Recipes for Women's Healthcare in Medieval England

Kristin Uscinski, Fordham University


Recipes for women’s healthcare have a rich capacity to demonstrate the scope and perception of healthcare in the Middle Ages, the herbs and ingredients thought to have medicinal value, and individuals’ demand for services. As part of the general rise in literacy and increasing use of the vernacular, medical recipes represent both oral and literate traditions in blending the scholastic with the folkloric. Although the genre and language of medieval recipes have been studied within individual collections and treatises, less attention has been paid to how particular types of recipes compare to one another across manuscript collections. This dissertation draws on a database analysis of the ingredients, manufacturing processes, purpose, and audience of a representative sample of 1960 recipes for women’s health disseminated in over fifty recipe collections in medieval England from the twelfth through early sixteenth century to identify and evaluate the most common complaints and remedies. Most frequently mentioned are issues concerned with amenorrhea, the breasts, childbirth, the expulsion of a dead child, menorrhagia, and complaints related to the uterus. Tagged within the Medieval English Recipes for Women’s Healthcare Database (MERWH) are those recipes that are repeated most often, which have been identified and labeled as Recipe Groups. I argue that the reappearance of these particular recipes reflects both the conditions for which medieval women most often sought help and the cures considered most efficacious. By drawing on often simple methods and cheap ingredients, women’s recipes were capable of being produced in the domestic kitchen, which was traditionally the domain of women. Social expectations as domestic caretakers, the vernacular nature of the recipes, and the often intimate applications placed recipes well within the reach of women who could use them to manage their reproductive health and exercise agency over the territory of their own bodies.^

Subject Area

Women's studies|Medicine|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Uscinski, Kristin, "Recipes for Women's Healthcare in Medieval England" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10274521.