My dad was given a wonderful book on the food of the Knights of Malta by Pamela Parkinson- Large, which he kindly handed over to me as it is food related. The chapter that caught my attention was on the spices and herbs. “Spices, so necessary to their diet played an enormous part in the history of the Knights Hospitaller, for herbs and spices were used not only for cooking, but also in caring for the sick. Many spices were used in the preparation of medicines and drugs. In Malta it is recorded that in 1753 all doctors and chemists were to be licensed and all drugs were to be strictly controlled and kept under lock and key. The physicians of the Knights had a thorough knowledge of drugs and herbal remedies and were able to administer these medicines from the Order’s Hospital dispensary.”
I am a firm believer that food is medicine and was thrilled to discover this information in the book. Herbs and spices are known for flavouring food however their medicinal properties have existed for a long time and probably played an important role in our History. I selected a few spices and will highlight what they were used for back then and are still so important to us today.
‘Caraway seeds were used by the german Knights for flavouring their cheeses and soups. The oil from the seeds was used in medicine as a carminative.” So use this in your food to avoid flatulence.
‘Cinnamon was probably used as an astringent in cases of diarrhoea and as an internal disinfectant. Galen tells us that in A. D. 164 it was very scarce in Italy and that only the Emperors possessed it.”
‘Cloves were mentioned by Pliny as being brought to Rome. The Portuguese conquest of India brought cloves to Europe. Originally used to freshen the breath, as a consequence it was discovered that cloves can relieve tooth-ache.’
‘Cumin (the sweet variety of which is called aniseed) was grown in vast quantities in Malta and was even exported. Pliny suggested aniseed be taken in the morning with honey and myrrh in wine.”
‘Ginger is always quoted as an aphrodisiac. It is soothing to the stomach and dispels wind. It assists digestion and prevents and cures colic. Ginger prevents nausea caused through travel sickness and is used for morning sickness during pregnancy.’
Keep sprinkling herbs and spices on your food and keep our history alive and well.