Strewing herb

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Strewing herbs are certain kinds of plants that are scattered (strewn) over the floors of dwelling places and other buildings. Such plants usually have fragrant or astringent smells, and many also serve as insecticides or disinfectants. Their use was widespread in England during the Middle Ages through to the 18th century.

Historical use[edit]

In the early Middle Ages, bathing had declined in England. As people got smellier, the use of fragrant herbs became more popular. They were used in all areas of the house, including kitchens, dining halls and bedrooms. The herbs were laid on the floor along with reeds, rushes, or straw, so that pleasant odours would be released when people walked on them. Certain plants would also help keep pests such as fleas at bay. In a typical medieval English monastery, for instance, the floor of the dormitory would have been strewn with rushes that were swept and replaced once or twice a year.[1]

Rich and poor households used strewing herbs and royal households were no exception. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth I was particularly fond of meadowsweet:

Queene Elizabeth of famous memory, did more desire it than any other herb to strew her chambers withall.

— John Gerard, Gerard's Herbal

The post of Royal Herb Strewer was created in 1660 by King Charles II.

List of strewing herbs[edit]

Lady's bedstraw Kills fleas. Also used to stuff mattresses.
Sweet flag Sweet smell. Rush-like leaves.
Pennyroyal Kills fleas (also known as fleabane) and repels ticks.
Lavender Insect repellent (e.g. moths). Also used in mattresses and pillows.
Hyssop Fragrant. Also has biblical reference to cleanliness [2]
Mint Various species
Meadowsweet Sweet smell.
Chamomile Insect repellent.
Southernwood Also known as lad's love, this was thought to be an aphrodisiac. Often used in bedrooms.
Sweet woodruff Insect repellent.
Thyme Various species. Insect repellent.
Rue Cat repellent.
Rosemary Often strewn in churches. Kills and repels insects.
Rose Petals only.
Camphor laurel Also known as Mawdelin (from the New Testament episode of the anointing of the feet of Jesus Christ by Mary Magdalen)
Cotton lavender Insect repellent.
Sage Insect repellent.
Tansy Insect repellent.
Daisies (all kinds of)
Sweet Fennel Flea repellent.
Sweet maudelin Insect repellent (moths, lice, and ticks).
Winter savory Insect repellent.


  1. ^ Kerr, Julie (2009). Life in the Medieval Cloister. London: Continuum. p. 22. ISBN 9781847251619.
  2. ^ 'Purge me with Hyssop and I shall be clean.' Psalm 51