Cannabis in Ancient Literature

Information on Fol. 33r from The Portfolio
of Villard de Honnecourt

33rd leaf in the portfolio; 2nd leaf in quire 7; 2nd folio of bifolio 32-33; 65th surface in the portfolio.

234 mm. (9.21 in.) x 156 mm. (6.14 in.)

Mancel = xxvii; C-18 = 33.

Lassus and Willis = LXIV; Omont and Bouvet = LXV; Hahnloser and Erlande-Brandenburg et alia = 65; Bucher = V65; Chanfón = 33r; Bowie = omitted.

This is a very pliable leaf with stains along its upper edge. The red stains in the first line over que io vos in Inscription 1 are from closing this leaf against leaf 32 before the ink on the BN stamp had dried. This is the flesh slide of the parchment.

There are no drypoint or graphite guidelines for the inscriptions but there are two vertical graphite lines 6 mm. (0.24 in.) apart to the left of the text. The writing was done with two different quills although the ink appears to be uniform throughout.

Inscription 1

Reteneis co que io vos dirai. prendes fuelles de col roges. / et sanemonde cest une erbe con clainme galion filate / prendes une erbe con clainme tanesie et caneuvize / cest semence decanute. estanpes ces .iiii. erbes si / quil niait nient plus de lune que de lautre. apres / si prendeis warance .ii. tans que de lune des .iiii. / erbes. et puis si lestanpes puis si meteis ces .v. / erbes en .i. pot et si meteis blanc vin al destenprer / le meillor que vos poes avoir auques tenpreement que les / puizonz ne soient trop espessez si con les puist boire. / nen beveiz mie trop en une escargne duef en ares / vos aseiz por quele soit plainne. quel plaie que vos aies vos / en garires. tergies vo plaie dun poi destoupes / metes sus une fuelle de col roge. puis si beveis / des puizonz al matin et al vespre .ii. fois le ior. / eles valent miex destemprees de moust douc / que dautre vin. mais quil soit bons si paerra li / mous avec les erbes. et se vos les destenpres de / vies vin laissies les .ii. iors ancois con en boive.

Literal Translation
Retain that which I will tell you. Take leaves of red cabbage, and of avens—this is an herb which one calls “bastard cannabis.” Take an herb which one calls tansy and hemp—this is the seeds of cannabis. Crush these four herbs so that there is nothing more of one than of the other. Afterwards you take madder two times more than [any] one of the four herbs, then you crush it, then you put these five herbs in a pot. And you put white wine to infuse it, the best that you are able to have, [being] somewhat [with] care that the potions be not too thick, and that one is able to drink them. Do not drink too much of it. In a shell of an egg you will have enough provided that it be filled. Whatever injury you might have you will heal. Clean your injury with a little tow. Put on it a leaf of red cabbage, then drink of the potions at morning and at evening, two times a day. They work best infused by sweet must than by another wine, but only if it be good will the new wine ferment with the herbs. And if you infuse them with old wine, let them alone for two days before one drinks of them.

Free Translation
Remember what I am about to tell you. Take leaves of red cabbage, and of avens—an herb called “bastard cannabis.” Also take an herb called tansy, and hemp, the seeds of cannabis. Grind equal amounts of these four herbs. Then take twice as much madder as any one of the four herbs, crush them, then put all five herbs in a pot and add the best white wine you can get to infuse it. Take care that the potion is not too thick to drink. Do not drink too much of it: a filled eggshell will be enough. This will heal whatever wound you might have. Clean your wound with a little tow. Put a leaf of red cabbage on it then drink the potion twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The potion works best when infused by sweet must because only good new wine will ferment with the herbs. If you must infuse them with old wine, let the potion steep for two days before drinking it


This is the longest inscription in the portfolio and very carefully written. The recipe itself may be the earliest reference to cannabis in western literature. For all its potential significance as a “first,” this recipe is less amazing to readers in the 21st century than one for cutting glass that calls for the urine of a small red-headed girl that has been collected before sunrise!

This painkiller elixir might be useful to individuals injured in construction work, but it is addressed to no specific occupation and offers no help in assigning a profession to Villard.

Inscription 2

F/ Cuellies vos flors aumatin de diverses colors ke / lune ne touce alautre. prendes une maniere de / piere con taille aciziel. quele soit blance molue et deliie. / puis si meteis vos flors en ceste pou[d]re. cascune / maniere par li si duerront vos flors en lor colors.

Literal Translation
F/ Collect flowers in the morning of diverse colors so that one does not touch the other. Take a type of stone that one cuts with a chisel, so that it be crushed white and fine. Then if you will put your flowers in this powder, each kind by itself, your flowers will last in their colors.

Free Translation
F/ Collect various-colored flowers in the morning, keeping them separate. Take a type of stone cut with a chisel so that it is ground into a white powder. If you then put your flowers in this powder, keeping them from touching, they will retain their colors.

Villard. This inscription was written later than the recipe for the painkiller, with a narrower nib quill and possibly but not certainly with different ink. The separation of the two recipes is emphasized with Villard’s F/ mark, treated more fancifully than normal, for example, fol. 1v.

Save for the use of plants, this recipe is unrelated to that given in Inscription 1. The stone referred to here may be talc, Mg3Si4O10(OH)2. Flowers were a major source of color pigments in the Middle Ages, hence the importance of being able to maintain colors.

Willis quoted a similar recipe from a 10th-century Latin poem, De Artibus Romanorum, by Heraclius.

Ancient Cannabis Literature