on the beach outside Lindeskovgård's field. Her boy-friend Eskil took a terrible revenge. He sailed out in his boat, covered his head in a horse-tail and began playing music. The merman appeared from the water, lured by the music. Eskil grabbed hold of his hair and cut it off and threw a spear at him. Since then the merman was never heard of again.  But a few years later Gertrud's brother Thorvald was enchanted by a singing mermaid; he changed his behaviour, he was no longer as he used to be - or else he was the most sought after bachelor in town. One evening he sailed out in a quiet weather to do some fishing - and he never came back. His body was found later. The mermaid had taken him.

A legend from Husby.
The body of a man drove in at the beach of Husby in the western coast of Jutland. He was sucking his thumb, and he put it back into his mouth, when people tried to pull it out. He was buried in the church yard, but a violent sand-drift began. A wise man said that the buried man must be a merman -  he was then un-buried, and they saw that he was still quite fresh, so he was really a merman. They brought him back to the dunes, and the sand-drift stopped.  Since then all washed-ashore bodies were buried in the dunes.

It was common belief that there was magic in the air if a body had not decomposed. The detail about sucking the thumb might origin from an Irish myth about the god Finn. He was given a holy salmon, full of wisdom, and as he pressed his thumb upon the fish, he burnt himself. He put his finger upon the tooth in the back of his mouth - and he had now the wisdom transferred from the salmon. Everything was clear to him after that. Maybe the expression "wisdom-tooth" origins from that.

The motif with the finger in the mouth is also known from the Swedish runestone at Eskilstuna, where the hero Sigurd burns his thumb, puts it into his mouth and is able to interprete the bird-song.  

The North Sea at Ferring in a storm

The North Sea is not just a sea. It was a mighty personal power in the old days. It is not idyllic and friendly, although it might look like that on a sunny summer's day.

There is a deep respect among people for the immense powers of this wonderful ocean, for its capricious moods, for its greatness and for its wild beauty. There are legends of yearly human sacrifices to the North Sea in order to ease its mind.

Each Easter morning the fishermen at Ferring had a custom to walk down to the North Sea at Bovbjerg before sunrise. They were of the opinion that they were able to see, how they would manage in the year to come. Their experience showed that the omen was true. In the old days was said in Ferring that the North Sea claimed a human life each year. In return the sea would not break into land. A small child was therefore sacrificed each year. The child was put out into the sea in a barrel - or else would the sea cause a terrible damage.

Skarre Klit, Bulbjerg
The god Ran, Ægir's daughter, ruled the oceans, claiming sacrifices in the form of drowned sailors. In the magnificent Icelandic drama "The Loss of His son", we meet Egil Skallagrimson, where his son has drowned; we meet his deep hatred towards the god, who took his most precious possession, but we also meet his despaired powerlessness towards the enormous powers, he is facing. All his bravery is worth nothing, for he is not able to take revenge.

Source: Mads Lidegaard, Danske søer og vandløb fra sagn og tro, Nyt Nordisk Forlag, Arnold Busck,1999

photo: grethe bachmann

A Small Moor in Rold Skov, Himmerland

A tour to Lindeborg River Valley from the morning ended with a visit in the afternoon to a small moor in Rold Skov north of Madum Sø, where we have been before. It is a peaceful lovely place with Cottongrass, Heather, Bell heather, Blueberry, Crowberry, Cowberry, Cranberry, Bog rosemary and Sweet gale - and there is a spicy scent of all these herbs and bushes and berries. There were many butterflies in the air, but some of them vanished quickly across the moor, and it's better to study this place in the hours just before noon. So we'll come back. The whole Himmerland district is a wonderful place to visit.

NB: The presence of Cottongrass is a useful indicator to hikers of potentially dangerous deep peat bogs to be avoided.

This little moor is a so-called fattigkær (= poor marsh), which is a sour and nutrient-poor moor. Today most of those poor marshes and the raised bogs are listed in Denmark. (raised bog: Portland Mose, Lille Vildmose).
Every garden owner knows the spaghnum or the peat litter, which is for sale at garden centres, but few might know that it comes from a little leaf-moss, which is found in the poor marsh and the raised bog -and it might be up till about 10.000 years old, when it is sold. 

The flora in the moors is rather homogeneous, since only few species can live in the nutrient-poor and sour environment. Many species are also found in other light-open and nutrient-poor biotopes, like upon the heaths.

As for the fauna the moor is a very monotonous society with life-conditions demanding a high grade of specialization. Thousands of years of stability in the spaghnum-moors have made the connected species well-qualified to survive here, but not in other places. Changes in the moors might imply that species die out very quickly. Three breeding butterflies, the Large Heath, the Cranberry Fritillary and the Cranberry Blue are directly tied to the open fattigkær/poor marsh. They are rare species as a whole in Denmark, but often common in the Jutland localities, where they live. Many other insect-species have their main habitat in these moors (dragonflies, beatles).    

Bell heather
Klokkelyng/Bell heather, also named Cross-leaved heath, is common in Denmark in low, moist parts of heaths and moors, especially in Jutland where it was earlier called "kopatter" (cow teats) , but it is rare in the rest of the country. It was also called karbørstelyng (=a brush), since the stalks of the plant were used for fine hair-brushes. Bell heather is used as a bottom-plant in acidophilus-beds. The honey from Bell heather is dark and aromatic.

Red Cowberry and Black Crowberry
Tyttebær/Cowberry grows especially in dry or moist heaths and moors in light-open softwoods or birch woods. The berries are used for jam and marmelade, while the leaves were earlier used in teas.The plant has been known for thousands of years. In the Egtvedpigen's grav (Bronze Age) were found rests of cowberry -wine. Cowberry was once a main ingredient in keeping people healthy in Sweden through the long winters, where they had no vegetables. A porridge with salt pork and cowberry jam was a classical meal in winter.

Tyttebær/Cowberry was from the beginning of the 1800s a big commodity during the season. The right to pluck the berries were either according to custom or belonged to the landowner. The berries were sold to the city-people in Jutland  or  sent as far away as to Copenhagen. A family on the heath could make much money by plucking cowberry. This was an important part of the family-economy, especially in areas far from manors and taxation-authorities, who could not collect taxes from the family's profit.

Revling/Crowberry has been a vital addition to the diet of the Inui and the Sami.  It is regaining its reputation as an edible berry. It provides a steady crop and the gathering is relatively easy.The berries are usually collected in the fall of the year but if not picked they may persist on the plant and can be picked in the spring. The Inuit and Native Americans mix them with other berries, especially the blueberry. Cooking enhances the flavor. They make good pie and jelly. Crowberry is also fine in a homemade snaps.

Bog rosemary
Rosmarinlyng (Bog Rosemary) is rare and listed in Denmark. The name derives from the superficial resemblance of the leaves to those of the unrelated shrub Rosemary. Bog Rosemary is mostly found in Jutland. The pale pink flowers grow in clusters. The whole plant, which contains the substance andromedotoxin, is poisonous. Leaves and twigs are used for tanning in Russia.  

Cranberry Fritillary

Moseperlemorsommerfugl/ Cranberry fritillary has a wing span of 32-42 mm. It flies quickly and whirringly and seeks especially the flowers of Bell heather, but wanders around to find good nectare plants. The fodderplant of the caterpillar is cranberry. The Cranberry fritillary has disappeared gradually because the raised bogs were destroyed. It is necessary to protect this butterfly.

Small Blue
Dværgblåfugl/Small Blue has a wingspan of 18-24 mm. The small size makes it easy to recognize. It flies slowly and whirringly in low height, often down among the vegetation. The male is territorial and often sits upon low plants with outspread wings turned to the sun, making the silverblue sheen distinct. It is common in most of Denmark but declining upon the Isles. 

Meadow Brown

  Græsrandøje/ Meadow brown. This is Denmark's most common butterfly. It has a wing span of 36-52 mm. It has a slow hopping flight in low height, but sometimes it flies quicker and seeks up in the air around trees.  The fodderplant of the caterpillar is grass.

So - Goodbye to  the moor in Rold Skov and to Himmerland! We'll soon come back! I had a fine talk with this sweet pony. What a fine colour. No need for a hair-dye! 

photo Himmerland 9. July 2011: grethe bachmann