When writing historical novels I find myself as immersed in research books as I am with the writing. Research is one of life’s joys. It’s like stepping through a sparkling curtain into the past (sure, think “Disney” because it feels magical like that), and suddenly I’m in another time. If it’s during the nineteenth century, it’s a world in sepia, that soft brown tone of antique photographs, a world of fresh air and horses and carriages, of genteel life and graceful courtesies, a time unencumbered by the dizzying pace and choices we must constantly make with our careers, our life styles, our leisure time.
If it’s the fifteenth century, in which my Gypsy series is set, it’s the verdant world of England, lush with vegetation, dotted with romantic castles, peopled with strong characters and strict religious and social orders. At the same time, the lack of technical sophistication in communication and law enforcement allowed more freedoms for those who chose the path of adventure. And who is more adventurous than the Gypsies (now known as Roma)?
I’m researching herbs today for chapter 8 of book three in my Coin Forest series. I hoard notes from past studies, and I’m enjoying revisiting the fascinating information about the role herbs played in daily life. Like over-the-counter meds today, they provided relief from daily ailments like headaches and upset stomach. The Gypsies were known for their resourcefulness with herbs, but they weren’t the only ones in tune with the secrets and benefits of various plants. One could find sophisticated herbalists and physicians at England’s monasteries.
Rhubarb, for example, was used by the monks as a laxative, in place of the more expensive imported rhubarb root. Sea holly was a favorite medieval flavoring. The water in which sea holly was boiled made excellent candy, and the root was used as an aromatic “chewing gum” recommended against plague infection.
And how about a medieval version of Viagra? This was likely of more interest at Henry VIII’s court than in the monasteries he destroyed. The mandrake root was thought to be a masculine tonic, capable of enhancing potency. The information becomes more and more interesting: it’s said that the mandrake root screams when pulled from the earth; it was advised to have the root dragged out by a black dog. (Screaming mandrakes were featured in Harry Potter, minus the Viagra angle of the story.)
Ah, but it’s time for me to step back through the curtain of time and return to my chapter eight.
Do you have fun research facts to share? If so, please do, and I’m wishing you a pleasant, productive week.