Spotlight on: Sugar

Believed to have originated in New Guinea in around 8000 BC, thence moving to India where it was domesticated before spreading to Iran in the 7th century. Though the ancient Greeks knew of sugar, it is uncertain whether it was the crystallized variety. There is no evidence of its use in cooking in Antiquity and Apicius’ manual does not contain any recipes requiring sugar. From Iran, sugar cane spread westward along the Mediterranean, reaching Egypt in the 8th century and al-Andalus by the 11th century.

Its origins are revealed in the terminology, with the Arabic word for sugar, sukkar (سكّر) being a borrowing from the Persian shakar (shakkar), itself a corruption of the Sanskrit sakkarā which referred to the juice from the sugar cane (قصب السكر, qasab al-sukkar) as well as hard sugar.

It was an expensive ingredient, which also enjoyed the imprimatur of physicians associated with the hospital of Jundishapur in Iran, several of whom would ply their trade at the Abbasid courts. However, the Andalusian physician Ibn Zuhr, for his part, wrote a treatise in which he expressed a preference of honey over sugar, claiming that doctors only started using sugar in all of their preparations in an attempt to pander to the rarefied interests of their patrons.

This explains why in the mediaeval Arab culinary treatises which reflect the cuisine of elite, sugar appears as the most-used sweetener in all kinds of dishes, though not infrequently in conjunction with honey, rose water and/or and rose-water syrup. The best variety of sugar was the white translucent ṭabarzad (طبرزد) which was made with milk. Other varieties included fānīd (فانيد) — made by adding sweet almond oil of finely-ground white flour to the decoction process) — and Sulaymānī (سليماني) sugar, which was produced from ‘red sugar” (sukkar aḥmar), which was broken into pieces and cooked to remove any impurities.

When making sugar, the boiled juice, called “maḥlab” (محلب, ‘milk’), was poured into cone- shaped earthenware moulds (أبلج/ublūj, pl. أباليج/abālīj), which are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, resulting in conical sugar loaves. Sugar was sold at market with the required quantity grated, or chopped off with a dedicated axe. Culinary recipes often refer to sugar being crushed and sifted.

Medicinally, sugar was said to be laxative, purgative and is useful against excess yellow bile in the stomach. It clears blockages. Old sugar expels phlegm from the stomach, while ṭabarzad prevents vomiting.

The Arabs introduced sugar to Europe and illustration below shows the making of sugar in the late 16th-century; sugar cane is cut and heated before being cooled and cut into shapes. Sugar cane remained the source of sugar until the development of the sugar beet in the 18th century.

Jan Collaert I, Nova Reperta, ca 1600 [The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949]

Spotlight on: Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the oldest cooking ingredients and was already used in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia; in fact, the Arabic word thūm (ثوم) goes back to the Akkadian šūmū (from the Sumerian sum). The plant was grown along the northern Mediterranean very early on and the Ancient Greeks were probably the first to preserve garlic by smoking it. According to Dioscorides, it clears bronchi and is a remedy for chronic coughs when eaten raw, baked, or boiled. While the Greeks appreciated the flavour garlic imparted to food, they were less impressed by the odour of garlic on the breath.

It is one of the vegetables mentioned in the Qur’an, alongside cucumber, lentils and onions. It came in two varieties: wild (برّي, barrī) and cultivated (بستاني, bustānī), and became a staple in Arab cooking; according to the author of The Sultan’s Feast, ‘garlic draws forth the aromas of oils in broths, seeds and vegetables, and enhances their flavour.’ Garlic was often cooked with vinegar and oil and garlic to make a sauce. It was also used frequently in fish dishes. There’s even an Egyptian recipe for sour yoghurt and garlic, which results in something most people today would recognize as tzatziki. Garlic was a particular favourite in medieval Andalusian cookery, and often cooked in vinegar.

Medicinally, it was recommended as a diuretic, to remedy flatulence and various dermatological conditions, while chewing its leaves cures eye inflammation. According to the 12th-century physician Ibn Butlan, garlic is partiuclarly good for older people and in winter time. Howver, he warned that it should not be overcooked because then it loses its effectiveness, especially when it is prepared with vinegar and eaten with milk or fish.

garlic in a 13th-century copy of the Latin translation of Ibn Butlan’s Taqwim al-Sihha

Spotlight on: Salt

Both sea and rock salt were known in Antiquity. It was already quarried in Ancient Egypt and the Romans started producing salt on a very large scale. It was especially important for preserving food but salt was also used in cooking; in Greek times already it was sprinkled on meat roasts and fish, whereas there are references to various kinds of seasoned salts, added with, for instance, thyme or cumin. However, the most common salting agent was garum. According to the botanist Dioscorides, the best salt was white, free of stones and dirt, dense and smooth. He particularly recommended salt quarried in Libya, Cyprus and Sicily, and that from marshlands.

Pre-Islamic Arabs already used salt to season their food, but it also played an important role in some of their rites, as in an oath-swearing underpinning alliances. Though primarily referring to table salt (sodium chloride), the Arabic word milḥ (ملح) can also denote other salt-like substances, such as natron. The literature distinguishes between sea salt (ملح بحري, milḥ baḥrī ) and rock salt (ملح برّي, milḥ barrī , i.e. ‘soil salt’). Salt was quarried in various areas (e.g. Persia) or acquired from salt marshes. A premium type or rock salt was known as milḥ darānī, or andarānī, which was considered the purest, i.e. devoid of any dust or rock.

Salt is one of the most used spices and condiments in mediaeval Arab cuisine, both as a seasoning and to preserve various kinds of foods, as well as in pickling. Besides the salting of meat and fish, the sources also include recipes for salted fruit, especially lemons. Some authors recommended adding salt at the end since it can slow down the cooking time of other ingredients. The modern pair of salt and pepper co-occur in half of the recipes requiring salt (especially with fish), and is often also used in dishes including almonds or cassia. Meat was washed with hot water and salt before cooking it. Similarly, aubergine was soaked in salt and water to remove the bitterness. One of the popular dishes in the early Abbasid tradition were mā’ wa milḥ (‘water and salt’) stews, which involved meat being cooked in a broth of water and salt.

The 12th-century physician al-Isrā’ilī recommended using salt to balance food (e.g. fish), when food has no flavour (e.g. gourd); to dry out excessively moist food; and to remove greasiness and bad odours (e.g. fatty and greasy meats); and to reduce sourness.

As a condiment, salt was often mixed and toasted with other spices (e.g. coriander, sesame, nigella, hemp seeds, poppy seeds, cumin, fennel seeds, asafoetida leaves and anise) into milḥ muṭayyab (ملح مطيّب, ‘seasoned salt’). It could also be dyed, for instance, with sumac or saffron, or even indigo.

Salt was put to some unusual use in agriculture; for instance, it was said that to extend the life of a pear tree, it should be covered with salt, which would prevent the fruit from rotting.

Salt was a vector of social and religious connotations as well To the ancient Greeks already sharing salt signified the sharing of a meal but, by extension, hospitality and the establishment of friendship ties. In Arabic, the saying ‘there is bread and salt between us’ (بيننا خبز وملح) still has this meaning.

Various sayings of the Prophet (hadith) commend the use of salt: it is required to make food flavoursome (لا يَصْلُحُ الطعام إلا بالمِلح), and is one of the four divine blessings sent down from the heavens, together with iron, fire and water (أَنزَلَ أربعَ بَرَكاتٍ من السماء إلى الأرض: الحديد والنار والماء والملح). The Prophet is even said to have advised making salt the basis of food because it cures seventy-two illnesses, among them, leprosy, and aches in the tooth, throat and belly.

In Islamic medicine, salt was considered hot and dry in the second degree, with bitter, astringent and dissolvent properties, whereas darānī salt expels wind. Al-Isrā’ilī said salt was effective against malignant ulcers, while Ibn Sīnā recommended it as an antidote for scorpion bites; and to counter the ill effects of opium.

salt in Ibn Butlan’s Taqwim al-sihha (British Library)
selling salt in the Latin translation of Ibn Butlan’s work, Tacuinum sanitatis (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Spotlight on: Mint

The history of the herb is a long one and the ancient Egyptians already used it as a digestive and anti-flatulent. Ancient Greek scholars like Dioscorides believed that mint could prevent women from becoming pregnant, while its juice was thought to staunch blood, arouse sexual desire, and stop hiccups, vomiting and cholera. However, there is little evidence of the use of mint in Greek food and dining.

In Arabic, the word for ‘mint’ is na’na’ (نعناع, نعنع), though, like in Antiquity, it did not have the modern meaning of peppermint (Mentha × piperita) since this is a a cross between watermint and spearmint (Mentha spicata subsp. spicata) and was only described in the late 17th century. Other words for mint varieties included ḥabaq bustānī (حبق بستاني) and fūdhanj (فوذنج), also spelled fūtanj (فوتنج). The latter word is a Middle Persian borrowing, though it probably goes back to a Sanskrit word for several fragrant plants and usually referred to varieties of mint growing next to rivers (Mentha aquatica; fūtanj nahrī/فوتنج نهري), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium; fūtanj barrī/ فوتنج برِّي) , as well as wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare; fūtanj jabalī/فوتنج جبلي ). Besides spearmint, na’na’ often probably referred to whorled mint (Mentha × verticillata), as well as other subspecies.

Mint is one of the most frequently used herbs in medieval Arab cuisine, and was often also added at the end, for decoration and as a flavour enhancer. It was used fresh and dried, as well juiced; in savoury dishes, it is called for in about a quarter of dishes in Andalusian, Iraqi and Syrian treatises, and in a third of Egyptian ones.

Muslim phsyicians claimed mint strengthens and heats the stomach, and suppresses hiccups. Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) recommended it to increase sexual desire, whereas a few bunches of mint, together with pomegranate seeds are useful against cholera and vomiting. Ibn Jazla (11th c.) suggested mint juice to staunch blood, and a mint compress for thickening breast milk. According to al-Samarqandī (d. 1222), water mint makes food appetizing, calms nausea, relieves vomiting and diarrhea, and kills worms.

mint (na’na’) in an Arabic translation of Dioscorides’ Materia medica (British Library)
water mint in a 9th-century copy of Dioscorides’ text (BNF)

Spotlight on: the Gazelle

A member of the antilope family sometimes known as ‘the daughter of the sand’ (بنت الرمل, bint al-raml), the gazelle — the English word is a borrowing from the Arabic ghazāl (غزال) — figures prominently in Arabic literature with numerous references to its elegance, beauty and speed. It was sometimes known as ẓabī (ظبي), though this is the usual word for antilope. The word gazelle also has romantic connotations and often denotes a beautiful woman, particularly in poetry and songs.

The gazelle was praised for the quality of its meat, which was the only game meat (لحم الصيد, lahm al-sayd) that met with the approval of physicians, who recommended it for old people and those with a cold temperament. The physician Ibn Butlan (11th c.) explained that if young people want to eat gazelle meat, they should let it rest overnight in pomegranate juice and vinegar. The young fawn (خشف, khishf) are better for young people and suit their temperaments. It would appear that even the heads were eaten at some point, as Ibn Butlan refers to the fact that the heads of sheep are more humid than those of goats, and those of goats more humid than those of gazelles. According to his fellow Baghdadi and contemporary, the pharmacologist Ibn Jazla, gazelle meat is useful against colic and hemiplegia.

The cosmographer al-Qazwini states that the gazelle is the shyest of all animals, but that it is very intelligent as it enters its lair backwards so as to ensure a quick getaway when an enemy is lurking within. It was also unusual in that it was partial to the colocynth (حنظل, hanzal), unlike other wild animals, which avoid it. And when the gazelle drinks seawater and then eats colocynth, the water that flows from its mouth becomes sweet!

There is also a religious connection, with the word ḥūrīyya (the English ‘houri’), which denotes the beautiful maidens of Paradise promised to the devout Muslim in the afterlife. It is related to a word meaning ‘whiteness’ and is especially applied to the eye of a gazelle (in contrast to the deep black of its pupils), as in the expression ḥūr al-ʿīn (حور العين) — the Qur’anic equivalent being ḥūr ʿīn — meaning “having eyes like those of gazelles and of cows,” which was often applied to women.

Despite the praise for gazelle meat, it appears relatively rarely in the medieval culinary treatises, with most of the recipes being found in the Abbasid tradition (9th-10th c.), where it is used in a bārida (باردة, ‘cold dish’), with cuts of the animal being stuffed with almonds and pistachio before being cooked in vinegar and a number of aromatic spices. It would be garnished with parsley, rue and mint before serving. Other recipes include frying the meat, or cooking it in a water-and-salt stew (ماء وملح, mā’ wa milh) with chickpea and onions, as well as mustard and verjuice.

In the Muslim West, only The Exile’s Cookbook mentions gazelle meat, in a stew which could also include several other wild animals such as deer, bovine antelope, mountain goat and even ass, with chickpeas, citron, garlic, onion and fennel being the main non-meat ingredients.

illustration of the gazelle by Ibn Bukhtishu’
the gazelle in al-Qazwini’s ‘Wonders of Creation’

Spotlight on: sesame

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a plant that is native to the Indian sub-Continent, which is where it was first cultivated. Its seeds are extremely rich in oil (over 50%) and this was its primary use in early cultures, such as ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, where it was known, respectively, as shamashshammu and smsmt. The earliest archeological evidence of sesame in Egypt goes back to the era of Tutankhamun, but no seeds have to date been found in Mespotamia.

Textual evidence reveals that it was used as an ingredient and seasoning, as well as in perfumes. It was not used very often in Ancient Rome and Greece, except in cakes. The Akkadian word is the origin of the Greek sésamon (σήσαμον), which is, in turn, the etymon of the Arabic simsim (سمسم). In Western (Maghrebi) Arabic dialects sesame was — and still is — known as juljulān (جلجلان), which was also incorrectly applied to coriander by some authors.

In cooking, it was used both hulled (abyaḍ, ‘white’) and unhulled (aḥmar,‘red’), and the seeds were often toasted. It appears in a paste, the famous tahini (ṭahīn simsim, rahshī), whereas its oil was used for frying and in the making of many sweets, breads, cakes and biscuits. In fact, sesame oil appears in about a quarter of recipes, and in The Sultan’s Feast it is also recommended for cleaning clay jars. In the literature, sesame oil is referred to as duhn al-simsim, duhn al-ḥall (دهن الحل), or shīraj (also shīraq), a borrowing from Persian, where shīrah denoted ‘sesame oil’, as well as ‘new wine’ and the expressed juice of any fruit except olives. Some authors refer to the oil being made with the help of wild (or Syrian) rue (حرمل, harmal). A number of recipes require the use of sesame oil in conjunction with olive oil.

Medically, it was thought to be bad for the stomach and to cause vomiting. An extract of the plant and leaves was recommended for hair, causing it to grow and removing dandruff. According to Ibn Sīnā, it was a potent emmenagogue and, when eaten with flax and cotton seeds, increases sperm and sexual potency. Al-Kindi, for his part, prescribed sesame oil to treat abscesses, toothache, cough, and even insanity!

In folklore, sesame also played an important part, already in ancient Babylonia, as a way of countering magic, and sesame presses were thought to house spirits (jinn). And, of course, children the world over are familiar with the magic formula “Sesame, open [your door]” (iftah ya simsim!) giving access to the cave in the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the 1001 Nights.

The manuscript below (13th c.) is from an Arabic translation of Diosocorides’ Materia medica and shows sesame at the bottom. The translator took some liberties with the original Greek text, though; the fact that the seeds are used ‘to make oil from it, which the people in Egypt use’ becomes ‘it agrees with bilious temperaments’, with the translator adding that sesame is digested slowly which can be remedied by eating it with purslane. The top drawing is of millet (دخن, dukhn), which was the main ingredient in a recently posted Andalusian bread.

Spotlight on: turmeric

The Arabic word for turmeric (Curcuma longa), a spice extracted from a perennial plant hailing from the Indian sub-Continent, is kurkum (كركم), which comes from an ancient Semitic root; the Assyrian kurkanū already denoted turmeric (which was used for medicinal purposes, especially for intestinal blockages), with saffron being azupirānu, the etymon of the Arabic word za’farān (زعفران). It is also related to the Sanskrit word kuṅkuma, which referred to both saffron and turmeric. In Greek and Roman times, the spice does not appear to have been used in food. The earliest use of turmeric was as a dye.

When Marco Polo encountered turmeric in China, he described it as “a vegetable which has all the properties of the true saffron, as well the smell as the colour, and yet it is not really saffron. It is held in great estimation, and being an ingredient in all their dishes, it bears, on that account, a high price.”

Many Muslim scholars considered kurkum a synonym for saffron, but it was sometimes applied to the root of the saffron plant, which is why another name for turmeric was ʿurūq ṣufr (عروق صفر), ‘yellow roots’. In addition, it could also refer to greater celandine.

Muslim physicians though it was useful against mouth ailments and haemorrhoids (al-Kindī, 9th c.), as well as poisons (al-Bīrūnī, 10th/11th c.). According to the Andalusian botanist Ibn al-Baytar (d. 1248), turmeric was beneficial for skin diseases, to strengthen the eyesight and even in the treatment of insanity.

In the medieval Arabic culinary tradition, kurkum appears only once, to colour sparrow meat, in a recipe from Mamluk Egypt. However, it is not unlikely that in a number of cases, turmeric was used instead of saffron.

In medieval Europe, turmeric was called ‘Indian saffron’ and was a cheap alternative to the very expensive saffron.

Today, turmeric is most associated with Indian cuisine where it is a staple spice and colouring agent, extracted from the roots of the plant. Not surprisingly, the country is also the world’s largest producer of the spice.

turmeric in al-Ghafiqi’s herbal

Spotlight on: honey (عسل, ‘asal)

The product of the honey-bee (Apis mellifera), honey has played a very important part in both Arab cooking and Muslim culture and was the main sweetener in the medieval culinary tradition until the advent of sugar cane. At the tables of the elites it came under threat from sugar since the latter was more expensive and thus more prestigious. Honey was gathered from the wild, as well as through bee-keeping, which was already practised in Ancient Egypt, by the third millennium BCE.

In ancient Mesopotamia, honey (known as dishpu in Akkadian) was used in a variety of ways, as a sweetener (for instance in bread), in perfumes, and for medicinal purposes; for instance honey mixed with oil and beer as an emetic, or mixed with other medicines and ghee for use as ear and eye drops. It was also used in the anoinment of priests and consecration of buildings

Muslim physicians, like Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), believed honey starts as a vapour that becomes a viscid dew in flowers, plants and trees, and is gathered by bees, who feed on it and store it. The best kind of honey was thought to be naturally sweet, fragrant, slightly pungent, and red in colour. The honey gathered in spring is better than that in summer and, especially, winter, which is of poor quality. Honey was endowed with a number of medicinal — especially antiseptic — properties. Applied externally, it stops putrefaction of the flesh, cleanses ulcers, heals wounds, and improves hearing. When mixed with musk it forms an effective eye-lotion for curing cataract and other eye infections. As a food, it was considered very nutritious, while strengthening the stomach, increasing appetite, and curing dim vision.

The most-prized honeys were those from the honey mimosa (Acacia mellifera) and wild lavender (Lavandula vera) flowers, while Armenia, Morocco, Persia and Egypt were popular honey-producing regions. The pure white honey from Isfahan was a particular favourite at the court of the Abbasid caliphs, and during Harun al-Rashid’s reign, the city would sent 20,000 pounds of honey and 20,000 pounds of wax as part of the tax levy to the ruler.

Honey also enjoyed a religious endorsement in that its benefits – and those of bees, of course – are already mentioned in the Qur’ān (one of its suras is called al-Nahl/النحل, ‘The Bees’) and also figure prominently in hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). Indeed, it is said that ‘The believer is like a bee which eats that is pure and wholesome and lays that which is pure and wholesome. When it lands on something, it doesn’t break or ruin it.’ (إِنَّ مَثَلَ المؤمِنِ كَمَثَلِ النَّحْلَةِ أَكَلَتْ طَيِّبَاً و وَضَعَتْ طَيِّبَاً و وَقَعَتْ فَلَمْ تَكْسِرْ و لَمْ تُفْسِدْ).

The first illustration below is part of an Arabic translation (dated 1224) of Dioscorides’ (d. ca 90 CE) pharmacological work, De materia medica. It shows a physician stirring a pot containing a mixture of honey and water, called melikraton (μελίκρατον) in Greek and maliqratun (مالقراطن) in Arabic, and serving some of it to a patient in a gold goblet. The scene is probably set in a hospital, with the section at the top showing pharmacists preparing medicines. The text is part of a passage about the mixture (the Arabic word used is sharāb, i.e. ‘syrup’) when it is old, in which case it is beneficial for those who have lost their appetite or are weakened. The Arabic text is somewhat corrupted since it refers to mixing one part of honey with honey, rather than with stale rain water, as it does in the original Greek. The mixture is boiled down to a third, and then stored. Next, we learn that some people use the term abūmālī (the Greek apomeli) for the mixture made by washing honeycomb with water. However, it must be unadulterated and, while some people boil this down, too, it is unsuitable for the sick because it contains too much beebread.

The second illustration is from the section on bees (and hornets) in a 13th-century manuscript of a book on the characteristics of animals (Kitāb na’t al-hayawān), composed by a member of the Ibn Bukhtīshū’ family, a Nestorian Christian medical dynasty, whose members served as private physicians to many Abbasid caliphs between the 8th and 11th centuries.

Physician mixing honey (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
illustration of bees by Ibn Bukhtishu’

Spotlight on: Pears

Pears (Pirus communis)– like their cousin the apple – originated in the Caucasus and northeastern Anatolia. The fruit was already cultivated in Ancient Greece in the first millennium BCE, but it only spread throughout the Mediterranean in the Roman period. The Greek botanist Theophrastus (d. 287 BCE) discussed various techniques for growing them, whereas the naturalist Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE) referred to forty-one varieties being available in Rome. Dioscorides recommended pears as an antidiarrheal medicine, but said that they are harmful when eaten on an empty stomach. More mysteriously, he claimed the ash of pear tree wood was an effective remedy for those choking from mushrooms, while cooking pears with mushrooms removed the latter’s harmful properties. Pears were much more popular than apples at the time but because pears can spoil very easily, they were often preserved after drying them, or in grape syrup, and the Romans even made a pear vinegar.

In the Arabic-speaking world, pears (كمّثرى, kummathra) were grown in a number of areas, especially the Levant, but also in Egypt. Sources also refer to Chinese, Sijistani and Khorasani pears as being particularly good varieties. Pears appear only once in the medieval Arabic culinary literature, as an optional ingredient in a 13th-century Andalusian fruit pudding.

Muslim physicians agreed with Dioscorides’ assessment of pears, but also recommended them to strengthen the stomach and suppress thirst. The fruit was used in a digestive conserve, made with sweet unripe pears submerged in honey and then slightly cooked.

In the Syrian dialect, pears are known as ‘ijjāṣ‘ (إجّاص), the usual word for plum in other varieties.

pears in al-Ghafiqi’s herbal
pears in an Arabic translation of Dioscorides’ Materia Medica (University of Bologna)

Spotlight on: Violets

Violets Viola odorata), known in Arabic as banafsaj (بنفسج) were used for their medicinal properties in medieval Islamic medicine and were thought to be useful against a wide variety of ailments, including coughs, tumours (when used in a poultice), headaches (when cooked with barley flour), scorpion bites, palpitation, varicose vein, fevers, mumps, toothaches, and haemorrhoids. Some sources refer to the best variety coming from Arjan, in Iran.

The petals of violets were used to make a drink, preserve, syrup, oil, or jam. Violet conserve (مربّى, murabbā) was said to be good for coughs and a coarse throat, though it was also enjoyed by those in good health! Violet oil (دهن, duhn) was used as a soporific or to loosen the joints, especially when made with gourd seeds or sweet almonds.

An Egyptian Mamluk cookery book includes a violet air freshener, known appropriately as ‘banafsajiyya’, made rose water infused with musk and civet. Interestingly enough, the twelfth-century physician Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi commented on the fact that Egyptian violets had an exceptionally sweet scent, but the people in Egypt did not know how to produce oil from it in the proper way, or to preserve it.   

in Medieval Europe, violets were partiuclarly popular for their scent and attractive bright colour, and the leaves and flowers were eaten in salads, as well as in conserves and syrups. Medicinally, they were thought to be cooling and cleansing, and that smelling violets had a calming effect on the nerves. The Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) gave a recipe for violet oil for curing vision.   

.illustration of violets in al-Ghafiqi’s herbal
illustration of violets in the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a Latin translation of Ibn Butlan’s Taqwim al-Sihha