Eugene Vodolazkin – Laurus

Christofer was an herbalist and all sorts of people came to see him.

People came with tortuous coughs. He gave them ground wheat with barley flour that he mixed with honey. Sometimes some boiled farro too, because farro draws moisture from the lungs. Depending on the type of cough, he might give pea soup or water from boiled turnips. Christofer differentiated coughs by sound. If the cough was indistinct and didn’t lend itself to definition, Christofer pressed his ear to the patient’s chest and listened to his breathing for a long time.


Christofer also helped with bedroom matters. He immediately identified visitors with these concerns based on how they entered and hesitated at the door. Their tragic and guilty gaze amused Christofer but he did not let that show. Sometimes he sent them to wash in the next room…[for h]e was convinced the rules of personal hygiene should be upheld, even in the Middle Ages. (…) If there was no erection, Christofer suggested supplementing meals with expensive anise and almond, or an inexpensive mint syrup; all increase the seed and promote bedroom thoughts. The same was attributed to the plant with the unusual name of livelong, as well as to simple wheat. Finally, there was also hare’s ear, which had two roots, white and black. An erection would arise from using white but vanish with black. The drawback to this method was that the white had to be held in the mouth at the crucial moment. Not everyone was willing to do that.

Christofer did not exactly believe in herbs; more likely he believed God’s help would come, through any herb, for a specific matter. Just as that help comes through people. Both are but instruments. He did not ponder why each of the herbs he knew was associated with strictly defined qualities; he considered that question frivolous.

Christofer’s help to his fellow man was not limited to medicine. He was convinced the mysterious effects of herbs spread through all aspects of human life. It was known to Christofer that the plant sow thistle, its roots as light as wax, brought success. He gave it to commercial traders so that they might be received with honor and rise to great glory wherever they might go.

Only be not proud beyond means, Christofer warned them. For pride is the root of all sin.

He gave sow thistle only to those of whom he was absolutely certain.

More than anything, Christofer loved a red plant, known as the tsar’s eyes or round-leaved sundew, that was about the height of a needle. He always had it with him. He knew that it was good to have some on his person when beginning any matter. Bring it to court, for example, so as not to be convicted. Or sit at a banquet with it and fear not the heretic lying in wait for anyone who lets his guard down.

Christofer did not like heretics. He recognized them using Adam’s head, also known as mandrake. When gathering this plant near the marshes, he blessed himself with the sign of the cross and the words: have mercy upon me, oh God…

For jealous spouses, Christofer recommended duckweed, though not the duckweed that covers marshes but the dark blue plant that spreads on land. It should be placed at the head of the bed by the wife: when she falls asleep, she will tell everything about herself on her own. The good and the bad. There was another method, too, for compelling her to start talking: owl heart. It was to be applied to a sleeping woman’s heart. Few people took that step, though: it was frightening.

Christofer himself had no need for these remedies because his wife had died thirty years before….


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