At the end of September UMass students and the public were invited by UMass Stockbridge School of agriculture to come and see all the many places on campus that food is being grown. Among this exciting list is our 16th century garden at the UMass Renaissance center. On Saturday September 28th, groups of students and locals stopped by from 3-5pm to tour the kitchen garden and sample herbal infusions I made for the event. This included brews of horehound, chamomile, hyssop and sage. Many people wanted to stick to the familiar chamomile infusion, which was sweet and pleasant in flavor. The hyssop had a slight minty flavor, but different from the sharpness of peppermint, smoother. The sage and horehound infusions were strong but enjoyed. The sage was earthy and smooth, while the horehound was strongly medicinal and needed a good dilution to be palatable.
It was interesting to taste the infusions with others while discussing how they might have been experienced and used by people in the Renaissance. Topics of plant-use from the Renaissance Kitchen garden are revisited again and again by visitors as well as myself. As I continue to give tours and talk with folks that show up to the garden during the week, questions of plant use seem to be the most compelling piece of Renaissance garden history, along with the plants that are not commonly grown today. It’s as if we recognize something in our human memory that grabs our attention. We want to know how people in the past used these plants, it compels us. There is a growing need and desire today to re-learn skills that have been lost and the simple fact that we are continuously fascinated with traditions of the past and how they relate to today. We want to know how we are the same and how we may be different after all these years. How did people of the Renaissance make life work with these plants from day to day?