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John Gerard’s English herbal

The Lee Library recently digitized a well-known book of early modern English science: the 1633 edition of John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall historie of plantes (online at https://archive.org/details/herballorgeneral1633gera). Gerard was a surgeon and herbalist who curated the Royal College of Physicians’ garden of medicinal plants. He first published his herbal, which is a type of encyclopedia of plants focusing on their medicinal properties, in 1597. BYU’s copy of the 1597 edition is incomplete.

Gerard took his text from a 1554 herbal by botanist Rembert Dodoens, but added his own observations and descriptions based on the plants he grew. Gerard’s herbal is the first to illustrate the potato (seen in the image above) and also contains information about rare plants cultivated in England. As was common, Gerard’s herbal is not organized alphabetically, either by the English or Latin plant names. It is indexed both by plant name and by the “virtues” or medicinal properties of the plants.

For more information on Special Collections’ early botanical books, see the “Brief History of Natural History” collections guide. Other examples can be found in the library catalog by searching on the subject term “Botany—early works to 1800.”



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