You are an Ancient, Cowled Monk . . .

Dried brown-eyed Susan seed heads are stored in the blue Ball jar, nigella seed capsules are in the middle jar, the long pods are asparagus beans pods containing dried beans, purple coneflower seed heads are stored in the linen bag, perennial poppy seeds have fallen from the seed capsule, and dried black walnuts are in the little bowl.

You are an ancient, cowled monk, the monastery herbalist, working in your cozy hut as the bitter autumn winds rattle the shutters. Fragrant bunches of herbs hang from every rafter, the alembic bubbles with a mysterious newt-green fluid, and the mortar is filled with plantain seeds to be crushed and mixed with lamb fat to make a healing salve. That task awaits while you fill little linen bags with dried monkshood seeds and flowers. Other bags have already been filled with the seeds of costmary, henbane, and chamomile. You pull closed the drawstring of waxed linen thread with your bony fingers, knowing that the young herbalist in the local village will appreciate the gift of such precious seeds, along with instructions for use.

Perennial poppy seed capsule with seed fine as dust.

Suddenly, there is a loud knocking at the door, and you hear Young Will shouting, “Brother Ercwlff has fallen over in the scriptorium!” Young Will had not outgrown a childhood lisp. Really, did he mean “Brother Ercwlff,” or perhaps he meant “Brother Brywff.” “Are you sure you mean Brother Ercwlff, Will? And not Brother Erfffl or perhaps Brother Bedwyr?” “Oh, by all the fleas of the Saints,” Young Will shouted, “It’s Brother Ercwlff, if you please, and hurry!” You wipe your hands on your cowl, muttering, and as you grab your bags of herbs and unguents, you reflect that the life of an herbalist is never dull.

To make a linen seed bag:

Take an outmoded, natural-colored linen shirt, and cut off a sleeve. Make a strong brew of tea with two tea bags and two cups of boiling water. Thoroughly saturate the sleeve; crumple, and leave crumpled in the tea overnight or longer. The longer you leave this, the better the mottled effect, mimicking the old mummy bandages the monk might have used. Remove sleeve and dry. Iron smooth.

For each bag, cut a rectangle 5 x 12”. (A sleeve should yield two bags.) Then sew the bag using the following instructions.

A primitive basket filled with these bags looks quite pretty, especially if a cluster of oak leaves and acorns are decoratively tied to the handle. And, of course, you don’t have to use tea-dyed linen for your bags; old-fashioned calico prints can also be used.

Storing Seeds in Jars

Look for the old, blue canning jars with zinc lids. I wouldn’t use these for canning, but they make wonderful seed storage jars. Simply fill the jars with your dried seed material, for instance, dried daisy flower heads. Be sure that the seed heads are bone dry, and if you store acorns, for instance, place in the freezer overnight to kill any weevils. Tea dye a manila tag; dry and write the flower name with spidery Copperplate.

Lastly, some old-time gardeners simply put the seeds in a twist of newspaper and stored them in the barn, or handed them over to a neighbor. . .

Nature stores her seeds so beautifully. As the spindle of this swamp milkweed plant dries, it opens and the seeds fly away on silky parachutes.

One thought on “You are an Ancient, Cowled Monk . . .

  1. What a cool story. It reminded me of the monestery in Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”. Monks and their ways have always held a sort of fascination for me. They seem so peaceful, but there is a duality, I think. Perhaps because they live in the shadows of society.

    Love the linen bags, too!

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