Herbs, spices and vegetables in the Viking period

The Vikings were familiar with various wild plants and herbs, which were used to season food. There were classic “Nordic” plants like dill, juniper, caraway, mustard seed, wild garlic and horse radish. Other herbs also grew in Denmark, including coriander, marjoram, mint and thyme.

The Vikings also used a wealth of plants, which are perhaps less well known today, but have survived in folk medicine. These include mugwort, chicory, camomile, angelica, yarrow and plantain.     

In the Middle Ages spices like allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves were common. We cannot rule out the possibility that the Vikings also traded in these spices, as they had access to large international markets. But perhaps only small quantities of these were used.

The Vikings also used honey to add taste to both food and drink.

Vegetables

Written sources inform us that the Vikings had ”cabbage farms”. They cultivated different varieties of cabbage, including sea cale and goutweed. They also grew onions, beans and peas, as well as parsnips, celery and carrots.

Salt and pepper
Cabbage. Photo: Johnsson.
Corn cockle. Photo: Derek Harper.

Weeds in the fields

The fields were most likely cultivated all year round. They were filled with colourful species of weeds, such as cornflower and corn cockle, which have disappeared from the fields today.

Corn cockle seeds are poisonous and have to be removed before corn is ground into flour. If the seeds become incorporated into bread then the crumbs are a blue-green colour, the taste is sharp and eating the bread brings on drowsiness. The seeds are poisonous to hens and pigs. However, they are edible if roasted.

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