Rushes on Castle Floors: What Are They?

Fresh sweet flag plants, which were mistakenly called “rushes,” were sometimes used to cover the floors of castles in the Middle Ages. These reed-like plants were cheap and easy to find. When mixed with fresh herbs, they could hide dirt and make the air smell nice.

Sweet flag is a tall, smooth, and fragrant plant that grows well in wetland and swampy areas. In the Middle Ages, these plants were bundled together and spread out on the floors of some castles and the dirt floors of many churches and cathedrals.

Some bugs and moulds were kept away from the rushes by sprinkling them with fragrant, and sometimes medicinal, herbs. Sometimes new rushes were put on top of the old ones, and sometimes the whole floor was swept clean of old rushes and other trash and scrubbed first. This was done to hide dirt and dust and to keep rooms from getting too cold.

In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, loose rushes were replaced with woven or stitched rush mats, which had the same benefits but lasted longer and were easier to change.

By the time of the English Tudors, most castle floors were covered with rush mats that were bought. Carpets were also used, but since they were more expensive, they were often put on top of rush mats for special occasions and taken off for everyday use.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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