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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/69

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65
ENGLISH HERBALS.

ENGLISH HERBALS.
By AGNES ROBERTSON, B. Sc.,

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON.

IN the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there was a renewal of the scientific spirit, as well as the more obvious revival in art and letters of which we commonly speak as the Renaissance. Among the most striking of the many visible fruits of this revival were numerous herbals, in which all the plants then known were enumerated, described and often beautifully figured. The earliest English example with which I am acquainted is a small, black-letter, anonymous volume published in 1525. The title is 'Here begynneth a newe mater, the whiche sheweth and treateth of ye vertues and propeytes of herbes, the whiche is called an Herball.' There are scarcely any descriptions of the plants, but long and elaborate dissertations on their virtues. Even such a commonplace weed as the plantain is credited with considerable powers: "For heed ache take Plantayne and bynde it aboute thy necke and ye ache shall go out of thy heed." Of rosemary we read: "Take the flowres and make powder thereof and bynde it to the ryght arme in a lynen clothe, and it shall make thee lyght and mery. Also boyle the leves in whyte wyne and washe thy face therwith, and thou shall have a fayre face. Also put the leves under thy beddes heed, and thou shal be delyvered of all evyll dremes. Also make thee a box of the wood and smell to it, and it shall preserve thy youthe."

In the following year was published one of the most famous of the old herbals, 'The Grete Herball which geveth parfyt knowlege and understandyng of all maner of herbes and there gracyous vertues.' This includes in addition to plants, descriptions of a number of substances, such as gold, silver, asphalt, starch, vinegar, butter, honey and the lodestone! It contains delightful prescriptions for healing all manner of ailments. For instance, Apium 'is good for lunatyke folke yf it be bounde to the pacyentes heed with a lynen clothe dyed reed the moone beynge in cresaunt in the sygne of Taurus or Scorpion in ye fyrst parte of the sygne, and he shal be hole anone'; and as a cure 'for werynesse' we read, "To them that be wery of goynge gyve to drink a dragme of the powdre of Bethony with warm water and an once of orimell." The following statement gives an inkling of the condition of plant-geography at the time: Balsam 'is founde towarde Babylon, in a field whereas VII welles or fountaynes be, and is carried from thens'!