Monastery Garden Herbs and Dipping Oils


Today Matt Swaim of the Sunrise Morning Show/Sacred Heart Radio, had a fun chat about the origin of monastery gardens.

Genesis 2:8-10. “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…” 

The ancient monastic community gardens were patterned somewhat after the Garden of Eden. 

Monasteries of ancient times were physically separated from the outside world by walls and roofed structures.

They were laid out so that everything essential like water, mills, gardens and workshops were inside the monastery walls.

They needed to be near water such as a natural spring, pond or river. The water source could be diverted to various locations throughout the monastery to be used for cooking, bathing and watering the gardens.
Visitors could focus on both the inside features of a peaceful garden, which was not only tranquil but healing and that led to more focus on what was needed to nurture people spiritually, within themselves.

Up until the 11th century, thousands of Benedictine monasteries were founded in Western Europe. Monks were expected to work as well as to pray and be obedient.

All Monastic communities were designed to be self sufficient.
The monks needed to grow all the plant material they required for their daily survival such as foods, seasonings, medications, dye plants, aromatics, pest and insect control.
Herbs were essential to monastery gardens and were often planted in raised beds. 
Herbs were gathered from the surrounding countryside and ones that couldn’t be found there would be cultivated inside. Visiting monks from other monasteries would often bring different kinds of herb plants and seeds.
Some areas of the gardens were devoted to kitchen herbs.
The kitchen garden was known in Latin as the hortus. Think of our word “horticulture”. This garden was located close to the kitchen.
What were typical kitchen herbs grown?
Several mentioned in the Bible, such as dill and oregano.  Dill would have been used to flavor fish and also added to yogurt. Oregano was used as a flavoring and also to preserve meats. Parsley was also a common herb added to salads and cooked stews. Herbs that helped digest heavy meals were planted, as well: savory, fennel, cumin and mint. Garlic and basil were common herbs.
Some larger monasteries had a garden for the person in charge of ale/beer making.
These herbs would include costmary, rosemary, yarrow and lovage, which tastes like celery.
Monasteries had physic herb gardens, too.
The medicinal herb garden was so important since people came to be healed and to take shelter. The physic garden was located near the infirmary.  Calming herbs like chamomile were planted so that people recovering could walk through the garden and inhale the scent. Thyme was often planted for its anti-bacterial power but also was used as a turf seat, a bench-like bed planted with fragrant herbs to sit on.
And strewing herbs, like rue and rosemary, which acted as disinfectants, were planted.
 Sacristan garden.
This was used for growing various flowers to decorate the statues and Virgin Mary  along with altars and chapels. Sometimes garlands and wreaths were made for feast days of saints. The flowers were also used to decorate guest rooms and the refectory, which was the dining hall. Sometimes this garden was called  “Paradise” alluding to the garden of Eden. White roses and lilies were popular since these symbolized purity.
Even today Monks make their own bread. This is a wonderful dipping oil for hot, crusty bread.
 Add more, or less, of any herb.  Try swirling in a little balsamic vinegar right before serving.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon each fresh minced herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil or 1 teaspoon dried each
Dash red pepper flakes (opt but good)
Minced fresh parsley – a bit for garnish  (opt)
Pour olive oil into pan. Add everything but parsley. Slowly cook until garlic is golden but not brown. Pour into shallow bowl, sprinkle on some parsley for color, and surround with bread. Store leftovers in frig and use within a few days.
Why this recipe is good for you:
  • Extra virgin olive oil is from the first cold pressing of the olives, and this oil has the most flavor and the least amount of acid.
  • Rosemary is full of antioxidants.  Also it’s great for your memory.
  • Thyme is like a medicine chest in a plant.  It’s antibacterial and is wonderful for your respiratory system.
  • Oregano, well that’s about the most healing herb on the planet. Good for your joints, and the immune system.
  • Basil has potassium and iron.
  • Parsley has lots of iron, calcium, vitamin C.
  • Cayenne pepper is actually good for your tummy and is used in some topical creams for sore muscles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.