For centuries before the advent of modern medicine, healing practices have not been confined to curing existing diseases and ailments. Practitioners such as Hildegard of Bingen have focused on prophylaxis and preventive measures to address ailments before they arise. Diet and nutrition for the healthy and sick alike plays a central role in monastic medicine. Within this context, many consider an inseparable relationship between Hildegard and spelt.
Hildegard and Spelt
The concept of preventive health and nutrition was a central focus of Hildegard of Bingen’s brand of holistic healing. It’s no surprise that she begins her primary work, “Physica” with a discussion about grains. What might be surprising to followers of her work is her lack emphasis on spelt.
Misleading thoughts on Spelt
In the first chapter of “Physica”, Hildegard discusses wheat rather than spelt.
Despite popular contemporary thinking around Hildegard and spelt, Hildegard of Bingen writings actually do not focus on spelt recipes. With the exception of a single section in “Physica” focused on spelt recipes for loss of appetite (I 5), the ancient grain appears infrequently (if at all) in Hildegard’s writings.
The modern interpretation of Hildegard and spelt
Like many modern variations on Hildegard’s teachings, the popular recipes using spelt primarily represent inventions of 20th century thinking. The revised thinking on spelt, however, is not without merit. The argument in favor of substituting spelt in favor of wheat for Hildegard recipes may be justified by the fact that modern wheat has been altered since Hildegard’s time.
The integrity of spelt, as an ancient grain, remains consistent with what Hildegard would have experienced. This is particularly true when it comes to the effects of gluten found in today’s wheat as compared with spelt.
Hildegard and wheat
When Hildegard called for flour in her recipes, she referred to wheat flour. In fact, Hildegard’s body of work overwhelmingly favors wheat to spelt; she references wheat three to four times more often than spelt. Specifically, she describes “wheat is warm and a perfect fruit, so that no wrong in him. And when the right flour is made from wheat, the bread made from this flour is good for healthy and sick people alike, it strengthens the flesh and is good for the blood.”
What is “the right flour”? Ideally, use flour from the whole grain, rather than refined grains, such as the Greeks and the Romans prepared, which results in the bran and germ being removed.
Hildegard’s proposed uses of wheat
Hildegard recommended the topical use of wheat for such varying conditions as “emptiness in the brain”, leading to the madness (we’ll have to get back to you on how to apply it for this purpose), as well as back and hip pain along with healing wounds.
Modern science confirms whole grain wheat serves as an ideal energy source for building muscles, and as brain food. Whole grain wheat contains zinc, vitamin B3 and significant amounts of vitamin E. Depending on soil conditions, whole grain wheat also contains the antioxidant selenium, which plays a key role in metabolism.
Wheat germ oil is a rich source of vitamin E. It naturally contains the highest content of vitamin E of any food that has not been fortified. The dietary fiber in wheat bran contributes to overall wellness, through effective intestinal cleansing, improving blood cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Hildegard and Rye
During Hildegard’s time in the Middle Ages, Rye became the most important cereal grain in northern regions of Europe, because its ability to thrive in the humid soils.
Hildegard’s work in “Physica” reflects the popular sentiment toward rye, both then and now in Germany. She wrote in Physica “bread made of rye is good for healthy people, making them strong.”
Like wheat, rye is also considered warm, but the warmth is not as pronounced as with wheat. Hildegard’s writings suggest it has many positive forces, such as helping obese people lose weight without contributing to weakness. Rye is not ideal for those with weak or compromised digestion.
Hildegard’s proposed uses for rye
According to Hildegard, rye, like wheat, may also be used topically. Heated rye bread is said to aid against the treatment of tumors. Other beneficial uses of rye include for skin rashes and scabs on the head, which are treated with crumbled crust, and olive oil and warm breadcrumbs sprinkled over meat to protect against parasites.
Rye contains minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc, chromium and magnesium. In addition, it contains all essential amino acids important for the cellular growth and development. Rye contains mucilage such as pectin, which improves intestinal flora, promoting healthy digestion and balanced cholesterol and blood sugar.
People with pronounced sensitivity to gluten (celiac disease) should not eat rye bread. However, as with spelt, those with slight gluten sensitivities may find rye a reasonable alternative to wheat because it has less gluten.