The Earliest Herbals

We have a copy of ‘Culpeper’s English physician; and complete herbal’ written in the 17th century in the Special Collections Centre

Circulating Now from NLM

By Michael North

This post is the first in a series exploring the National Library of Medicine’s rich and varied collection of “herbals,” which are books devoted to the description of medicinal plants (and sometimes other natural substances) with instructions on how to use them to treat illness. The Library’s herbals are some of the most beautifully illustrated books in the collection, and many contain information that has not yet been investigated using modern scientific methods.

A simple botanical illustration of gladiolus bulbs with leaves and flowers. “Gladiolus,” Theophrastus, De Historia Plantarum (Amsterdam: Hendrick Laurensz, 1644).

Many of the earliest medical writings were herbals, which described plants and how they could be used to heal illnesses. Most of these written treatises likely began as traditional oral information, passed down from generation to generation, sometimes as wider cultural information and sometimes as secrets kept within families or small social groups. Often these collections of knowledge included other natural materials in the environment…

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Medical Library, University of Aberdeen

The team in the Medical Library at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland

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