This article examines the meanings of the Latin word elleborus in later Anglo-Saxon England. They prove to have varied, from Ælfric’s implicit assertion around 1000 that elleborus had no vernacular Old English counterpart, to the association by the translator of the Old English Herbarium, perhaps around 900, of elleborus albus with tunsingwyrt, which seems to have denoted an allium such as wild garlic, to the use of the gloss wodewistle, denoting hemlock or some similar plant, by the Antwerp-London glossator in the earlier eleventh century. The study offers minor insights on a range of subjects: Ælfric’s use of Latin words in his Old English texts; the prospect that the Old English Herbarium marks an influential watershed in Anglo-Saxon scholarship on Latin plant-names; that with careful use of glossaries derived from the Herbarium we can discern a lost early version of this text which is subtly different from our surviving manuscripts, and closer to its Latin original. However, the main focus of this article has been the problematic word tunsingwyrt. The most likely interpretation suggested by the evidence is that tunsingwyrt denoted an allium — and if so, probably wild garlic.
Leeds Studies in English, new series, 44 (2013), 70-93.