3.4.3 Vegetables and kitchen plants

Vegetables and kitchen plants are often difficult to detect through botanical research, because they concern parts of plants that tend to be badly preserved, if at all, and difficult to identify. Furthermore, many wild plants are edible, and it is likely that this was known in the past. Therefore, the diet of the agrarian population was more varied than the botanical research suggests.

Some of the vegetables and kitchen herbs would have been collected in the surroundings of the settlement, on the streamridge, among the marsh vegetation in the residual channel or in the flood basins.There are also indications that vegetables and kitchen plants were cultivated. Beet (Beta vulgaris, Fig. 51), celery (Apium graveolens), dill (Anethum graveolens) and coriander (Coriandum sativum) are found in many agrarian settlements in the Dutch River Area. The last two plants originate from the Mediterranean area. They were introduced by the Romans and were known in agrarian communities from the 2nd century AD. Beet and celery naturally grow in the coastal area. Therefore, these plants could have reached the Dutch River Area through contacts with inhabitants from the coast. However, beet and celery are often found together with dill and coriander, which makes it more likely that cultivated beet and cultivated celery are also introductions (Kooistra in press). Livarda and Van der Veen (2008, 204-6) have listed all finds of celery, dill and coriander in north-western Europe, and they conclude that the Roman army had a large demand for these products. The presence of dill, coriander and celery in agrarian settlements that were not related to the elite indicates market-orientated production.

Figure 51 Figure 52

Figure 51: Waterlogged perianth of beet (Beta vulgaris) found in one of the Roman settlements in the Dutch River Area. Photo BIAX Consult.
Figure 52: Waterlogged seeds of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) found in one of the Roman settlements in the Dutch River Area. Photo BIAX Consult.

Apart from these crops, black mustard and rape, which we know as oil crops, may also have been consumed as vegetables. Plants were also used as medicine (Fig. 52) or as a source of natural dyes. Many of these medicinal and dye plants were probably wild plants that grew in the vicinity of the settlement, but some were cultivated (Table 5).

Table 5: Plants found in Roman settlements in the Dutch River Area, which could be grown in vegetable gardens.

TPW = Tiel-Passewaaij; GH = Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet; KdW = Kesteren-De Woerd; HT = Houten-Tiellandt; WbD = Wijk bij Duurstede-De Horden
vegetables and kitchen herbs
Dill (Anethum graveolens) - X - X -
Celery (Apium graveolens) - - - X -
Beet (Beta vulgaris) - X X X -
Black mustard/Rape (Brassica nigra/rapa) - - X - -
Rape (Brassica rapa) X X - X -
Coriander (Coriander sativum) - - X - -
possible medicine
Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) X X X - X
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) - X - X -
Vervain (Verbena officinalis) - - X - -
industrial plants
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) - X - - -
Dyer's Rocket (Reseda luteola) - - X - -

We assume that the cultivated vegetables, kitchen herbs, medicinal and dye plants were grown in vegetable gardens (Fig. 53), The plots could be rather small and that means that if pulses such as Celtic bean (Vicia faba var. minor) were only grown for domestic use, these pulses may also have been cultivated in vegetable gardens. There are several reasons to assume the use of enclosures in the settlements denote vegetable gardens. Crops grown in vegetable gardens usually need more manure than arable crops. A second reason is that they need more care, such as watering. The third argument is that the crops produce edible parts, such as leaves, seeds, roots or tubers, during a longer period. From the moment when crops with an extended harvest time, intensive care, and an above-average need for manure were grown, it is likely that this occurred close to the farmhouses. When livestock was kept in the settlement, the vegetable gardens needed to be protected.

Figure 53

Figure 53: Modern vegetable garden in the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Rosemoor, Devon (UK). Photo M. Groot.

In Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg, small enclosures were found that could have been suitable for horticulture. This is also true for other agrarian settlements in the Dutch River Area. However, hard evidence about the function of these enclosures is lacking. There is some evidence from another region in the Netherlands: in Midden-Delfland site 01.23, the presence of hoe marks in an enclosed plot next to a farmhouse indicates cultivation (van Londen 2006, 39). Although no clear vegetable gardens were found in Tiel-Passewaaij, it is assumed that the cultivated vegetables and kitchen herbs were grown in enclosed plots near the houses.


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Last updated: Tue Nov 10 2009