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For an overview of European and especially British horticultural literature see Horticultural literature; for an overview of Australian horticultural literature see Australian gardening literature; for an overview of British 19th century literature see Victorian gardens
; for an incomplete listing of herbals from about 1470 to 1670 see the end of this article, or timelines.

Early plant literature – to 17th century


Today we are swamped by a deluge of literature on plants considered from every imaginable perspective. But this is, of course, a recent phenomenon. The printing press did not appear in the West until the fifteenth century. Before this time there were the clay tablets, scrolls, papyri and incunabulae of ancient civilizations. Many of these early records were housed in the universal Great library of Egyptian Alexandria which was the capital of knowledge and learning, most vibrant during the third and second centuries BCE; it attempted to house copies of all known writing, but gradually declined over several centuries.

For a general overview of plant-people literature there is the recent six-volume Bloomsbury Academic publication A Cultural History of Plants (2022).

Vol. 1 Antiquity. 10,000 BCE to 500 CE. pp. 212-251
Vol. 2  Post-Classical Era. 500-1400 CE pp. 197-221
Vol. 3 Early Modern Era. 1400 to 1650 pp. 207-231
Vol. 4 Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 1650 to 1800. pp. 200-227
Vol. 5 Nineteenth Century. 1800 to 1920. pp. 198 to 229
Vol. 6  Modern Era. 1920 to present. pp. 195 to 235

There is also the parallel six-volume Bloomsbury series A Cultural History of Gardening (2018) for Antiquity, the Medieval Age, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Age of Empire, and Modern Age.

This PlantPeoplePlanet article provides some background to the ancient literature on plants, dating from antiquity up to the 17th century and intended to provide a brief overview of mostly pre-scientific plant literature. This literature has guided scholars in their quest to understand the role of plants in the lives of people who lived in the period of recorded history that extends from the great ancient civilizations through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and a little beyond. It is a brief and Eurocentric account but it may encourage further interest and research while casting a wider geographic net.

Archaeological techniques for the analysis of pollen, seeds, and wood provide invaluable historical information on archaeological digs. But we nevertheless, strongly reliant on the historical written record. Any study of the history of botany, horticulture, or the place of plants in human lives, must be familiar with this early literature.

In the early years of writing, up to about the 18th century or 19th centuries, the number of influential manuscripts and publications can be studied in a manageable way. Beyond this date the proliferation of publications creates difficulties in sheer quantity and begs subdivision.

The use of writing as a permanent form of symbolic communication permits information to be passed on succinctly to future generations in a form that is not so prone to distortion as oral tradition. Written communication was greatly facilitated by the evolution of an alphabet as a development of the former pictograms, hieroglyphs and cuneiform.

Knowledge, as a synthesis of the collective communal wisdom, was generally possessed and controlled by a priestly or academic class of society, undergoing several phases of democratization including the momentous advent of the printing press and, much later, internet.

Much of the recorded plant information concerns medicinal rather than food plants. This probably reflects the concern of elite scribes with the plants associated with the supernatural. The management of food plants in the field was more the realm of the uneducated.

Baron von Mueller

De Materia Medica of Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90 CE)

Byzantium 15th century – Musee de Cluny
Herbals were derivative workd harking back to ealier plant lists compiled by Hippocrates, Theophrastus, and Pliny the Elder.
Dioscorides probably sourced the information for De Materia Medica (used as the major source of medicinal plant inforation for over 1500 years) from an ancient Greek herbal of Diocles of Carystius (c. 373- c. 295 BCE) which is now lost.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – PHGCOM – Accessed 21 Sept 2017

Bronze Age civilizations

The Bronze Age is denoted by different periods in different regions of the world.

Across the world at this time there is the emergence of gardens as cultivated spaces in urban communities. Similarly, though plants are a crucial food source written records place emphasis on the medicinal properties of plants – probably a reflection of the interests of those in charge of records – the elite scribes and chroniclers of the times.

Europe & the Near East (c. 3200 – 600 BCE)


By about 2000 BCE, medical papyri in ancient Egypt were including medical prescriptions based on plant matter and including reference to the herbalist’s combination of medicines and magic for healing – foreshadowing the later apothecary and pharmacist.


c. 2000 – Hearst Papyrus
c. 1800 – Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus
c. 1600 – Edwin Smith Papyrus
c. 1534 – Ebers Papyrus The oldest surviving list of medicinal plants including herbs and spices still used today, one of the earliest known herbals; it is based on sources, now lost, dating back a further 500 to 2000 years.
c. 1450 – Tuthmosis III A bas-relief on the wall of the temple at Karnak and sometimes referred to as the ‘Botanic garden‘ illustrates, in the style of a herbal, plants from Egypt, Syria and Palestine
c. 1325 – London Medical Papyrus


The earliest Sumerian herbal dates from about 2500 BCE as a copied manuscript of the 7th century BCE. Inscribed Assyrian tablets dated 668–626 BCE list about 250 vegetable drugs: the tablets include herbal plant names that are still in use today including: saffron, cumin, turmeric and sesame.



China is renowned for its traditional herbal medicines that date back thousands of years. See Tang, W. & Eisenbrand, 1992.See Unschuld, 1985. Legend has it that mythical Emperor Shennong, the founder of Chinese herbal medicine, composed the


c. 2700 – Shennong Bencao Jing (Great Herbal) the forerunner of all later Chinese herbals. It survives as a copy made c. 500 CE and describes about 365 herbs.


to 1250 – High quality herbals and monographs on particular plants were produced
1108Zhenlei bencao by Tang Shenwei in 12 editions until 1600
1059 – a monograph on the lychee by Cai Xiang
1178 – a monograph on oranges of Wenzhhou by Han Yanzhi[20]
1406Jiuhuang Bencao by prince Zhu Xiao (朱橚) published an illustrated herbal for famine foods with high quality woodcuts and descriptions of 414 species of plants, 276 described for the first time. A printed book pre-dating the first European printed book by 69 years and reprinted many times.[21]
1450Bencao Fahui by Xu Yong.
1590Bencao Gangmu by Li Shizhen.



Traditional herbal medicine of India, known as Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) , possibly dates back to the second millennium BCE tracing its origins to the holy Hindu Vedas and, in particular, the Atharvaveda.

One authentic compilation of teachings is by the surgeon Sushruta, available in a treatise called Sushruta Samhita. The Sushruta Samhita (सुश्रुतसंहिता, Suśruta’s Compendium) is an ancient Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery and one of the most important foundational medicinal texts surviving from the ancient world along with the Caraka-Saṃhitā, the Bheḷa-Saṃhitā, and the medical portions of the Bower Manuscript (see below). The Sushruta Samhita contains 184 chapters and description of 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources. This tradition, however is mostly oral.


c. 350– Bower Manuscript – 4th century CE. The earliest surviving written material which contains the works of Sushruta.

South America

The best record we have of the relationship between plants and people in the great Inca and Aztec civilizations are the recollections of the Europeans who returned to Europe from the New World to record their findings. In one instance this was supplemented by an indigenous writer.


1552 – Francisco Hernández – An illustrated herbal published in Mexico as Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis (Book of Medicinal Herbs of the Indies) written in the Aztec (Nauhuatl) language by a native physician, Martín Cruz. This is probably an extremely early account of the medicine of the Aztecs although the formal illustrations, resembling European ones, suggest that the artists were following the traditions of their Spanish masters rather than an indigenous style of drawing.
1615 – Francisco Hernández – Rerum Medicarum of 1615. In 1570 Hernández (c.1514–1580) was sent from Spain to study the natural resources of New Spain (now Mexico). Here he drew on indigenous sources, including the extensive botanical gardens that had been established by the Aztecs, to record c. 1200 plants
1569 – Nicolás Monardes – Dos Libros contains the first published illustration of tobacco.

Western classical antiquity (c. 800 BCE – c. 500 CE)

In the period up to 1800 we see the origin of writing and inscriptions on public monuments, clay tablets, scrolls, parchment and paper (sometimes stored in vast libraries) as a record of commercial and legal transactions, the content later being amplified into more general forms of knowledge.

Substantial bibliographies are given in the Bloomsbury publications A Cultural History of Gardens in Antiquity. Volume 1. (2013), edited by Kathryn Gleason, and A Cultural History of Plants in Antiquity. Volume 1. (2022), edited by Annette Giesecke.

Lists of medicinal plants were compiled in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The literature of the maritime Phoenicians and the once magnificent city of Carthage are largely lost: they were succeeded by Greek traders, especially those of Ionia.

Ancient Greece

The first accounts of any length and substance come to us from the classical world, essentially Ancient Greece. Among these early compilations were the Hippocratic Corpus attributed to Hippocrates of Cos (c. 460-c. 370 BCE), the works of Theophrastus (c. 371-c. 287 BCE), the Enquiry into Plants and Causes of Plants. The Naturalis Historia of Roman Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), and then the De Materia Medica of Greco-Roman Dioscorides (40-90 CE) the latter two works are possibly compilations based on the Greek herbal, now lost, by Diocles of Carystius (c. 375-c. 295 BCE) an Athenian physician and contemporary of Theophrastus. Of lesser note are the works of Galen who in the Hellenistic Alexandrian tradition perpetuated the study of plant in the form of herbal medicine.

Of these few founding texts it would be the derivative De Materia that would, for over 1500 years, be regarded as the definitive authority on medicinal plants, copied and rehashed again and again.

The brief Ancient Greek interest in plants for their own sake, that glimmer of non-anthropocentric critical plant curiosity, began its decline in Hellenistic and Roman times, not returning until the Italian Renaissance.

Medicine of the Middle ages was inherited from the medicinal Hippocratic tradition that was perpetuated in the medical school at Alexandria and manifest in the writings of Galen (129- c. 200-216 CE). Plant knowledge was therefore medicinal knowledge.

Selection of literature from the period

The ancient Greeks gleaned much of their medicinal knowledge from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Hippocrates (460–377 BCE), the ‘Father of Medicine’ (renowned for the eponymous Hippocratic oath), used about 400 drugs, most being of plant origin. However, the first Greek herbal of any note was written by Diocles of Carystus in the fourth century BCE—although nothing remains of this except its mention in the written record. It was Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus (371–287 BCE) in his ‘Historia Plantarum’ (better known as the ”Enquiry into Plants”) and ‘De Causis Plantarum’ (”On the Causes of Plants”) that established the scientific method of careful and critical observation associated with modern botanical science. Based largely on Aristotle’s notes, the Ninth Book of his ”Enquiry” deals specifically with medicinal herbs and their uses including the recommendations of herbalists and druggists of the day, and his plant descriptions often included their natural habitat and geographic distribution. With the formation of the Alexandrian School c. 330 BCE medicine flourished and written herbals of this period included those of the physicians Herophilus, Mantias, Andreas of Karystos, Appolonius Mys, and Nicander. The work of rhizomatist (the rhizomati were the doctors of the day, berated by Theophrastus for their superstition) Krateuas (fl. 110 BCE) is of special note because he initiated the tradition of the illustrated herbal in the first century BCE.


c. 800 – Homer – Homeric poems, the Iliad and Odyssey. Plants referenced in these works are also referred to by historian Herodotus c. 440 BCE.
c. 500 – Hippocratic Corpus – Regarded by Tournefort as the foundational documents for ‘practical’ or utilitarian botany. Mostly about general medicine the botanical content is what today we would call pharmacology or pharmacognosy in contrast to the truly scientific work of Theophrastus. Impossible to assign some 60 texts all to Hippocrates of Cos himself these works are referred to as the Hippocratic Corpus. They are among the earliest prose texts preserved in Greek as they date from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. The Corpus includes over 1500 preparations, most employing plant ingredients. Plant descriptions are limited but the presentation serves as a model for later works.
c. 312 Theophrastus Historia Plantarum (Enquiry into Plants) and Causae Plantarum (Causes of Plants). In effect the first works of botanical science: botanical text books existing as annotated lecture notes.

Roman medicine

In the Roman empire medical education[6] continued without interruption in eastern centres that included Alexandria, Antioch, Cos, Ephesus, Pergamum and, later, Constantinople and Edessa.[6] In the western empire these works were the foundation of plant knowledge up to the early modern Italian Renaissance. The total number of recorded recorded plants bequeathed to us from antiquity numbers about 1000.

Apart from medical teaching in Rome, centres were established in other Italian cities and eventually medical schools were established in Carthage, Saragossa, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Lyon and elsewhere. Many of these would persist as medical schools associated with later universities in Medieval times (including those associated with the early modern botanic gardens) and up to the present day [6]

Botanical historian Alan Morton states that:

The first regular teacher in Rome was Asclepiades (c. 124/129-40 BCE) a Greek from Bithynia in Asia Minor an Epicurian and atomist. He was an empiric, laying stress on observation, and his therapy was principally dietetic … about 80 years after the institution of formal medical teaching in Rome, Cornelius Celsus published the first Latin list of 250 drug plants, closely followed by Scribonius Largius who gave 140 plants and equated the Greek and Latin names. Both pre-dated Piny, who cites Celsus as an authority but not Scribonius. The medical books of Celsus are a valuable and scholarly source of information on ancient medicine, written in elegant Latin; they were based on Greek sources including the writings of one Aufidius, a Sicillan physiclan. The Latin plant list of Celsus would therefore be derived directy from the Greek pharmacopoeia used in the Greek-speaking medical centres that long survived in Sicily and southern Italy.

Selection of literature from this period

65 – Pedanios Dioscorides – De Materia Medica Dioscorides (c. 40–90 CE; Greek, Περί ύλης ιατρικής, ‘On Medical materials’) was a physician in the Roman army and the single greatest classical authority on the subject producing the most influential herbal ever written, his work serving as a model for herbals and pharmacopoeias, both oriental and occidental, for the next 1000 years up to the Renaissance. It drew together much of the accumulated herbal knowledge of the time, including some 500 medicinal plants. The original has been lost but a lavishly illustrated Byzantine copy known as the ”Vienna Dioscurides” dating from about 512 CE remains.

c. 77-79 – Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) – Naturalis Historia is a synthesis of the information contained in about 2000 scrolls and it includes myths and folklore. There are about 200 extant copies of this work. It comprises 37 books of which sixteen (Books 12–27) are devoted to trees, plants and medicaments and, of these, seven describe medicinal plants. Along with Dioscorides’s De Materia Medica it is Pliny’s work that is the most frequently mentioned of the classical texts in the later Medieval herbals, even though the work De Simplicibus of Galen (131–201 CE) is more detailed and notable. Another Latin translation of Greek works that was widely copied in the Middle Ages, probably illustrated in the original, was that attributed to Apuleius and this also contained the alternative names for particular plants given in several languages. It dates to about 400 CE and a surviving copy dates to about 600 CE.

The following is a list of literature that is bequeathed to us from the classical world of Greece and Rome. Its contents have formed the foundation of the Western cultural tradition that includes the rich tradition of plants within western symbolic culture – the mythological connections, medicinal uses, and general plant knowledge of its day.

Aelianus – De natura animalium, Epistulae, Varia historia
Ambrosius – Expositio in Lucam
Apollodorus mythographus – Bibliotheca, Epitome
Apuleius – Metamorphoses
Apollonius Rhodius – Argonautica
Aristophanes – Lysistrata, Nubes, Plutus, Ranae, Thesmophoriazusae
Aristotle – De anima, De motu animalium, De divinatione per somnia, Ethica Eudemia, Ethica Nicomachea, De generatione animalium, De generatione et corruption, Historia animalium, De incessu animalium, De interpretation, Metaphysica, Meteorologica, De mirabilibus auscultationibus, De partibus animalium, Physica, Politica, Problemata, Rhetorica, De sensu
Arrian – Anabasis, Cynegeticus, Periplus Maris Euxini
Athenaeus – Deipnosophistae
Augustus – Res gestae
Bion– Idylls
Caesarius Arelatensis – Sermones
Cassiodorus – Expositio psalmorum, Institutiones, Variae,
Cato – De agricultura or De re rustica, Origines
Cicero – Epistulae ad Brutum, De amicitial, Epistulae ad Atticum, De divination, Epistulae ad familiars, De fato, De finibus, De legibus, De natura deorum, De officiis, Orator ad M. Brutum, Epistulae ad Quintum fratrem, Tusculanae disputationes, In Verrem
Clemens Alexandrinus – Protrepticus
Columella – De re rustica
Cornutus – Natura deorum
Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus – Catecheses ad illuminandos
Dionysius Halicarnassensis – Antiquitates Romanae
Dioscorides – De materia medica
Aelius Donatus – Vita Vergilii
Deuteronomy – Epistulae
Euripides – Bacchae, Iphigeneia Aulidensis, Medea
Eusebius Caesariensis – In Canticum Canticorum expositions, Chronica, Historia ecclesiastica
Fortunatinus Aquileiensis – Commentaria in Evangelia
Galen – De antidoto, De indolentia, Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae
Gregorius Magnus – Homiliae in Hiezchielem prophetam
Gregorius Nyssenus – Commentarius in Canticum Canticorum, Epistulae, Orationes
Herodotus – Historiae
Hesiod – Opera et Dies, Theogonia
Hippocrates – De diaeta in morbis acutis, De aera, aquis, locis, De articulis, Epistulae, Epidemiae, De genitura, De morbis, De morbo sacro, De mulierum affectibus, De natura muliebri, De natura pueri
De officina medici, De virginibus morbis, De vetere medicina
Hippolytus – Fragmentum Armenium in Canticum Canticorum
Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
Horace – Carmina or Odes, Epistulae, Epodi, Satirae or Sermones
Hyginus – Fabulae, Poetica astronomica
Isidorus – De viris illustribus, Etymologiae
Jerome – Commentarius in Ecclesiasten, Commentarius in Ioel, Commentarius in Zechariah
Ioannes Laurentius Lydus – De mensibus
Josephus – Antiquitates Judaicae, Contra Apionem, Bellum Judaicum
Lucian – De luctu, Dialogi meretricii
Lucretius – De rerum natura
Lycophron – Alexandra
Macrobius – Saturnalia
Martial – Epigrams
Menander – Perikeiromenē
Moschus – Europa
Nicander – Alexipharmaca
Nonnus – Dionysiaca
Olympiodorus – Commentarius in ecclesiasten
Origenes – In Canticum Canticorum homiliae, Scholia in Canticum Canticorum.
Ovid – Amores, Ars amatorial, Fasti, Heroides, Medicamina faciei, Metamorphoses, Remedia amoris, Tristia
Petronius – Satyrica
Philostratus – Imagines, Vita Apollonii
Pindar – Isthmian Odes, Nemean, Olympian, Pythian
Plato – Apologia, Leges, Phaedrus, Timaeus
Pliny (the Younger) – Epistulae
Pliny (the Elder) – Historia naturalis
Plutarch – Aemilius Paulus, Alcibiades, Alexander, Amatorius, Antonius, Caesar, Cato Maior, Cimon, Convivium septem sapientium, De fortuna Alexandri, De Iside et Osiride, De sollertia animalium, Marcellus, Moralia, Nero, Numa, Pericles, Pompeius, Quaestiones Romanae, Solon, Sulla, Timoleon, Vitae parallelae
Pollux – Onomasticon
Pseudo-Johannes Chrysostomos – Commentarius in Ecclesiasten
Pseudo-Paulinus Nolae – Carmina 4 Appendicis
Seneca – de Clementia, Epistulae
Scriptores Historiae Augustae – Aelius, Alexander Severus, Pius Antoninus Pius, Aurelian, Hadrian, Heliogabalus, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla)
Sophocles – Oedipus Coloneus, Oedipus Tyrannus
Statius – Silvae
Strabo – Geographica
Suetonius – Divus Augustus
Tacitus – Agricola, Annales, Germania, Historiae
Tertullian – Ad nationes
Theocritus – Idylls
Theophrastus – De causis plantarum, De odoribus, Historia plantarum
Varro – De lingua Latina, De re rustica
Virgil – Aeneid, Catalepton, Eclogues, Georgics
Vitruvius – De architectura
Xenophon – Anabasis, Cyropaedia, Oeconomicus

Islamic World

In the Arab world, by 900 the great Greek herbals had been translated and copies lodged in centres of learning in the Byzantine empire of the eastern Mediterranean including Byzantium, Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad where they were combined with the botanical and pharmacological lore of the Orient. In the Islamic Golden Age, Muslim botanists and Islamic medicine made a major contribution to the knowledge of herbal medicines. Those associated with this period include Masawaiyh (Mesue Maior, 777–857) who, in his ”Opera Medicinalia”, synthesized the knowledge of Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Indians and Babylonians, this work was complemented by the medical encyclopaedia of Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980–1037). Greene, pp. 433–443. Avicenna’s ”Canon of Medicine” was used for centuries in both East and West. Morton, p. 92. During this period Islamic science protected classical botanical knowledge that had been ignored in the West and Muslim pharmacy thrived. Morton, p. 82.

European Dark Ages – 200-1400


Following the military campaigns of Macedonian hero Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) western influence spread eastwards with Greek academies established in Syria, notably in its capital city Edessa. At this time Syria enjoyed a degree of independence from the rival Roman, Persian ard Chinese empires being situated at the confluence of north-south and east-west: trade routes that included the flow of goods along the Silk Road. Southern trade included west Arabia, India, and Sri Lanka via the Red Sea. When the Christian medical school in Edessa was closed in 469 CE the Nestorian [7] teachers moved to Jundeshapur in Persia where a new medical school and hospital became a prominent centre of learning for 300 years until the Arab conquest when Baghdad assumed this role. Jundeshapur also accepted Neo-Platonists when Emperor Justinian closed the Academy in Athens in 529.[14] The significance of these Syrian Nestorian scholars was in their translation (into Syrian and Arabic) of ancient Greek texts that might otherwise have been lost Commencing in Jundeshapur this continued more actively in Baghdad around the 9th century. It was from these sources that the classical works of Aristotle and others were passed on to Persia, Arabia, and other countries.

Known output of plant literature through this period is negligible. Towards the end of the 4th century the Roman physician Theodorus Priscianus produced a list of about 200 medicinal plants, a few not found in the classical lists s while Marcellus of Bordeaux (Marcellus Empiricus) in his Liber de Medicamentis (c. 408 ) had transcribed names directy from Scribonius Largius but with a few Gaulish names [13] In the encyclopaedic work of Isadore of Seville (612-616), compiled in the great encyclopaedic tradition of Pliny the Elder, plant information derives directly from Dioscorides, Pliny and others.


From Roman times until about the 9th century Western botanical knowledge was essentially confined to the work of Dioscorides, his work frequently attributed to other writers, and often presented in reduced excerpts, as in the Herbarium Apulelii. Monasteries became the centres of medicine and learning. Religiosi cared for the sick, maintained herb gardens that supplied the medicinal remedies for their patients, and copied manuscripts that were stored in their libraries and scriptoria. This would be the pattern of learning up to and including the advent of universities in the 12th century. Through the work of the Nestorians the works of Dioscordes had been beautifully reproduced, illustrated, and extended to include the Arab and classical Indian pharmacopoeia.

Eventually manuscripts in Syrian and Arabic were translated into Latin and sometimes back into Greek as they found their way back to Christendom. A major phase of translation from Arabic into Latin occurred between 1175 and 1225 when authentic translations of Hippocrates and Galen were made together with Aristotle’s zoology.

A small 9th century Western botanical revival can be traced to the influential medical school at Salerno in Italy which accessed Greek texts on medicine and botany from the nearby Benedictine monastery of Cassino. For over 300 years Salerno was a centre of medico-botanical learning. Around 1065 a Carthaginian Constantanus Africanus, who had travelled in India and Persia, returned to Salerno and then Cassino where he translated Arabic texts of Hippocrates and Galen into Latin, and other translations drew attention to Arabic and Oriental plants previously ignored in the West. In 1150 a popularised non-religious pharmacological herbal was produced at Salerno known as the Circa Instans (or The Book of Simple Medicines). It was attributed to the physician Matthaeus Platearius and it replaced the former popular Herbarium Apuleii and, though lacking botany, became the basis for herbals of the later Middle Ages, even surpassing the Materia Medica as the most popular manuscript herbals no doubt partly because of the fine illustrations that were included in later versions.

A range of publications was now being produced, and we see in Adelard of Bath’s Quaestiones Naturales (c.1130-1140), is an attempt to establish botany as a discipline in its own right, through the work of Hippocrates, though this would gather momentum with the rediscovery of Greek science and philosophy and the improvements in agriculture. The only new botanical works appear to be the medical encyclopaedia Canon of Medicine (1025) of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) which soon passed into widespread use in both West and East adding a few new plants to those formerly treated in classical texts.


The other translation into Latin from Arabic was the unimpressive De Plantis of Nicolaus Damascenus (born c. 64 BCE) a friend of the biblical Herod the Great. This was assumed, at that time, to be the work of Aristole and was eagerly learned and adapted by the influential Bishop of Cologne Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280) (tutor to Thomas Aquinas). The ideas of Damascenus were undoubtedly the foundation of Magnus’s treatise De Vegetabilis completed before 1256 and a great influence on later writers. Albert had been a student at the new University of Padua which was the leading scientific and medical institute in Italy at that time and it is possible he attended lectures based on Nicolaus and given by empiricist Franciscan friar Roger Bacon (c. 1219/20-1292) in Paris (not to be confused with the later Francis Bacon). This work, possibly filling a need of the times included valuable information on agriculture based on the work of Roman Palladius (about 350-450 CE), and constituted the most complete account of agriculture since the work of Columella (4-70 CE) and included original observations on plant morphology, anatomy, and ecology. However. it was essentially a work that still deferred to the authority of the past rather than participating in, and encouraging, innovation.(10)

In the 13th century a vibrant intellectual climate developed in the Arab world, especially under the Caliphate of Andalusia at the confluence of the Arab and European worlds. Here in Malaga, physician Ibn al-Baytar (1197-1248), after travelling the Mediterraean, produced a treatise on drugs that included about 1000 plants from classical sources along with about 200 new ones published in his Compendium on Simple Medicaments and Foods Unknown and untranslated in Europe this was a much-valued comprehensive account of Arab pharmacology.[10]

In the 14th and early 15th centuries the other-worldy Christian preoccupation with the afterlife and the academic Platonic conern with transcendant, timeless and eternal Forms was being challenged. Interest was gathering in the here, now, and material world. Among the scholastics in the new universites (which appeared in the 12th and 13th centuries) this move was known as Nominalism which regarded the phenomena of experience as the primary reality and which, by the late Middle Ages (c. 1301-1500) had become the prevailing view.

While the wealthy enjoyed the dubious skills of society physicians, in society at large there was an unwritten folk medicine and herbalism, practised mostly by women, including a preoccupation with potions, poisons, infusions, witchcraft, and sorcery as commonfolk resorted to travelling quacks and herb gatherers. However, monasteries had retained some of the wisdom of the past and pharmacological botany was now a key subject of the medical faculties of the new academia, both institutions showing the first tentative hints of a desire to bring some order into the hotch-potch of plant names. But this was far short of the scientific insights of Theophrastus.

In London Henry Daniel (fl. 1379) was a Dominican friar and physician who wrote a manuscript, still in existence concening de re herbaria, de arboribus, fruticibus, gemmis, mineris, animalibus, &c.. Daniel studied medicine and records 252 different kinds of plants growing in his garden in Stepney. This must rank among the first recorded private physic gardens in England with Daniel perhaps England’s first garden expert[17][18][19]

In 1450 Cardinal Nicholas de Cusa (1401-1464), one of the first German advocates of Renaissance humanism, speculated about quantitative methods of experimentation with plants.

Fifteenth century

During the Tang Dynasty, even before the 8th century, mechanical woodblock printing on paper was used in China, spreading to other East Asian countries and by the 13th century the use of movable metal type was being pioneered in Korea. Europe would eventually catch up with this new technology.

Gutenberg printing press

Around 1440 German Johannes Gutenberg adapted existing screw presses and other technology to facilitate the development of a hand mould that accelerated the production of movable type. This meant that text could be mass-produced in quantity as a means of public communication. The printing press soon spread to other European countries and by 1500 printing presses were in operation across Western Europe. Mechanical movable type introduced mass communication, the unrestricted circulation of information and ideas that would challenge political and religious authority. The ‘press’ was bom. Desire to read rapidly increased literacy breaking the traditional hold of literate elites on education and learning. With the wider availability of knowledge came an increased cultural awareness, nationalism, and pride in vernacular languages as Latin gradually lost favour among the educated. Later replacement of hand-operated Gutenberg presses by industrial steam-powered rotary presses would further accelerate mass communication.

Between about 1450 and 1500 more than twenty million volumes had been published and through the 16th century, as the new technology spread more widely, output increased to 150-200 million copies.[3] Driven by the Renaissance desire for classical learning libraries were scoured for original manuscripts, especially those in Greek. Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455) instituted a program of translation of manuscripts then existing in the Vatican library. Theophrastus’s two key works Historia Plantarum and Causae Plantarum were translated by Theodore Gaza, a Thessalonican Greek who had fled to Italy before 1430 when Greece had fallen under Turkish attack. In Italy Gaza had been appointed first Professor of Greek at the University of Ferrara then, later Professor of Philosophy in Rome. Though probably no botanist, and also clearly borrowing from Pliny’s translations, his rendering was sound and has established itself as the standard Latin translation. The manuscript he used for the translation is now lost.[11] Manuscript translations were of course available only to a select few so the year 1483 must stand cut in the history of plant science as the year when the recovered and translated botanical works of Theophrastus first appeared in printed books.[5] It is around this date that, at last, there is a revival of plant science associated with the Renaissance, printing press, and Scientific

The most comprehensive account of early English, Scottish, and lrish botanical and horicultural literature (the plants of ‘botany, gardening, horticulture and silviculture’) is that of Blanche Henrey (1975) and we get some perspective on the history of publishing in Britain from Henrey’s observation that ‘more than twice as many books were published in the years between 1800 and 1850 than in all the years before 1800’.[1]

Sixteenth century

The British press was slow to get established. Between 1500 and 1600 19 books were published in England (none in Scotland or Ireland). Of these 11 were about herbs and 8 about horticulture. The first appeared in about 1520 during the reign of Henry VIll as an anonymous account of grafting and planting published by Wynkyn de Worde. The first English press was established in 1476 by Caxton in London’s Westminster and at the time of Caxton’s death in 1491 both interest and publication was meagre. Wynkyn de Worde had followed Caxton and his first publication on plants was followed by the more popular Banckes’s The Grete Herball and two small books by William Turner and then publication gathered momentum in the years 1590-1600 during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603).

To understand the British publications, we need to look briefly at the history of herbals, especially as they evolved on the continent.


As examples of some of the world’s first plant records and printed matter researchers will find herbals scattered through the world’s most famous libraries including the Vatican library in Rome, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Royal Library in Windsor, the British Library in London, and the major continental libraries.

Early history

Herbals (Mediaeval Latin liber herbalis – book of herbs) made up the majority of the first European printed books on plants. They were a continuation of human interest in the medicinal properties of plants, no doubt deeply associated with religious and spiritual traditions, that can be traced back to lists of medicinal plants and their properties found on ancient Egyptian scrolls. Plant knowledge was a special domain controlled by the medicine man, priest. apothecary, and physician. This human preoccupation with the medicinal properties of plants is also found in the great ancient civilizations of India, China, and South America. The wod ‘herbal’ is sometimes contrasted with the word ‘florilegium’ which was a treatise on flowers, emphasising their beauty and enjoyment rather than their utility. The Herbal and Florilegium thus symbolize two great traditions on the history
of plants with the Herbal emphasis on the scientific or academic interest in plants, their properties, and utility while the Florilegium exemplifies the tradition of gardening and horticulture.

From the ancient Western world came the legacy of a small number of critical plant lists: the Hippocratic Corpus attibuted to Hippocrates of Cos (e. 480-c. 370 BCE), Theophrastus’s (c. 371-c. 287 BCE) proto-scientific works, the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), and the De Materia Medica by Dioscorides (40-90 CE). The De Materia Medica, though itself a derivative work, would be slavishly copied again and again for 1500 years up to and including the first printed herbals. At this time it was believed that wisdom, whether intellectual or religious, could only be obtained from the study and interpretation of great works from the past, that is, either from the ancient Greek philosophers or the Bible.

From about 1470 to 1670 it was Herbals that would occupy the bookshelves of those Europeans interested in plants.

A herbal is a book containing the names and descriptions of plants, usually with information on their medicinal, tonic, culinary, toxic, hallucinatory, aromatic, or magical powers, and the legends associated with them. A herbal may also classify the plants it describes, may give recipes for herbal extracts, tinctures, or potions, and sometimes include mineral and animal medicaments in addition to those obtained from plants. They were often illustrated to assist plant identification.

Continental herbals

From Spain and Portugal came the herbals of de Orta (1490-1570), Monardes (1493-1588), and Hemandez (1514-1580) and mention of plants from the New World and Asia. From Germany the works of Brunfels (1489-1534), Bock (1498-1554), and Fuchs (1501-1566), from the Low Countries Dodoens (1517-1585), appointed Protessor of Medicine in Leiden in 1582, Lobel (1538-1616) and Clusius (1526-1609). From Italy Mattiol (1501-1577) who studied at the University of Padua in 1523 and Alpino (1553-1617) who assisted the establishment of the botanic garden at this university in 1545. From England came the herbals of Turner (c 1508-1568), Gerard (1545-1612), Parkinson (1567-1650), and Culpeper (1616-1654).

John Parkinson (1567-1650) was physician to James I and Charies I and an outstanding botanist awarded the title Botanicus Regius Primarus (King’s First Botanist) for his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629). He described over 1.000 plants, many of these being new introductions, the descriptions embellished with woodcut illustrations. Significanty. Parkinson’s Paradisi …</em was subtitled ‘A Garden of Pleasant Flowers’ this probably being the first English work to consider flowers for their beauty rather than their use as herbs’ (Hobhouse 1994, p. 104). In his later years Parkinson was neighbour to John Tradescant (the Elder) (c. 1570s-1638) another eminent collector of Lambeth, London. Tradescant travelled to the Low Countries, Russia and North Africa, exciting public interest in plant collection. He wrote to the Secretary of the British Admiralty requesting that British merchants should procure all manner of curiosities from abroad’ (Drayton 2000, p. 34) His nursery business produced an impressive plant catalogue in 1634 and his son John (the Younger) (1608-1662) continued the tradition by collecting in Barbados and Virginia (Arber 1986), The father and son business named their collection of travel curios The Ark, which later became the first public museum in England. These collectables passed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The church at Lambeth where the Tradescants worshipped, with the family tomb in the grounds, was converted into a Garden Museum in the 1970s and, after refurbishment will
house a new gallery called The Ark, probably including some of the original collection (Emma House. Pers comm.).


The first herbals in Britain arrived from the continent as the Herbarium Apuleis printed in Rome in 1484. The first two Geman herbals were published by Peter Schoeffer of Mainz, his Latin Herbarius in 1484, followed by an updated and enlarged version the German Herbarius of 1485 which including woodout ilustrations.[8] The third German printed herbal was Hortus Sanitatus Major (1491) published by Jecob Meydentach in Mainz also

Seventeenth century

Up to 1550 it was religious works that were the favoured publications. The Middle Age home garden up to about the time of Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603) consisted of vegetables, herbs, officinals (medicinal plants) and fruit trees. The Boke of Husbandry was published in 1523. Increasing social security and wealth in her reign resulted in gardens for ‘beauty and pleasure’ and large private gardens became a feature of Elizabethan mansions and flowers were brought into the home. Specialist medicinal gardens set the tone for the later famous physic gardens at Oxford, Chelsea and Edinburgh and plants gathered by travelers and explorers were treasured. Works on grafting from this period published c. 1520, 1563, 1565 may have been derived from Palladius. The first book on general gardening was that of Thomas Hill, The Proffitable Arte of Gardening (1568) – ‘a most briefe and pleasaunte treatise, teaching how to dresse, sowe, and set a garden c. 1557-1559‘. This was a work borrowing from the Roman writers Palladius, Columella, Varro, Ruellius, Dryophanes, Cato etc. The Elizabethan garden was formal and square with rectilinear knots, patterns and mazes as parterres in the French tradition. In 1577 Hill published another book, The Gardener’s Labyrinth, which included woodcut illustrations. The few other Tudor publications leaned heavily on earlier Dutch and French works.

In the 17th century there were five times the number of books on botany and horticulture than in all previous times.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) the English philosopher, statesman, scientist and author penned an essay On Gardens as a Renaissance invitation to English and Western horticulture, describing gardening as ‘… the purest of human pleasures’.

===Albertus Magnus – ”De Vegetabilibus”===
[[File:AlbertusMagnus.jpg|thumb|upright|[[Albertus Magnus]] c. 1193–1280, author of ”De Vegetabilibus”]] {{Main article|Albertus Magnus}}

In the thirteenth century, scientific inquiry was returning and this was manifest through the production of encyclopaedias; those noted for their plant content included a seven volume treatise by Albertus Magnus (c. 1193–1280) a Suabian educated at the University of Padua and tutor to [[St Thomas Aquinas]]. It was called ”De Vegetabilibus” (c. 1256 AD) and even though based on original observations and plant descriptions it bore a close resemblance to the earlier Greek, Roman and Arabic herbals.Arber, p. 12. Other accounts of the period include ”De Proprietatibus Rerum” (c. 1230–1240) of English Franciscan monk [[Bartholomaeus Anglicus]] and a group of herbals called ”Tractatus de Herbis” written and pained between 1280 and 1300 by [[Matthaeus Platearius]] at the East-West cultural centre of Salerno Spain, the illustrations showing the fine detail of true botanical illustration.Pavord, p. 111

==Western Europe==
[[File:Elizabeth Blackwell00.jpg|thumb|left|upright|Illustration from [[Elizabeth Blackwell (illustrator)|Elizabeth Blackwell]]’s ”A Curious Herbal” (1737)]]

Perhaps the best known herbals were produced in Europe between 1470 and 1670.Arber, p. 11. The invention in Germany of printing from movable type in a printing press c. 1440 was a great stimulus to herbalism. The new herbals were more detailed with greater general appeal and often with Gothic script and the addition of woodcut illustrations that more closely resembled the plants being described.

Three important herbals, all appearing before 1500, were printed in Mainz, Germany. Two of these were by [[Peter Schoeffer]], his Latin ”Herbarius” in 1484, followed by an updated and enlarged German version in 1485, these being followed in 1491 by the ”Hortus Sanitatis” printed by [[Jacob Meyderbach]].Raphael, p. 249. Other early printed herbals include the ”Kreuterbuch” of [[Hieronymus Tragus]] from Germany in 1539 and, in England, the ”New Herball” of William Turner in 1551 were arranged, like the classical herbals, either alphabetically, according to their medicinal properties, or as “herbs, shrubs, trees”.Stuart, p. 21. Arrangement of plants in later herbals such as ”Cruydboeck” of [[Dodoens]] and John Gerard’s ”Herball” of 1597 became more related to their physical similarities and this heralded the beginnings of scientific [[classification (biology)|classification]]. By 1640 a herbal had been printed that included about 3800 plants – nearly all the plants of the day that were known.Stuart, p. 22.

In the [[Modern Age]] and [[Renaissance]], European herbals diversified and innovated, and came to rely more on direct observation than being mere adaptations of traditional models. Typical examples from the period are the fully illustrated ”De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes” by [[Leonhart Fuchs]] (1542, with over 400 plants), the [[astrology|astrologically]] themed ”[[Complete Herbal]]” by [[Nicholas Culpeper]] (1653), and the ”Curious Herbal” by [[Elizabeth Blackwell (illustrator)|Elizabeth Blackwell]] (1737).

===Anglo-Saxon herbals===
Anglo-Saxon plant knowledge and gardening skills (the garden was called a ”wyrtzerd”, literally, herb-yard) appears to have exceeded that on the continent.Rohde, p. 89. Our limited knowledge of [[Anglo-Saxon]] plant vernacular comes primarily from manuscripts that include: the [[Bald’s Leechbook|Leechbook of Bald]] and the [[Lacnunga]].Anderson, p. 23. The Leechbook of Bald (Bald was probably a friend of [[King Alfred]] of England) was painstakingly produced by the scribe Cild in about 900–950 CE. This was written in the [[vernacular]] (native) tongue and not derived from Greek texts.Rohde, pp. 5–7. The oldest illustrated herbal from Saxon times is a translation of the Latin ”Herbarius Apulei Platonici”, one of the most popular medical works of medieval times, the original dating from the fifth century; this Saxon translation was produced about 1000–1050 CE and is housed in the British Library.Rohde, pp. 9–10. Another vernacular herbal was the ”Buch der natur” or “Book of Nature” by [[Konrad von Megenberg]] (1309–1374) which contains the first two botanical woodcuts ever made; it is also the first work of its kind in the vernacular.

===Anglo-Norman herbals===
In the 12th and early 13th centuries, under the influence of the [[Norman conquest]], the herbals produced in Britain fell less under the influence of France and Germany and more that of Sicily and the Near East. This showed itself through the [[Byzantine]]-influenced [[Romanesque art|Romanesque]] framed illustrations. Anglo-Saxon herbals in the vernacular were replaced by herbals in Latin including Macers Herbal, ”De Viribus Herbarum” (largely derived from Pliny), with the English translation completed in about 1373.Rohde, p. 42.

===Fifteenth-century incunabula===
The earliest printed books and broadsheets are known as [[incunabula]]. The first printed herbal appeared in 1469, a version of Pliny’s ”[[Natural History (Pliny)|Historia Naturalis]]”; it was published nine years before Dioscorides ”De Materia Medica” was set in type. Important incunabula include the encyclopaedic ”De Proprietatibus Rerum” of [[Franciscan]] monk [[Bartholomew Anglicus]] (c. 1203–1272) which, as a manuscript, had first appeared between 1248 and 1260 in at least six languages and after being first printed in 1470 ran to 25 editions.Anderson, pp. 59–60. Assyrian physician [[Mesue]] (926–1016) wrote the popular ”De Simplicibus”, ”Grabadin” and ”Liber Medicinarum Particularum” the first of his printings being in 1471. These were followed, in Italy, by the ”Herbarium” of [[Pseudo-Apuleius|Apuleius Platonicus]] and three German works published in Mainz, the ”Latin Herbarius” (1484), the first herbal published in Germany, ”German Herbarius” (1485), the latter evolving into the ”[[Ortus Sanitatis]]” (1491). To these can be added [[Aemilius Macer|Macer]]’s ”De Virtutibus Herbarum”, based on Pliny’s work; the 1477 edition is one of the first printed and illustrated herbals.Blunt & Raphael, p. 114.

===Fifteenth-century manuscripts===
In medieval times, medicinal herbs were generally referred to by the apothecaries (physicians or doctors) as “[[herb|simple]]s” or “[[officinal]]s”. Before 1542, the works principally used by apothecaries were the treatises on simples by [[Avicenna]] and [[Serapion the Younger|Serapion]]’s ”Liber De Simplici Medicina”. The ”De Synonymis” and other publications of Simon Januensis, the ”Liber Servitoris” of Bulchasim Ben Aberazerim, which described the preparations made from plants, animals and minerals, provided a model for the chemical treatment of modern pharmacopoeias. There was also the ”[[Antidotarium Nicolai]]” of Nicolaus de Salerno, which contained [[Galen]]ical compounds arranged in alphabetical order.[ Encyclopædia Britannica 1901.]

===Spain and Portugal – de Orta, Monardes, Hernandez===
The Spaniards and Portuguese were explorers, the Portuguese to India ([[Vasco da Gama]]) and Goa where physician [[Garcia de Orta]] (1490–1570) based his work ”Coloquios dos Simples” (1563). The first botanical knowledge of the [[New World]] came from Spaniard [[Nicolas Monardes]] (1493–1588) who published ”Dos Libros” between 1569 and 1571.Arber, pp. 104–108. The work of Hernandez on the herbal medicine of the Aztecs has already been discussed.

===Germany – Bock, Brunfels and Fuchs===
{{further|Hans Weiditz}}
[[File:Otto Brunfels01.jpg|thumb|upright|A [[Hans Weiditz]] hand-coloured woodcut from [[Otto Brunfels]]’ ”Herbarum Vivae Eicones”]] [[Otto Brunfels]] (c. 1489–1534), [[Leonhart Fuchs]] (1501–1566) and [[Hieronymus Bock]] (1498–1554) were known as the “German fathers of botany”Anderson, p. 51. although this title belies the fact that they trod in the steps of the scientifically feted [[Hildegard of Bingen]] whose writings on herbalism were ”Physica” and ”Causae et Curae” (together known as ”Liber subtilatum”) of 1150. The original manuscript is no longer in existence but a copy was printed in 1533.Anderson, pp. 51–58. Another major herbalist was [[Valerius Cordus]] (1515–1544).{{Cite journal |ref=harv |title = The Herbal of Valerius Cordus |year=1939 |last= Sprague |first= T. A. |journal = The Journal of the Linnean Society of London |publisher= Linnean Society of London |volume = LII |issue = 341}}

The 1530, ”Herbarum Vivae Eicones” of Brunfels contained the admired botanically accurate original woodcut colour illustrations of Hans Weiditz along with descriptions of 47 species new to science. Bock, in setting out to describe the plants of his native Germany, produced the ”New Kreuterbuch” of 1539 describing the plants he had found in the woods and fields but without illustration; this was supplemented by a second edition in 1546 that contained 365 woodcuts. Bock was possibly the first to adopt a botanical classification in his herbal which also covered details of ecology and plant communities. In this, he was placing emphasis on botanical rather than medicinal characteristics, unlike the other German herbals and foreshadowing the modern [[Flora]]. ”De Historia Stirpium” (1542 with a German version in 1843) of Fuchs was a later publication with 509 high quality woodcuts that again paid close attention to botanical detail: it included many plants introduced to Germany in the sixteenth century that were new to science.Anderson, pp. 121–147. The work of Fuchs is regarded as being among the most accomplished of the Renaissance period.Singer, p. 112.

===Low Countries – Dodoens, Lobel, Clusius===
The Flemish printer [[Christopher Plantin]] established a reputation publishing the works of Dutch herbalists [[Rembert Dodoens]] and [[Carolus Clusius]] and developing a vast library of illustrations.Raphael, p. 250. Translations of early Greco-Roman texts published in German by Bock in 1546 as ”Kreuterbuch” were subsequently translated into [[Dutch language|Dutch]] as ”Pemptades” by Dodoens (1517–1585) who was a Belgian botanist of world renown. This was an elaboration of his first publication ”Cruydeboeck” (1554).Anderson, pp. 173–180. [[Matthias de Lobel]] (1538–1616) published his ”Stirpium Adversaria Nova” (1570–1571) and a massive compilation of illustrationsArber, pp. 90–92. while Clusius’s (1526–1609) magnum opus was ”Rariorum Plantarum Historia” of 1601 which was a compilation of his Spanish and Hungarian floras and included over 600 plants that were new to science.Arber, pp. 84–88. In 1605 Clusius pblished Exoticorum Libri Decem which was the first account of plants imported to the Netherlands.

===Italy – Mattioli, Calzolari, Alpino===
[[File:Appolinaris._Chamomeleon._Sliatriceo._Narcissus.jpg|thumb|left|upright|Early Italian manuscript herbal, c. 1500. Plants illustrated are ”[[Appolinaris]]”, ”[[Chamomeleon]]”, ”[[Sliatriceo]]” and ”[[Narcissus (plant)|Narcissus]]”]]

In Italy, two herbals were beginning to include botanical descriptions. Notable herbalists included [[Pietro Andrea Mattioli]] (1501–1577), physician to the Italian aristocracy and his ”Commentarii” (1544), which included many newly described species, and his more traditional herbal ”Epistolarum Medicinalium Libri Quinque” (1561). Sometimes, the local flora was described as in the publication ”Viaggio di Monte Baldo” (1566) of [[Francisco Calzolari]]. [[Prospero Alpino]] (1553–1617) published in 1592 the highly popular account of overseas plants ”De Plantis Aegypti” and he also established a [[botanical garden]] in Padua in 1542, which together with those at Pisa and Florence, rank among the world’s first.Arber, pp. 92–101.

England – Turner, Gerard, Parkinson, Culpeper
The first true herbal printed in Britain was Richard Banckes’s Herball of 1525Arber, p. 41. which, although popular in its day, was unillustrated and soon eclipsed by the most famous of the early printed herbals, Peter Treveris’s Grete Herball of 1526 (derived in turn from the derivative French Grand Herbier).Rohde, pp. 65–67.

[[File:John-Parkinson.jpg|thumb|150px|right|An engraving of Parkinson from his work ”Theatrum Botanicum” (1640), reprinted in [[Agnes Arber]]’s ”Herbals”]]

William Turner (?1508–7 to 1568) was an English [[naturalist]], botanist, and [[theologian]] who studied at [[Cambridge University]] and eventually became known as the “father of English botany.” His 1538 publication ”Libellus de re Herbaria Novus” was the first essay on scientific botany in English. His three-part ”A New Herball” of 1551–1562–1568, with woodcut illustrations taken from Fuchs, was noted for its original contributions and extensive medicinal content; it was also more accessible to readers, being written in vernacular English. Turner described over 200 species native to England.Anderson, p. 152. and his work had a strong influence on later eminent botanists such as [[John Ray]] and [[Jean Bauhin]].

John Gerard (1545–1612) is the most famous of all the English herbalists.Raphael, p. 251. His ”Herball” of 1597 is, like most herbals, largely derivative. It appears to be a reformulation of Hieronymus Bock’s ”Kreuterbuch” subsequently translated into [[Dutch language|Dutch]] as ”Pemptades” by [[Rembert Dodoens]] (1517–1585), and thence into [[English language|English]] by [[Carolus Clusius]], (1526–1609) then re-worked by [[Henry Lyte (botanist)|Henry Lyte]] in 1578 as ”A Nievve Herball”. This became the basis of Gerard’s ”Herball” or ”General Historie of Plantes”.Blunt & Raphael, pp. 164–166. that appeared in 1597 with its 1800 woodcuts (only 16 original). Although largely derivative, Gerard’s popularity can be attributed to his evocation of plants and places in Elizabethan England and to the clear influence of gardens and gardening on this work.Rohde, p. 98.
He had published, in 1596, ”Catalogus” which was a list of 1033 plants growing in his garden.Reed, p. 70.

John Parkinson (1567–1650) was apothecary to [[James I of England|James I]] and a founding member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. He was an enthusiastic and skilful gardener, his garden in Long Acre being stocked with rarities. He maintained an active correspondence with important English and Continental botanists, herbalists and plantsmen importing new and unusual plants from overseas, in particular the [[Levant]] and [[Virginia]]. Parkinson is celebrated for his two monumental works, the first ”Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris” in 1629: this was essentially a gardening book, a [[florilegium]] for which [[Charles I of England|Charles I]] awarded him the title ”Botanicus Regius Primarius” – Royal Botanist. The second was his ”Theatrum Botanicum” of 1640, the largest herbal ever produced in the English language. It lacked the quality illustrations of Gerard’s works, but was a massive and informative compendium including about 3800 plants (twice the number of Gerard’s first edition ”Herball”), over 1750 pages and over 2,700 woodcuts.Anderson, p. 227. This was effectively the last and culminating herbal of its kind and, although it included more plants of no discernible economic or medicinal use than ever before, they were nevertheless arranged according to their properties rather than their natural affinities.Anderson, pp. 230, 234.

{{Wikiquote|Nicholas Culpeper}}
Nicholas Culpeper (1616–1654) was an English [[botanist]], [[herbalist]], [[physician]], [[apothecary]] and [[astrologer]] from London’s East End.{{cite web |url= |title=Nicholas Culpeper: Herbalist of the People |author=Davis, Dylan Warren |date=January 2005 | |accessdate=2010-07-14}} His published books were ”A Physicall Directory”{{cite web |url=|title=A Physicall Directory |author=Culpeper, Nicholas|year=1649 |accessdate=2010-07-15}} (1649), which was a pseudoscientific pharmacopoeia. ”The English Physitian”{{cite web|url=|title=The English Physitian|author=Culpeper, Nicholas|year=1652|accessdate=2010-07-15}} (1652) and the ”Complete Herbal”{{cite web |url= |title=The Complete Herbal|author= Culpeper, Nicholas |year=1653 |accessdate=2010-07-15}} (1653), contain a rich store of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge. His works lacked scientific credibility because of their use of [[astrology]], though he combined diseases, plants and astrological prognosis into a simple integrated system that has proved popular to the present day.

Timeline of printed herbals from 1470 to 1670

The standard reference on this subject is Herbals by Agnes Arber, first printed in 1912 but with subsequent second and third editions. The third edition has an introduction by William Stearn who also supplemented the already extensive bibliography. Appendix I lists the major first edition Herbals that were published between 1470 and 1670, the following being a brief summary and adaptation of that list. It is not comprehensive but intended to give an impression of the herbal literature available in Europe at this time, the principal authors and the places where they worked and published.

?1472 – Bartholomaeus Anglicus – Liber de Prprietatibus Rerum – ?Cologne
1475 – Konrad der Megenberg – Augsburg
1477 – Aemilius Macer – Brussells
1478 – Dioscorides – Medemblick. De Materia Medica of Dioscorides First edition in Latin
?1481 – Apuleis Platonicus – Rome
1483 – Theophrastus – De Causis Plantarum – First Latin edition
1484 – The Latin Herbarius – Peter Schöffer. Mainz
1485 – The German Herbarius
1491 – Jacobus Meydenbach – Ortus Sanitatis – Moguntia
1500 – Hieronymus Braunschweig
1516 – Johannes Ruellius
1525 – Herball. Rycharde Banckes. London
pre 1526 – Grand Herbier – Paris
1530 – Otto Brunfelsius – Herbarum Vivae Icones
1533 – Eucharius Rhodion – Kreutterbüch. Frankfurt
1536 – Amatus Lusitanus – Index Dioscoridis …
1536 – Johannes Ruellius – De Natura Stirpium … Paris
1537 – Antonia Brassavola – Examen omnium simplicium . . .
1538 – William Turner – Libellus de re herbaria . . . London
1539 – Hieronymus Tragus (Jerome Bock) – New Kreüter Bůch . . . Strassburg
1541 – Conradus Gesnerus (Konrad Gesner) – Historia Plantarum . . . Paris
1542 – Leonhardus Fuchsius (Leonhart Fuchs) – De Historia Stirpium . . .
1542 – Conradus Gesnerus (Konrad Gesner) – Catalogus Platarum Latinè, Graecè, Germanicè et Gallicè . . .
1544 – Petrus Matthiolus (Pierandrea Mattioli) – Di Pedacio Dioscoride . . . in lingua volgare Italiana
1548 – William Turner – The names of Herbes in Greke, Latin, Englishe, Duche and Frenche wyth the Commune Names that Herbaries and Apotecaries use London
1551 – William Turner – A New Herball London
1553 – Amatus Lusitanus (J.R. de Castell-Branco) – In Dioscoridis . . . Venice
1553 – Petrus Bellonius (Pierre Belon) – De Arboribus Coniferis . . .
1554 – Rembertus Dodonaeus (Rembert Dodoens) – Cruydeboeck
1559 – Bartholomaeus Maranta – Methodi Cognoscendorum Simplicium . . . Venice
1561 – Luigi Anguillara – Semplici dell’ Excellente . . .
1561 – Valerius Cordus – In Hoc Volumine Continentur . . .
1563 – Garcia ab Horto (de Orta, de Horta) – Coloquios dos Simples, e Drogas . . .
1564 – Antonius Mizaldus (Antoine Mizauld) – Alexikepus, seu Auxiliaris Hortus . . .
1566 – Rembertus Dodonaeus (Rembert Dodoens) – Frumentorum, Leguminum, Palustrium . . .
1568 – Rembertus Dodonaeus (Rembert Dodoens) – Florum et Coronarium . . . Antwerp
1569 – Nicolas Monardes Dos Libros . . . Seville
1570 – Paracelsus (Bombast von Hohenheim) – Ettliche Tractatus . . . Strrassburg
1570 – Mathias Lobelius (de l’Obel or de Lobel) – & Petrus Pena (Pierre Pena) – Stirpium Adversaria . . . London
1571– Petrus Andreas Matthiolus (Pierandrea Mattioli) – Compendium de Plantis Omnibus . . . Venice
1571 Nicolaus Winckler – Chronica Herbarum . . .
1574 – Rembertus Dodonaeus – Purgantium Aliarumque . . . Antwerp
1575 – Bartholomaeus Carrichter – Kreutterbuch . . . Strassburg
1576 – Carolus Clusius (Charles de l’Écluse) – Rariorum Aliquot . . . Antwerp
1578 – Christoval Acosta Tractado de las Drogas . . .
1578 – Leonhardus Thurneisserus (Leonhardt Thurneisser zum Thurn) Historia Sive Descriptio Plantaryum . . .
1580 – Rembertus Dodonaeus Historia vitis Vinique . . .
1581 – Mathias Lobelius (Mathias de Lobel or del’Obel) – Plantarum Seu Stirpium Icones . . . Anterp
1582-3 – Leonhard Rauwolff Aigentliche Beschreibug der Raiss . . . (fourth part with woodcuts)
1583 – Andreas Caesalpinus (Andrea Caesalpino) De Plantis Libri . . . Florence
1583 – Carolous Clusius (Charles de l’Ecluse) – Car Clusii Atrebatis Rariorum Aliquot Stirpium . . . Antwerp
1583 – Rembertus Dodoens – Stirpium Historiae Pemptades . . .
1584 – Geofroy Linocier – L’Histoire des Plantes . . . Paris
1585 – Castor Durante – Herbario Nuovo . . .
1586 – Andreas Petrus Matthiolus (Pierandrea Mattioli) – De Plantis Epitome Utillissima . . . Frankfurt
1586 – Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues – Le Chef des Champs . . .
1586-7 – Jacobus Dalechampius (Jacques d’Aléchamps or Daléchamps) – Historia Generalis Plantarum . . .
1588 – Joachim Camerarius – Hortus Medicus et Philosophicus . . . Frankfurt
1588 – Johannes Baptista Porta (Giambattista Porta) – Phytognomica . . . Naples
1588, 1591 – Jacobus Theodorus Tabernaemontanus (Jacob Dietrich) – Neuw Kreuterbuch . . . Frankfurt
1592 – Prosper Alpinus (Prospero Alpino) – De Plantis Aegypti . . .
1592 – Fabius Columna (Fabio Colonna) – . . . Sive Plantarum Aliquot Historia . . .
1592 – Adam Zaluziansky von Zaluzian – Methodi Herbariae . . . Prague
1596 – Casparus Bauhinus (Gaspard Bauhin) – . . . Seu Enumeratio Plantarum . . . Basle
1597 – John Gerarde – The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes . . . London
1601 – Casparus Bauhin – Animadversiones In Historiam Generalem Plantarum . . . Frankfurt
1601 – Carolus Clusius – Caroli Clusii Atrebatis . . . Rariorum Plantarum Antwerp
1606 – Fabius Columna (Fabio Colonna) Minus Cognitarum Stirpium . . . Rome
1606 – Adrianus Spegelius (A. Spieghel) – Isagoges in Rem Herbariam Libri . . .
1611 – Paulus Renealmus (Paul Renealme) – Specimen Historiae Plantarum . . . Paris
1612 – Johannes Theodorus de Bry – Florilegium Novum. Frankfurt
1613 – Basilius Beslerus (Basil Besler) – Hortus Eystettensis . . . Eichstadt
1614 – Passaeus Crsipianus – Hortus Floridus . . . Utrecht
1615 – Francisco Hernandez – Quattro Libros . . .
1616 – Johannes Olorinus (Johann Sommer)- Centuria Herbarum Mirabilium . . . Magdeberg
1619 – Johannes Bauhinus (Jean Bauhin) & J.H. Cherlerus (J.H. Cherler) .. Historiae Plantarum Generalis . . .
1620 – Casparus Bauhinus (Gaspard Bauhin) – . . . Theatri Botanici . . . Frankfurt
1622 – Anon (Daniel Rabel) – Theatrum Florae Paris
1623 – Casparus Bauhinus (Gaspard Bauhin) – . . . Theatri Botanici . . . Frankfurt
1625 – Johann Popp (Johanne Poppe) – Kreuter Buch . . . Leipzig
1628 – Guy de la Brosse – De la Nature . . .
1629 – Thomas Johnson – Iter Plantarum Investigationis . . . London
1629 – John Parkinson – Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris . . . A Garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permit to be noursed up . . . This is the first English book devoted to garden flowers and signalled the general transition from subsistence to ornamental gardens among a segment of society
1631 – Antonio Donati – Trattato des Semplici . . . Venice
1634 – Thomas Johnson – Mercurius Botanicus . . . London
1640 – John Parkinson – Theatrum Botanicum: the Theater of Plants London
1649 – Nicholas Culpeper – A Physicall Directory or A Translation of the London Dispensatory Made by the College of Physicians in London . . . London
1650 – William How – Phytologia Britannica . . . London
1656 – William Cole – The Art of Simpling London
1657 – William Cole – Adam in Eden or Nature’s Paradise . . . London
1658 – Casparus Bauhinus (Gaspard Bauhin) – . . . Theatri Botanici . . . Basle
1659 – Robert Lovell – . . . Enchiridion Botanicum, or A Compleat Herball . . . Oxford
1662 – Johannes Johnstonus (John Johnstone) – Dendrographias . . . Frankfurt
1664 – Robert Turner – The British Physician: or The Nature and Vertues of English Plants London
1666 – Dominicus Chabraeus (D. Chabrey) – Stirpium Icones . . . Geneva
1667-1668 – Ulysses Aldrovandus (Ulisse Aldrovandi) – Dendrologie Naturalis . . . (possibly misattributed)
1670 – Petrus Nylandt – De Nederlandtse Herbarius . . . Amsterdam

Legacy of the herbals

The legacy of the herbal extends beyond medicine to botany and horticulture. Herbal medicine is still practiced in many parts of the world but the traditional grand herbal, as described here, ended with the European Renaissance, the rise of modern medicine and the use of synthetic and industrialized drugs. The medicinal component of herbals has developed in several ways. Firstly, discussion of Plant lore was reduced and with the increased medical content there emerged the official pharmacopoeia. The first British Pharmacopoeia was published in the English language in 1864, but gave such general dissatisfaction both to the medical profession and to chemists and druggists that the General Medical Council brought out a new and amended edition in 1867. Secondly, at a more popular level, there are the books on culinary herbs and herb gardens, medicinal and useful plants. Finally, the enduring desire for simple medicinal information on specific plants has resulted in contemporary herbals that echo the herbals of the past, an example being Maud Grieve’s ”A Modern Herbal”, first published in 1931 but with many subsequent editions.[22]

The magical and mystical side of the herbal also lives on. Herbals often explained plant lore, displaying a superstitious or spiritual side. There was, for example, the fanciful doctrine of signatures, the belief that there were similarities in the appearance of the part of the body affected the appearance of the plant to be used as a remedy. The astrology of Culpeper can be seen in contemporary anthroposophy, (biodynamic gardening) and alternative medical approaches like homeopathy, aromatherapy and other new age medicine show connections with herbals and traditional medicine.

It is sometimes forgotten that the plants described in herbals were grown in special herb gardens (physic gardens). Such herb gardens were, for example, part of the medieval monastery garden that supplied the simples or officinals used to treat the sick being cared for within the monastery. Early physic gardens were also associated with institutes of learning, whether a monastery, university or herbarium. It was this medieval garden of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, attended by apothecaries and physicians, that established a tradition leading to the systems gardens of the eighteenth century (gardens that demonstrated the classification system of plants) and the modern botanical garden. The advent of printing, woodcuts and metal engraving improved the means of communication. Herbals prepared the ground for modern botanical science by pioneering plant description, classification and illustration.[23] From the time of the ancients like Dioscorides through to Parkinson in 1629, the scope of the herbal remained essentially the same.[24]

It is the herbal that launches the first tentative attempts at descriptive botany. Up to the seventeenth century, botany and medicine were one and the same, but gradually greater emphasis was placed on other aspects of the plants themselves, rather than their medicinal properties and other human uses. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, plant description and classification began to relate plants to one another and not to man. This was the first glimpse of non-anthropocentric botanical science since Theophrastus and, coupled with the new system of binomial nomenclature, resulted in “scientific herbals” called ”Floras” that detailed and illustrated the plants growing in a particular region. These books were often backed by herbaria, collections of dried plants that verified the plant descriptions given in the Floras. In this way modern botany, especially plant taxonomy, was born out of medicine. As herbal historian Agnes Arber remarks – “Sibthorp’s monumental ”Flora Graeca” is, indeed, the direct descendant in modern science of the ”De Materia Medica” of Dioscorides.”[16]

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