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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The “Wound Man” in Two Recent Acquisitions

Circulating Now from NLM

By Margaret Kaiser

The “wound man” was a most popular image, especially in early printed books. Pierced by a variety of weapons, he demonstrated the possible wounds and injuries a physician might be called on to treat. Two of the Library’s recent sixteenth century acquisitions have examples of the “wound man.”

The first is from Joannes de Ketham’s In disem biechlin find ma[n] gar ain schöne underwysung un[d] leer wie sich die Cyrurgici oder wundartz gegen ainen jeglichen verwundten menschen, Es sey mit schiessen, howen, stichen… [In this booklet one finds a nice instruction and teaching of how the surgeons or wound doctor towards any wounded person, be it with shots, strikes, slashes…], circa 1515.

Title page printed in red and black, with ornamental border; title above "wound man" illustration. The figure of a man whose body has been pierced by a variety of weapons swords, knives, arrows, and clubs. He is also being bitten by a dog, a scorpion, and a spider.This book is a very early edition of the translation into German of Ketham’s Fasciculus medicinae, a collection of medical texts, and the first printed book to contain anatomic illustrations. All of the editions…

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