Every week we shine a light on a different object from our collections that you may not have seen before. This week we have a beautifully decorated ceramic jar from our pharmaceutical collection that was kindly donated to the museum in 2009. This jar was used to store ‘Galium Verum’ which is also known as lady’s or yellow bedstraw and it grows wild all over Europe , North Africa and parts of Asia. These English names were derived from the fact that it was used as a stuffing for mattresses’ in medieval Europe, its scent acting as a repellent to fleas. This would have been a huge help in medieval times when flies and the diseases they carried could potentially cause death to a person as they slept. The flowers of the plant also help to coagulate milk in cheese making and is used as a dye both in textiles and food.
Galium Verum also has many medicinal uses which is why it would have been kept in jars like this on an apothecary’s shelf. We are not sure of the date of this jar but based on its shape it is most likely from the late 19th or early 20th century. Jars with labels referencing their contents begin to appear in the 15th century. Sometimes a blank area was left on the jar in which the apothecary could write the jars contents. Historical and religious themes were popular as decoration on these jars in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Lady’s bedstraw has a long history of use as a herbal medicine, although it is not used much in modern medicine. Its main application was for high blood pressure and as a treatment for skin complaints when made into a powder. The plant was also used as a remedy in stone or urinary disorders and was believed to be a remedy for epilepsy. It has been used as a poultice on cuts, skin infections and slow-healing wounds. The plant is harvested as it comes into flower and is dried for later use. It can still be bought widely today usually in the form of tea.
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