What Are Rushes on Castle Floors?

Fresh sweet flag plants, wrongly referred to as “rushes,” were frequently used as a floor covering in mediaeval castles. These reed-like plants were inexpensive and abundant, and when combined with fresh herbs, they were a fantastic method to conceal dirt while enhancing the aroma of the air.

Sweet flag is a tall, smooth, aromatic plant that thrives in wetland and swampy regions. During the Middle Ages, these plants were bundled and scattered on the floors of several castles and the dirt floors of many mediaeval churches and cathedrals. Aromatic, frequently medicinal herbs were strewn amid the rushes in part to sweeten the ageing rushes and in part to repel insects and mould. Fresh rushes were sometimes laid on top of existing rushes, and other times, the entire floor was swept clean of old rushes and dirt and washed prior to the application of fresh rushes. This was done to conceal filth and debris while insulating rooms against the cold.

In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, loose rushes on floors were replaced by woven or stitched rush mats, which offered comparable benefits but wore well and were quicker to replace. By the time of the English Tudors, most castle floors were covered with purchased rush mats. Carpets were also utilised, but these pricier floor coverings were frequently put over rush mats for special occasions and removed for daily use.

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