The tradition of using herbs and plants for medicinal purposes in Iceland dates back to the settlement. Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the practice with Icelandic herbs, plants and flowers being used in food, medicine, beauty products and for decoration. Iceland Review went to find out more.
Published in the 2013 August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13. By Zoë Robert. Floral designs by Kristján Ingi Jónsson. Photos by Áslaug Snorradóttir.
The medicinal and culinary use of herbs in Iceland goes back centuries, with references in written sources including the sagas and folktales. In 1783, Björn Halldórsson published Grasnytjar, describing the use of herbs for food, medicine, dye and insect repellent.
Knowledge about herbal medicine traveled to Iceland from the Nordic countries and Britain when the country was first settled in the 9th century. Icelandic physicians are known to have made extensive use of Icelandic herbs over the centuries and the importance placed on plants and herbs is reflected in the number of Icelandic places names which bear their names. The highest peak of Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, for example, is named after angelica (hvönn in Icelandic).
Herbalist Anna Rósa Róbertsdóttir, points to several herbs which have played an important part in Iceland’s history. “Angelica, for example, was frequently grown in gardens in Iceland and was used both in cooking and for medicinal purposes while dulse and Iceland moss were used as currency.” The latter has also been used in breads, pudding, cough syrups, soups, porridges, drinks and dye throughout Icelandic history.
“It’s a tradition that goes back generations,” actress and owner of Sóley Organics, Sóley Elíasdóttir, says of her family’s tradition of harnessing the healing properties of herbs. “My great-great-grandmother Þórunn was a midwife and herbalist,” she explains.
You can read the remainder of this article in the August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13. Five times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson’s latest images of the country’s majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe.