It’s a bit unusual these days to find any flowers in your dinner, but flowers and plants were often found in medieval dishes, owing to their medicinal qualities. Medieval medicine still revolved around the Greco-Roman theory of the ‘four humours’. Each humour related to an element, reflected in its properties. These were black bile (earth – cold and dry), yellow bile (fire – hot and dry), blood (air – hot and moist), and phlegm (water – cold and moist). Each of these affected different aspects of the personality, and the aim was to keep these balanced by eating the right diet, whilst too much of one food could cause an imbalance. If someone was too choleric, -hot headed- they could fix this by eating something cold and moist. Melancholy could be fixed with something hot and dry.
Tansy Cakes (Liber Cure Cocorum, English, circa 1430)
Used for treating everything from gout to fevers, tansy could be found in most herbal and kitchen gardens since the ancient Greek period, and according to herbalist John Gerard was ‘good for the stomacke’. From the recipe it appears to be a savoury cake rather than sweet, though a much later Victorian recipe includes cream, sugar and nutmeg. (NOTE: Tansy can be poisonous in higher doses, so this isn’t one to try at home unless you’re experienced!)
Breke egges in a bassyn and swyng hem sone, do powder of peper þer to anone; Þen grynde tansy, þo iuse owte wrynge, to blynde with þo egges with owte lesynge. In pan or skelet þou shalt hit frye, in buttur wele skymmet wyturly, or white grece þou make take þer to, geder hit on a cake, þenne hase þou do, with platere of tre, and frye hit browne. On brode leches serve hit þou schalle, with fraunche mele or oþer metis with alle.
Break eggs in a basin and swing them soon, add powder of pepper thereto anon, then grind tansy, wring out the juice, to blend with the eggs without picking. In a pan or skillet you shall fry it, in butter well skimmed certainly, or white grease you may take thereto, gather it in a cake, then when you have done, with a platter of wood, and fry it brown. Serve it in broad slices, with haggis or other meats with all.
Vyolette (violet pudding, 15th century)
Violets were used against ‘wicked spirits’ and to treat insomnia, as well as being believed to enhance a woman’s beauty if she drank some in milk. They also add an unusual flavour to food (remember those Parma Violets sweets?)
Take Flourys of Vyolet, boyle hem, presse hem, bray hem smal, temper hem vppe with Almaunde mylke, or gode Cowe Mylke, a-lye it with Amyndoun or Flowre of Rys; take Sugre y-now, an putte þer-to, or hony in defaute; coloure it with þe same þat þe flowrys be on y-peyntid a-boue. Via godecookery.com
Take flowers of violet, boil them, press them, break them small, temper them with almond milk, or good cows milk. Mix with wheat starch or rice flower; take sugar now, and put thereto, or honey in default; colour it with the same that the flowers be on painted above (this refers to a drawing in the original recipe book of yellow flowers. The pudding itself would be pale purple before adding additional colour, probably using saffron)
Conserve of Roses (a kind of rose jam, ‘The Queen’s Closet Opened’, English, 1655)
Take fresh red Roses not quite ripe, beat them in a stone Mortar, mix them with double their weight of Sugar, and put them in a glass close stopped, being not full, let them remain before you use them three moneths, stirring of them once a day.
The Stomach, Heart, and Bowels it cooleth, and hindereth vapours, the spiting of blood and corruption for the most part (being cold) it helpeth. It will keep many years. Via historicfood.com