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There was a fine, fuzzy line between vegetables and herbal remedies in the Middle Ages. The carrot is one example.

Carrots of Many Colors

Public domain image from the Agricultural Research Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia Commons.

The World Carrot Museum, which I found through foodtimeline.org, has an incredibly detailed history of this common vegetable, today used in everything from savory dishes to desert.

In the Middle Ages, carrots appear in texts that describe their medicinal and culinary value. Illustrations show them with orange roots, a contrast to the white roots of their wild cousins or the purple and yellow roots of the plants the originated in today’s Afghanistan.

Early medieval texts don’t always distinguish between carrots and parsnip, but when they’re mentioned as food, they can be boiled or parboiled, then fried, and good when mixed with other dishes.

According to sources from the Middle Ages (for specifics see the medieval chapter of the carrot’s history), healers believed parts of carrots as a medicine can:

  • can regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • aid conception
  • induce abortions (but not by ingestion)
  • assist those with painful urination
  • treat pleurisy and chronic coughs
  • treat bites from poisonous animals and spiders
  • heal sores when ground leaves are mixed with honey
  • be an ingredient to treat colic and dysentery as well as glaucoma

Charlemagne apparently thought carrots were important enough for the royal gardens. His 785 capitulary about imperial lands and imperial courts list them among 90 desirable vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit trees.