Anglo Saxon and Viking Shenanigans

Plant dyed wool swatches

Recently ( a couple of weeks ago, now) I spent a few days down in Bury st Edmunds, old stomping grounds of mine, visiting my mother.   I always love visiting other parts of the country – it’s wonderful seeing what different herbs there are growing that I don’t have locally!   This time, we visited West Stow Anglo Saxon village, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect – there were some Viking re-enactors there, including an absolutely fantastic Viking herbalist!  I stupidly enough didn’t ask her name, but she was truly wonderful – with pots of different herbs, including dye herbs, swatches of naturally coloured wool, stones with runes on, and she was wearing a dress coloured with plant dyes as well – I think it was Woad, this time.   Spending time talking to her was an utter delight – she was bright, lively and knowledgeable, and told my mum and I all about herbs for various health conditions as they were used back then.   Talking to her was the high point of my visit (spending time with mother aside, of course!)  If you’re reading this, lovely Viking herbalist lady, please do get in touch – it would be great to chat with you further about plants!

The truly lovely Viking herbalist I spent a very happy half an hour chattering with!

There were loads of wild flowers growing there that we don’t get much around here – including Houndstongue, and Stonecrop, plus Bittersweet, which we do have a little of around here, but not that much.

Houndstongue – Cynoglossum officinale, and would you look at that, its a member of the Borage family!
Houndstongue! Very very pretty, and rather unobtrusive 😀
… and another Borage family member, Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis)

To continue on the Borage family mutterings, there are a few other members of the Borage family – most notably Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) and Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) which are both dye plants.  I don’t have any pictures of Alkanet (yet – I’m working on it!) but we do have a lot of Green Alkanet growing near us!

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) – A dye plant, apparently one that yields the same colours as Alkanet (Alkanna) thought I can’t confirm that yet as I haven’t have chance to play around with it. 😀
This is the colour that Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) yields on thin silk – really lovely, though not the rich colour I had anticipated!


  1. Sounds like you had a fantastic day, Ali. Do you know who the Viking group were? I used to know someone from Vikings of Middle England many years ago. The herbalist they had then was very young and obviously very inexperienced – was talking to the crowd about essential oils! I want some houndstongue!

    1. Hmm not sure who the Viking group was, but I’ll try and find out – this lady was definitely not inexperienced! She was very knowledgeable, and I suspect you would have got along very well with her! 😀

  2. I have recently taken over the herbalist stall for Vikings of Middle England since September 2011, and in the process of building it from scratch. It has been a very long journey reading old books in old english and getting some of the herbs to grow. I am loving every moment of learning about The old herbalists ways and her role in the local community.

  3. What a wonderful blog! I am trying to discover more about the plants that grow in my local area, a very urban part of North London, and this week I am writing about Green Alkanet. I wondered if you ever had a chance to experiment with the dye?

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