© Château Ramezay - Historic Site and Museum of Montréal, photo: Michel Pinault.


Governor's Garden



Come immerse yourself in the aromas and colours unique to this peaceful oasis in the heart of Old Montréal. “Its layout offers a return to the 18th century and an opportunity to recall the beauty and usefulness of plants”, says the designer of the Governor’s Garden, Robert Desjardins.

The Governor’s Garden is a marvellous place for a stroll. You can visit it simply for the relaxation it offers, or to learn more about the gardens of New France. Access is free of charge at all times. In addition, a host of activities is offered during summer.

We await your visit with anticipation. Meanwhile, we offer you a virtual visit of the Governor’s Garden via the pages of this website.

Garden Layout


Claude de Ramezay arrived in Montréal in 1705 as the city’s new governor. There he hired Pierre Couturier, an architect and mason, to build a home on Notre-Dame street. The Ramezay property covered 4,200m2 and included an orchard, a kitchen garden, and a pleasure garden where, no doubt, the governor hosted fine receptions, for his home was at the heart of the city’s social life. At that time, gardens were numerous in the city: there were 186 of them in 1731.

Over time, the Ramezay property was whittled away by new streets and new building construction. The Governor’s Garden, as you see it today, was re-created in 2000 and covers only 750m2. Consequently, it is not a re-creation of the original garden but rather a witness to the style and contents of gardens cultivated by Montréal’s nobility in the 18th century.

Most of the plants used today are hybrids of the species cultivated in New France. However, the species grown in the garden today are genetically very close to those grown in Ramezay’s day. The garden is in the formal French style and is divided into three equal-sized sections: a kitchen garden, an orchard and a pleasure garden. Surrounding these sections, at the foot of the long walls, is a fourth section consisting of herbs and medicinal plants informally distributed. A ram's-head fountain is part of the garden and serves as a reminder of the importance of wells in the gardens of yore, for they were the only handy source of water for the gardener.


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The European concept of a garden was unknown to the First Nations. Europeans had no interest in the innate state of nature and they sought to transform it in their gardens, usually in an ordered and rectilinear way. The First Nations, on the other hand, thought it abhorrent to modify the sacred order of things by fencing it in: the space does not belong to them and nature was an infinite garden, unique and divine. Their animist view of the world allowed them to integrate themselves into their environment and to exploit it harmoniously.

In New France there were two main groups of First Nations: the Algonquins who were nomadic hunter-gatherers and Iroquois who were sedentary farmers. The harvests of the latter were used for food, pigments, making clothes, medicine and ceremonies. By the time the Europeans arrived here, the First Nations had developed many agricultural techniques, particularly plant selection and fertilization. Nomadic or sedentary, gathering plants for food and medicine was an important element for their survival.

The First Nations passed on to the Europeans their knowledge of indigenous plants, including how to make syrup and sugar from the sap of the sugar maple. They also passed on their knowledge of other plants such as ginseng, sarsaparilla, capillary and tobacco. The introduction of Indigenous plants transformed Western cooking. They include tomatoes, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, green peas, pâtissons, peppers, pumpkins, corn, sunflowers and wild rice. When the first French colonists arrived, they made use of many First Nation foods and techniques to insure their survival, but this influence waned as the years went by, as can be seen by the quick elimination of corn flower from their diet. That said, many North-American plants continued to be cultivated in large quantities, such as the pumpkin to which early immigrants and travelers paid particular attention.

Swedish botanist Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) was a student of Linnaeus who traveled through Canada in 1749 and took notes on the gardens he saw there. About the First Nations he said:

The Savages have another food they eat while traveling as well as at home. When the pumpkins are ripe, they cut them open, remove the pulp in long strips which they dry in the sun or near the fire after having interlaced them in various ways. Once dried, they can be preserved a very long time, over a year. When they want to eat them, they cook them alone or with other things, and it must be quite tasty, very sweet. I believe this readily, having eaten a few pieces so prepared; they tasted quite good and we could well have eaten them dry. The voyageurs often use this food in their travels among the savages. They buy from them such pumpkin strips and eat them.

In the 18th century, Canadian capillary, which was mostly gathered by the First Nations, was sent to Europe where it was used as a medicinal plant. In 1749, in his Description de plusieurs plantes du Canada (Description of Several Canadian Plants), Dr. Gaultier noted that capillary was collected in large quantities.

Care is taken to dry it in the shade and it is sent to France where it is sold and where it is more highly regarded than in Canada. 
– Dr. Gaultier



Three influences marked the garden styles of New France: an intellectual inheritance from the Middle Ages, accomplishments of the Renaissance, and an increasing interest in French formal gardens.

The gardens of the Middle Ages were characterized by the importance given to the kitchen garden and to simples, the presence of a surrounding wall, the use of borders, the use of simple plot shapes and regular pathways.

As for the gardens of the Renaissance, precursors of the classic French garden, they were conceived in connection with the buildings they surrounded. Their shapes became more complex, human intervention became more obvious, and water was more greatly used. This garden lost some of its personal use as it became a space meant to be seen.

Finally, the formal French gardens, dating to the 17th century with Versailles as their archetype, borrowed from all of these elements and, in addition, became staged scenes, indicators of wealth and social position. This type of garden is a victory of intellect over nature, an illustration of order and reason. Its basic elements are symmetry, the opening of space with infinitely distant horizons, lakes, lace-like plots and the integration of the home into the whole.

While the Governor’s Garden located behind the building evokes the gardens of New France, the garden on Notre-Dame street at the front of the Museum remains as it was when the Museum opened in the 19th century. It is an English-style landscape garden.

The landscape garden originated in England in the 18th century in reaction to the strict French garden. This new style is based primarily on an English love of nature. Its promoters railed against the artificial quality of the French garden and recommended nature itself as a guide. They thus created natural-looking settings such as parks with sinuous paths, lakes, and vast lawns punctuated with copses.

 The great art of gardening is that by which great civilizations seek not to copy nature but to use its elements to express their highest conception of happiness.

–Benoist-Méchin, 1975



During the 17th and 18th centuries in New France, gardens were essentially utilitarian. Food plants, fine herbs, berries and fruit trees represented the majority of plants grown at the time. This, of course, did not preclude a geometric design for the gardens. This French formality is clearly reproduced in the Governor’s Garden at the Château Ramezay . A plan drawn in 1795 by notary Louis Guy, called the Plan pacellaire or “plot plan,” shows how gardens of the religious orders (Sulpicians, Jesuits and Récollets) and Ramezay’s garden became more sophisticated and organized along formal lines in the French fashion.

Overall, it is the nutritional value of gardens which was of prime importance in New France. Indeed, growing grains and a kitchen garden was essential to the survival of individuals and society in general. If a man did not have land, he could hire himself out to work on a farm such as those of the religious orders or the seigneurs, or he could rent one. Seeds sown by new arrivals were usually imported from France, but North American plants were also used, with the exception of the potato which would not be grown until the middle of the 19th century because Canadiens found it bland and uninteresting. It should be noted that in New France, farmers and gardeners usually produced their own seeds. The seed trade did not begin until the middle of the 18th century.



By the end of the 17th century -- after the first difficult decades of pioneering -- and until the end of the French Régime, the vast majority of the population of New France was well fed with a variety of foods. The food supply was based mostly on bread, meat, fish, leguminous plants and vegetables. It is thanks to their gardens that the people of New France could vary their diet and add flavours to it, even in winter thanks to various preservation methods. In New France, the main dish was often made of a combination of meat and vegetables such as a stew or a fricassee. Those who could afford it preceded this dish with a light vegetable soup. Salads, in season, were much appreciated, and the meal often ended with fresh fruit (in season) or with sweetened dairy products. (Information on diet taken from Martin Fournier’s Jardin et potagers en Nouvelle-France – Joie de vivre et patrimoine culinaire. Québec: Septentrion, 2004.)


A garden cannot be planted just anywhere. The ground must be flat (otherwise rain would create gulleys), in the sun, far from the shade and roots of trees, and near water (to avoid having to carry watering equipment over great distances). The soil must be neither too acidic nor too chalky. In the 18th century, most of the gardens in Montréal were surrounded by walls, mostly made of wood but sometimes of stone. This practice dates back to the Middle Ages when gardens had to be protected from natural disasters, vandals, thieves and wild animals. It remained in use in France for many centuries and found its way to New France. Each garden thus benefited from a microclimate which accelerated growth in spring and promoted the growth of espaliers, a technique which spread in the Renaissance.

For the nobility, esthetics were as important as productivity. Each garden section was deliniated by a border such as those of chives, box and hyssop in today’s Governor’s Garden. Also, French gardens of the 18th century were always divided into squares, rectangles and triangles separated by paths.

Kitchen gardens were designed according to precise, logical rules. Basic agricultural principles determine their layout. For example, rows contain only one plant type to facilitate maintenance. These rows often follow an east-west orientation to expose every plant to full sun, and they are neatly spaced to allow each plant to grow fully. The plots are not so wide that they cannot be tended by hand, or they are crisscrossed by paths made of flat stones. The main paths, on the other hand, are wide enough to allow the passage of wheel barrows or carts for transporting statuary, bowers, sundials, etc.

Harvests were mostly quick-paced: plants were changed regularly and alternation allowed for more efficient weeding and limited the risk of disease. Perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel and aromatic herbs were permanently planted, otherwise annuals such as tomatoes were used. To avoid wearing out the soil or facilitating the spread of disease, it is wise not to plant identical or related vegetables in the same plot. Herein lies the importance of diversity.

 Taking advantage of the characteristics of various plants

Celery and cabbages are greedy and exhaust the soil whereas legumes (peas, beans) enrich the soil with nitrogen. Melons and cucumbers have always been grown apart from other plants so as not to suffocate less vigorous plants. Fast-growing vegetables (lettuce, radishes) are planted in the middle of slow plants (cabbages, carrots).

In New France, composting was known and natural plant foods were used. These plant foods were manure made from animal sources (pigs, cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, pigeons, etc.), as well as from human sources (the contents of latrines).

The tools needed for maintaining a kitchen garden were few in number in New France. Working the earth was done with the fork, shovel and hoe. Small tools such as the trowel were also used, and even a spoon or knife could be useful in planting cabbages and other vegetables. The wooden pail was the most common tool used for carrying water and watering the plots, watering cans being rare and used by the better off.

The methods for combating insects, weeds and mushrooms are ecologically sound and respect the environment. No pesticides are used: no insecticides, no herbicides, no fungicides. Against insects:

  • beating of infested parts
  • predatory insects
  • planting insect repellent plants (chives, hyssop)

Against fungal infections:

  • camomile infusion
  • onion decoction
  • watering in the morning and without watering the leaves

Against weeds:

  • manual extraction
  • regular hoeing of the soil
  • use of vegetable or cedar-chip mulch

Furthermore, we avoid planting species sensitive to fungal infections, disease or insects, and we avoid letting vegetables lie on the ground.

A single application of chemical plant food is done very early in the growing season for the ornamental perennials at the front of the building and in the pleasure garden at the back. The rest of the year we use sheep manure, vegetable compost, buried mulch, vegetable matter mixed with shrimp or horse manure, liquid nettle compost, algae and fish emulsions. While nettles are often considered weeds, they are precious gardener’s aides as they encourage the formation of humus and accelerate the fermentation of composts and manures. Liquid nettle compost, rich in various mineral salts, is made by covering fresh plants and allowing them to ferment for three weeks. The result enriches the soil, fortifies plants and protects them from diseases.

Upkeep of the Governor’s Garden includes a wide variety of tasks undertaken from April to November by gardeners of the city of Montréal, including levelling surfaces, installing flower boxes, planting seeds and seedlings, watering, hoeing and weeding, spreading compost, trimming bushes, lawn care, checking for insects on some plants, harvesting, installing winter guards, etc. Here is an idea of the gardeners’ schedule, watering excluded.

Month     Activities
  • remove the winter guards
  • install the flower boxes and level the ground
  • treat the perennials with organic compost
  • prepare the kitchen garden, level the ground, spread organic compost
  • plant onions, cabbages, leeks, celery, melons, cucumbers…
  • carrot, lamb’s lettuce, beet, sugar-beet, radish, spinach, bean seedlings…
  • remove the leaves from spring-flowering bulbs
  • for annuals, prepare the planting beds and spread shrimp compost or horse manure
  • 2nd row of spinach and lettuce seedlings, for staggered harvest
  • plant the annuals in the flower beds and boxes
  • fertilize the annuals
  • weed and hoe
  • trim and shape certain bushes (yews, box…)
  • remove dead flowers on certain bushes (lilac, rosas…)
  • harvest the vegetables
  • clean the perennial flower beds
  • remove the annuals and clean their beds
  • clean the kitchen garden (remove all plants)
  • plant fall chrysanthemums and spring-flowering bulbs
  • install winter guards for certain plants (climbing roses)
  • clean and store the flower boxes



The kitchen garden of New France is very diversified and creatively planted. The first colonists tried to acclimate European species and to domesticate indigenous plants. This was not always easy, for many of them were soldiers made into farmers by their circumstances. This grand adventure eventually led to the use of a host of species, many of which no longer exist or which have been hybridized.

The kitchen garden had to insure the survival of the inhabitants in winter, so the emphasis is placed on vegetables which can easily be preserved such as cabbages, carrots, beets, peas, beans and onions. Jerusalem artichokes and cucumbers are also very popular: Pehr Kalm noted that Canadiens are quite fond of eating them with cream and fine herbs. In the kitchen gardens of the nobility, refinement is indicated by certain vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus. Salad is also much enjoyed: it is eaten with herbs and edible flowers (such as those of the chive, borrage, souci, monarde or nasturtium plants.)

Compagnonnage is a technique often used in kitchen gardens. It consists of growing different plant species near one another in order for one species to benefit from the properties of another. Thus vegetables, flowers, rose bushes and aromatic plants are made to grow together. For example, garlic grows well next to roses and strawberries, borrage with strawberries and squash, rosemary and sage with cabbage and carrots, or savory with beans.

 The red onion is the most common plant in kitchen gardens. Next come the pumpkin, carrots and lettuce. The country folk also plant red currants, sometimes phaseoli (Phaesolus vulgaris) (peas),and a good quantity of cucumbers.

– Pehr Kalm

Growing the Three Sisters

The Three Sisters refers both to an agricultural practice of the Iroquois First Nation and to one of their most important legends. The Iroquois considered corn, beans and squash to be sacred plants responsible for their physical and spiritual survival. They planted the corn on a small pile of dirt along with the beans which used the cornstalk as a support. The squash grew at the foot of these plants and, because they take up quite a bit of space, they watered the two other plants by keeping humidity in the ground. The Iroquois knew some 15 different varieties of corn, 60 types of beans and eight different types of squash, including the pumpkin.

Plant your own Three Sisters garden

Planting the Three Sisters is easy. You begin at the end of May or the beginning of June by making piles of dirt in your garden, about 30 centimetres (1 foot) high and 20 centimetres (8 inches) wide. Pat down the dirt a little bit to make the top of each dirt pile flat.

Plant 6 corn kernels in a small circle at the top of each pile of dirt.

Wait a week or two for the corn to grow about 12 centimetres high. Now plant 6 bean plants (or peas if you prefer) in a circle about 15 centimetres away from the corn plants.

Wait another week and plant 6 squash seeds (or pumpkin if you prefer) around the bottom of your pile of dirt.

When the plants are all growing you must take out all the weak plants and leave only a few of the strongest. Do this for the corn, the beans (or peas) and the squash (or pumpkin).

As the bean plants (or peas) grow, make sure they warp themselves around the cornstalks for support. The squash (or pumpkin) will grow around the bottom of the pile of dirt. Because the squash (or pumpkins) grow to be quite big and cover quite a bit of ground, they will keep moisture in the ground so the other plants have water to drink.

Cabbage is the dean of our vegetables: it was present in Europe during prehistoric times. Roman gastronomes argued over it, some finding it fine, others common. It was popular during the Middle Ages for, in addition to its culinary properties, it was used in poultices to treat sciatica and varicose ulcers. It long remained the poor man’s doctor. Not surprisingly, it was one of the first vegetables planted by the people of New France. It comes in more than 100 varieties.

Classified along with melons as a  légume-fruit, it has been grown in North America for a very long time. It was introduced into Europe after the Conquest and today it is grown on every continent. It was part of the First Nations’ basic diet, along with beans and corn. They dried the pulp in the sun in strips which they ate in winter.

Beans were common from Peru all the way to the Saint Lawrence valley. Traces of them have been found in archaeological sites dating back 12,000 years. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the Americas. Brought back from Cuba by Christopher Columbus, it spread throughout Europe and comes in hundreds of varieties.

Chinese doctors recommended rhubarb 5,000 years ago. It found its way to Europe via Siberia and was included in the King’s Kitchen Garden. It has adapted well to Québec. The Chinese used its rhizome, but we eat its shoots which make for delicious compotes or preserves.

The origin of this plant is unknown: some say it is North American, others believe it comes from Brazil. Grown during the French Régime for its tubercles, it was later replaced by the potato.


© Château Ramezay - Historic Site and Museum of Montréal

In 1749, Pehr Kalm wrote a travel journal in which he gives lengthy descriptions of the agricultural practices and the kitchen gardens of the inhabitants of New France, but he mentions no ornamental plants. Yet, forty years later, Thomas Anbury published his own travel journal.

In the Governor’s Garden, flowers appropriate to the 18<sup>th</sup> century are concentrated in the pleasure garden, but they can also be found in the other plots and along the walls. In the plots along Notre-Dame street, which were created in the 19th century when the Museum first opened, the plants are those one would find in a Victorian garden. These include peonies, day lilies, hortentias, hostas and astilbes.

This plant was know in New France mainly for its medicinal properties. Indeed, yarrow has been used for millennia to cure wounds, ulcers and bleeding haemorrhoids. In North America, most Native groups used it. They called it “squirrel tail” because of the shape of its leaves. Its essential oil acts as an anti-inflammatory. Yarrow infusion can be used in compresses to treat wounds.

Called Dianthus, divine flower, by the Greek philosopher and botanist Theophrastus, it has been grown for over 2000 years for its scent and its beauty. In ancient Rome, it was known as Jupiter’s flower. In China, it was used for its medicinal properties and is mentioned in ancient Chinese herbaria as a treatment for urinary tract infections. It was also very popular in 17th century France where its cultivation fascinated rich and poor alike. This interest continued until the early 20th century.

The daylily originated in north-east Asia. It was brought to Europe as an ornamental plant and was naturalized in North America. It blooms for only one day and produces no seeds. It spreads when plant bits take root.

Various forms of iris have been grown since the dawn of time. It can be seen on the walls of 4000-year-old Egyptian temples. In the Middle Ages it was used for its medicinal properties as well as its aromatic properties in the case of species with roots which, when ground up, smell like violets. It is the flower of Florence and of Tuscany. In France, in 1147, Louis VII adopted the yellow iris as the emblem of France. The iris spread across the entire northern hemisphere and includes many different species, perennials as well as bulbs. The latter include the blue flag which grows naturally in every region of Québec. Indeed, it is the floral emblem of Québec.

Belonging to the same family as the Jerusalem artichoke, this flower originated in Central America when it was being cultivated 3000 years ago. The plant can reach up to 3 metres in height and its flower can grow to 80 cm across. The sunflower owes its name to its ability to face the sun all day. The Iroquoians grew it for its seeds. In Europe, the sunflower was initially considered an oddity, then as snack food. Its widespread cultivation began in the 19th century and quite early in Québec.


© Château Ramezay - Historic Site and Museum of Montréal

Fruit was very popular in New France. The most popular fruit trees were acclimated and protected in winter with straw wraps. Growing trees in espalier was widespread in Europe and practiced in Canada as well.

Berries, cultivated or wild, are also very popular. They are harvested in large quantity then dried or made into jam.

Pehr Kalm, a Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus, came to Canada in 1749 and jotted down his observations about the gardens he saw here, including this: 

 Fruit trees grow very well in the Montréal area. The main fruits I saw here are various types of apple and pear, all very good. It should be noted that if apples grow well in Québec, pear do not acclimate well. Peaches grow neither voluntarily or well. Some trees become somewhat hardened, but it is necessary to wrap them in straw every winter. Previously I mentioned vines imported from France. Some plum trees were imported from there as well, and they have acclimated well here and need no special care in winter.


Planted against fences, trees grown in espalier were protected from the wind and benefited from a microclimate. If we compare today’s new varieties with the old ones grown in espalier, such as those cited by Quintinie (1624-1691), creator of King Louis XIV’s kitchen garden, we notice that the latter have vanished. Having become delicate, they were replaced with new varieties.

© Château Ramezay - Historic Site and Museum of Montréal

The main goal of pruning is to keep the plants healthy by removing branches that are diseased, damaged or dead. Another goal of pruning is to shape a plant as it grows, to make it smaller or thicker according to the use to which it is destined. With fruit trees, pruning helps make the tree more productive. There are many ways to prune a tree: limiting its growth when it has become invasive, rejuvenating it by removing old wood, sculpting it to produce topiaries, espaliers or dwarf trees.

Espalier pruning is meant to shape the tree as it grows by choosing in advance the shape of the mature tree and by guiding the limbs. To do this, the tree is planted at the foot of a wall, against a trellis, and the limbs attached thereto. The tree, therefore, grows in two dimensions and gives the impression of a climbing plant. Apple trees, pear trees and vines are all very popular choices for this treatment. 

According to an old adage, black-current elixir can maintain health and make the old appear younger than they are. Its berries are used to make jellies, jams, syrups and wine. Infusions of black currant are recommended for rheumatism, gout and for kidney and bladder troubles.

Very popular in New France, it eventually surpassed black currant. Pehr Kalm noted its presence in kitchen gardens at Montréal and Québec. Its cultivar led to the development of the American black current which is easier to grow.

The pear tree originated in Asia Minor. Unknown in Egypt and Syria, pears were enjoyed in Greece where they were introduced from north of the Balkans. Pliny mentions some forty types. The Romans spread it through Europe. In the 17th century, as was the case with apples, there were desert pears, cooking pears and cider pears. The pear tree is best suited for temperate regions, but some species have been able to survive our winters, most particularly in the Montréal area. It grows well in espalier and the walls protect it from spring frosts, its worst enemy.

Easy to grow, the apple tree was already known in prehistoric times. Originating in central Asia, the apple was known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome where 32 varieties were listed. Very popular in the Middle Ages, it could be found in the orchards of Louis XIV where Quintinie (1624-1691, creator of King Louis XIV’s kitchen garden) grew at least eight varieties. The first settlers brought plants from Normandy to New France. They acclimated quite easily. Today, worldwide, there are over 7,000 varieties.

 Marking apples, a technique for the glory of king and fruit

King Louis XIV, the Sun King in his château at Versailles, wanted to eat only foods that were out of the ordinary and that were apart from the foods of common mortals. For him to accept to eat fruit, necessary for his health, a marking technique was used on apples and pears. The choicest fruits were selected at the beginning of summer and bagged. At the end of summer, a sort of mask in the king’s likeness was placed on the fruit. In early autumn, the masks were removed and, the fruit having ripened, there was a green portrait of the king on the fruit, distinguishing it from ordinary produce.

The origin of this technique dates from well before the Sun King. Toward the end of the 12th century, the Andalusian Arab agronomist Ibn Al’Awwam mentioned the technique in The Book of Agriculture. Marking apples was also very popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as can be seen at international exhibitions. At the time, this technique allowed producers of luxury fruit at Montreuil, near Paris, to face ardent competition from overseas competitors. Today, it is in Asia that marked fruit seem to be fashionable as gifts laden with symbolism, decorative objects, and even gifts to the gods.

Vines were present in Egypt at the end of the Tertiary period and are mentioned repeatedly in the Bible. Its name comes from the Latin vinum meaning “wine.” In ancient Greece, where they venerated Dyonysus, vines and wine were symbols of civilization. Viniculture was introduced in Gaul by the Romans. On his first voyage to Île d’Orléans, Jacques Cartier noted the presence of wild vines (vitis riparia) laden with grapes on the island. However, he said these grapes were neither as sweet or as large as those of France. Nevertheless, he named the island Île de Bacchus. In the 15th century France, vine sap was used on skin sores and as an eye lotion.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, herb gardens were, first and foremost, utilitarian. They were found at the homes of everyone who had a garden, noble or common folk, though the gardens of the latter were not as symmetrical as those of the former, and seeding was done abundantly in heaps.

These herbs were essential to everyday life: they gave flavour to foods, they perfumed people and their homes, they healed better than doctors of the day, and some are even used to make potions to chase away demons. The plants had many uses and were not rigidly categorized. Chives, for example, were used in the kitchen, but the flower was included in bouquets and the leaves had medicinal uses. The apothecary’s rose bush was used for its medicinal properties and yarrow, which attracts bees, was also used in bouquets, in the kitchen or in infusions.

Aromatic and medicinal herbs were planted along walls, near the houses, in the middle or around the edge of plots. They were much used for their capacity to keep away harmful insects. They were also grown along with other plants in order that the latter might benefit from some of the herbs’ properties. For example, garlic grows well next to roses and strawberries, borrage with strawberries and squash, rosemary and sage with cabbage and carrots, or savory with beans.

© Château Ramezay - Historic Site and Museum of Montréal

 A Few Examples of Fine Herb Use:

Marjoram : Tomatoes with vinaigrette. Seasoned stuffing, braised beef and meat pies. Essential element to a seasoned sauce.

Thyme : Delicate seasoning for sauces, cheeses, meat loaves, liver pâté, veal stuffing and molluscs. Essential component of a garnished bouquet.

Basil : Basil can replace thyme as a condiment. Add to soups, salads, or raw vegetables. Duck seasoned with basil and pistou soup are among the most renowned uses of this herb in Provence.

Long superseded by spices, fine herbs came back in force in the 17th century with the development of modern French gastronomy in the hands of the first great chefs. It was during the 18th century that culinary invention reached its peak as it was called upon for fêtes and fine suppers organized by the king or the nobility. The first great cookbooks were published at this time.

Fine herbs were used in main dishes, stuffing and pousset, an herb spice used to flavour soups. But they are used as more than just condiments: they are often used for their scent and particularly for their medicinal properties. Be it garlic, mint, borage, onion, livèche or hyssop, their curative properties are as appreciated as their taste.

In the 17th century, fragrant plants were very popular. Cleanliness being relative, essence of lavender or of rosemary allowed one to mask odours. Rose water and violet water were also much appreciated. In the house, pouches of herbs were used to perfume cabinets and chase away insects.

The medicinal properties of herbs have been used since the dawn of time. They have left their mark in archaeological digs, in oral tradition and in books. For millennia they helped humans heal themselves. Even today they are ingredients in many medications. Plant-based treatments include decoctions, infusions and macerations by which are crated potions, herb teas, elixirs, medicinal wines, syrups, powders, pills, poultices, plasters, ointments and liniments.

 Task Division

In herb gardens, it was the women who cared for the plants and saw to the harvest while her husband saw to the hoeing, cutting and palissage.

 Les sauvagesses et les françoises mal-intentionnées croient que le sang-dragon a la vertu de pousser puissamment les mois et qu’il pouvoit causer l’avortement.

–Jean-François Gauthier

17th century medicine consisted of establishing a link between the ill and the remedy. While general remedies acted upon the balance of the four humours (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood), specific remedies were prescribed according to the théorie des signatures. Accordingly, the form and colour of a lear, flower or root indicated its link to an organ and disease. For example, sang-dragon was used to induce menstruation.

This is one of the most used plants in cooking and medicine. According to Herodotus, this plant which originated in Central Asia was already being eaten in ancient Egypt by workmen building the Great Pyramid at Giza. They believed it to have magical and medicinal properties. It was brought to France during the Crusades and came to America with the first colonists. Garlic has remained a universal remedy in the countryside.

Its name comes from the Greek word “basilikon” meaning “royal.” Many legends surround basil which was considered to be sacred. Gathering basil involved specific rituals preceded by purification. Egyptians used it with myrrh, incense, sage and thyme to embalm the dead and, in Rome, it was the symbol of lovers. Pliny prescribed it for epilepsy. It was also recommended for migraines brought on by poor digestion. Basil must never be allowed to simmer as its essence is very volatile. It must be added to dishes at the end of cooking. It is ideal with tomatoes and asparagus.

 Le basilic peut remplacer le thym comme condiment. On l'ajoutera avec profit aux potages, salades, crudités qu'il aseptise. On connaît, par ailleurs, le canard au basilic et la soupe au pistou, l'une des plus renommées de la Provence.

Chamomile is widespread throughout temperate regions. The Egyptians venerated it and dedicated it to the sun god for its properties. The Romans called it “the doctor’s plant” and introduced it into Europe. It grows on all sorts of terrain, even in rubble. There are several types, including feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium) and Roman chamomile (anthemis nobilis). It is useful for digestive troubles, nervous tension and irritability. It is also used to treat wounds, itches and irritated eyes. The species Chamomilla matricaria owes its name to its ability to regenerate the uterus (matrix in Latin).

 Chamomile infusions were once used, after shampooing, as a rinse to avoid losing one’s hair. Today, it is only used as a hair bleach, once consider a secondary property.

Known to the Chinese some 2000 years ago, chives were appreciated for their taste as well as for their medicinal properties. The Egyptians used it a great deal. During the Middle Ages, chives were sold at auction under the name appétits (appetites). Their culinary value is comparable to that of onions. First Nations used chives to treat colds and stings.

The Hebrews called it Ezob. It was a sacred plant and, as such, it is mentioned in the Bible. Hippocrates prescribed it to treat bronchitis and pleurisy. In the Middle Ages, it was much in use in the kitchen to flavour soups, stuffing and roasts. According to one saying, “he who rivals the virtues of hyssop knows too much.” It is used in the preparation of medicinal liquors such as chartreuse. Its odour chases away harmful insects from garden plots.

Get a taste of New-France: try theses recipes.