Herbal Preservatives

Rosmarinus officinalis

Scarlet-seeded iris
Iris foetidissima

During the latter part of the 1st century A.D., there were plenty of patent remedies aimed at combatting spoilage. Perhaps writing from a background of some bitter experiences, the agriculturalist, Lucius Columella, seemed particularly concerned about the problem (see On Agriculture XII.xxiv-xxvii). He recommended addition of salt to the grape juice (must) that will have beneficially increased the wine's acidity, and he suggested that storage amphorae be fumigated with rosemary or sweet bay, both of which have recognized antibacterial and antifungal properties. He added gypsum to any mustthat might be prone to turn acidic rather quickly; and he used a small amount of pitch resin, which also is well-known for its strong antibacterial action, to preserve wine on completion of its second fermentation.

However, he and others before him subscribed to a dubious good scent-versus-bad smell notion of wine preservation:

"As a preservative, crush separately a white iris bulb and some sun-dried some fenugreek that has been soaked in old wine; then mix these substances together and with some sweet rush." (Columella, On Agriculture XII.xxviii)


"Take a pitch-covered tile, spread over it warm ashes, and cover with aromatic herbs, rush and the palm which perfumers keep...." (Cato, On Agriculture CXIII)