A late 15th century inscribed slate was discovered at Smarmore church, Co. Louth in 1959 and is now on display at the National Museum of Ireland. It contains a medicinal recipe, most likely for a poultice, that would have been applied to an ulcer or wound to aid healing. The recipe uses a variety of wild herbs (listed below) as well as wheat meal, pig’s lard and butter to help bind the poultice together. The text is written in Hiberno-English/Middle English and contains at least two words that appear to have Irish/Gaelic origins. A number of other inscribed slates were also found at Smarmore, one of which contained a cure for horse aliments, so it’s possible that this recipe was intended for animal rather than human use.
An edited version of the original text reads roughly as follows:
‘Plantago…. of leswort (and) briscán leuis (and) butter (and) set lomis tong (and) lit hockis, grunswilli (and) rathel, suinsquiche (and) peniwrt of wallis, yolkis eggis (and) chicken-meat, qhuetmel (or) ri-mel (or) halich mel (and) fersse buttir ynohg (and) to ellir-wudis red and rotting. Tac a plaster of nettlis and horse mints, weibred and ribw(rt)….lec and drathlens’ (after Britton & Fletcher, 1990)
This a version of the text using modern names for the various herbs
‘Weed plantain….. meadowsweet and leaves of silverweed (Irish word: briosclán) and butter and boiled ribwort plantain (lambs tongue) and little/some mallows (hocks) and groundsel and lousewort (rattle), swine grease/lard and wall pennywort, egg yolks, chickweed, wheat meal or rye-meal or similar meal and …butter… and two stems of red and rotting dwarf elder. Take a plaster of nettles (most likely the dead-nettle species), horse-mint, great plantain, ribwort and mistletoe (possibly from the Irish word: druadhlus)’ (after Britton & Fletcher, 1990)
Photos of a number of the plants used in the recipe are shown below, along with their medicinal properties according to various medieval texts. The majority of plants could be used to cure wounds and skin conditions, which would make sense if the Smarmore recipe was for a poultice.
Ribswort Plantain: A cure ‘for earaches, for fever’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 193)
Silverweed: A cure for ‘inward wounds, for wounds of the private parts’, ‘used to close up fresh wounds’ (Britton & Fletcher, 1990, 60)
Wall Pennywort: A cure for ‘cuts, chilblains and inflammations’. (Britton & Fletcher 1990, 63)
Groundsel: A cure ‘for wounds’ (Van Arsdalll 2000, 182), ‘for broken bones, swellings and festering sores’ (Britton & Fletcher 1990, 62)
Common Mallow: A cure ‘for bladder pain, for sore tendons, for fresh wounds’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 124)
Dead-nettle: A cure ‘for chilled wounds, for swellings, for putrefied wounds’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 137)
Lousewort: A cure ‘for bad fluids in the body, for scaly skin and scab and for toothache’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 138)
Chickweed: A cure for epilepsy (Van Arsdall 2002, 126)
Horse Mint/Wild Mint: A cure ‘for ear-aches and for itchy skin conditions’ (Van Arsdall, 2002, 129).
Dwarf Elder: A cure ‘for stones in the bladder and for dropsy’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 129)
Common Plantain: A cure ‘for headache, for stomach pain, for wounds, for infected wounds, for mouth wounds and…’ (Van Arsdall 2002, 120)
Meadow Sweet: A cure for ‘fluxes of the blood’, ‘to cure wounds’ (Britton & Fletcher 1990, 60)
Van Arsdall, A. 2002 Medieval Herbal Remedies: The Old English Herbarium and Anglo-Saxon Medicine, Routledge, London
Britton D. & Fletcher A. J. 1990 ‘Medieval Hiberno-English Inscriptions on the Inscribed Slates of Smarmore: Some Reconsiderations and Additions’ in Irish University Review Vol. 20, No. 1, The English of the Irish: Special Issue (Spring, 1990), pp. 55-72