The Fragrant Pharmacy

Dark vaulted rooms, homes of ancient wisdom. The Secret World of Venetian Herbs and Spices,  does it still exist in Venice, or in any other part of the world? It’s still here, in Venice, and in our online classes, we are sharing what our family has learned about this fascinating topic, since 1945 ..

The 14th century was the most successful period for the Venetian mercanti di spezie – spice merchants: They created an exclusive network consisting of trading posts in the Levant and beyond: South-Eastern Mediterranean cities and islands, from Alexandria to Constantinople and on the Black Sea). By the year 1380, Venetian merchant cogs also traveled the Western Mediterranean, the Atlantic ocean (Cap Verde, Azores), to Great Britain, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (Hamburg), and the Nordic coast.

I love how Andrea di Robilant described the impressive selection of spices traveling on the cogs of the Zen Family, in his book Venetian Navigators:

Most of the spice bags in the hull of the cog were filled with exotic herbs and roots. Venetian cogs were known to leave behind a profusion of pungent aromas in their wake at sea, so they could be detected miles away. The Venetian cogs brought spices such as ginger from Malabar, cinnamon from Ceylon, pepper from Hindustan, cloves from Egypt, nutmeg from Malacca and wormwood from Persia.

Not only spices for cooking were transported to Venice, but minerals and spices were used as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as well: Ships carried rhubarb, manna and aloeGinger was a precious stimulant and antiscorbutic. Borax cured glandular and spleen diseases. Musk was an efficient antidote to poison. Vanilla had a soothing effect on asthmatics, saffron and camphor had a tranquilizing effect.

Quite a few useful concepts and knowledge worth re-discovering ! The healing world of Venice will be the topic of our second online class, available from 25 March 2020!