Joy, Musike, Cloves

Vintage Crocus Botanical - Google Search
Crocus speciosus M. Bieb.
Sarah Anne Drake (1803–1857)


A Briefe Epitome
Katarzyna Lecky

Unlike many large botanical herbals, which boasted elaborate frontispieces and pages filled with engraved plates of flora, whose size and preciousness made them objects to be admired and treasured, pocket herbals were everyday objects printed cheaply and scribbled in extensively by all sorts of people.

Rams little Dodeon: A briefe epitome of the new herbal, or history of plants, was published in London in 1606 by William Ram. The text is an abridged version of Henry Lyte’s popular A new herball, or historie of plants (1578).
It was a sound sales tactic: Lyte’s English translation of Rembert Dodoens’ 1554 Cruydeboeck had already seen four editions in as many decades, while Dodoens’ herbal would continue to be a seminal text for botanists for at least another century.
But whereas Lyte’s thick quarto was, like Dodoens’ Old Flemish original, an unwieldy reference for the typical herbalist (who in seventeenth-century England was more likely to be an unlicensed practitioner than an certified doctor or academic scholar), Ram claimed that his “briefe and short Epitome” is a “very small volume. 
So as where the geat booke at large is not to be had, but at a great price, which canot be procured by the poorer sort, my endeuor herein hath bin chiefly, to make the benefit of so good, necessary, and profitable a worke, to be brought within the reach and compass as well of you my poore Countrymen & women, whose liues, healths, ease and welfare is to be regarded with the rest, at a smaller price, then the greater Volume is”

Although he names Dodoens’ herbal as his source text, Ram qualifies that the structure of the book is more intertextual:
“the first page of euery leafe being opened, contayneth the practice of M. R. Dodeon:
And that the second opposite page, vnder the Title Incidenta, contayneth the practices of others for the same Physike helpes, collected and inserted by the Author of this Treatise”

Moreover, these cobbled-together recipes are not always strictly herbal.
Under “Good for heart” are listed “Saffron, Bourage, Laughing, Joy, Musike, Cloves”.
The things that encourage or signal delight are intermingled with heart-healthy simples– all are similarly remedies.
The things bad for the heart, meanwhile, include “Anger, Dread, Too much heauinesse”
Katarzyna Lecky is an Assistant Professor of English at Bucknell University.

Her first book, Pocket Empire: Portable Maps and Public Poetry, 1590-1649 (forthcoming from Oxford UP), uses small-format cartography to study how poets writing for monarchs and magistrates drew from cheap print to chart Britain as the property of the commonwealth rather than the Crown.
She has also published in Exemplaria, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Philological Quarterly, Reformation, Studies in English Literature, and Spenser Studies, as well as edited collections, and has earned fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Renaissance Society of America, and the Folger Shakespeare, Huntington, and Newberry Libraries, among others. 

Garden of Malabar

Hortus Malabaricus Palm Berries

Hortus Indicus Malabaricus is a comprehensive treatise that deals with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Indian state of Kerala.
The first volume was published in 1678, and the last in 1703.
Among the contributors and editors were physicians, professors of botany, amateur botanists, technicians, illustrators, and engravers. And assistance came from the King of Cochin and the ruling Zamorin of Calicut.

Much western lore was rejected, as was the Arabic classification of plants. And it was found that when questioned, the Brahmin scholars always depended on the field workers for precise answers.
So the book employs a system of classification based on the traditions adopted by the practitioners of that region, and the medical information presented in the work was extracted from palm leaf manuscripts passed down through the family of local ayurvedic doctor, Itty Achudan, in which were recorded names of medicinal plants, methods of preparation, the application of drugs, and the illnesses for which they were used.

A certificate states:
. . .  According to the Command of Commodore Henrik van Rheede, the trees, shrubs, twines and herbs and their flowers, fruits, seeds, juices and roots and their powers and properties described in the famed book of the Malayalee physician born at Carrapurram, of the Ezhava caste and of the name Colladan, have been dictated separately in Portuguese language and Malayalam language. Thus, for writing this truthfully, without any doubt, my signature . . . (attested 19th April I675)

Later, the plants were arranged at the University of Leiden garden exactly as prescribed by Achuden and his fellow Ezhavas.
Linnaeus subsequently adopted the same method of classification in 1740, as did many other scientists who followed.


All the country around was diligently searched by the natives best acquainted with the habitats of plants; and fresh specimens were brought to Cochin where the Carmelite Mathaeus sketched them, with such striking accuracy, that there was no difficulty in identifying each particular species when you see his drawings. Names of each species is written in Malayalam as well as Konkani (Then known as Brahmananchi Bhas) A description of each plant was written in Malayalam and thence translated into Portuguese, by a resident at Cochin, named Emmanuel Carneiro. The Secretary to Government, Herman Van Douep, further translated it into Latin, that the learned in all the countries of Europe might have access to it. The whole seems then to have passed under the supervision of another learned individual named Casearius, who was probably a Dutch Chaplain and a personal friend of Hendrik van Rheede, who was the Governor of Dutch Malabar. The book confers honour, both on those who compiled it and the place where it was compiled.

T. Whitehouse, 1859, Historical Notices of Cochin on the Malabar Coast



fennel ‘Botanica Pharmaceutica: exhibens plantas officinales quarum nomina in dispensatoriis recensentur; cum iconibus ab auctore aere incisis, et vivo colore expressis …’ – Berolini, 1788.

This work focuses on plants with medicinal properties.

The artist, engraver and possibly colourer of this print is Andreas Friedrich Happe (1733 – 1802), who was an apothecary, artist and engraver from Berlin, Germany. Happe worked for the Berlin Academy of Sciences and published several botanical and entomological works (a.o. Botanica pharmaceutica, Berlin 1785; Flora depicta, Berlin 1791). He also illustrated the first volumes of Martini’s ‘Conchylien-Cabinet‘. Much of his work remained unpublished including the 6-volume: ‘Naturgeschichte der Insekten’ and watercolours that are currently in the British Museum and the large collection ‘Flora Happiana’.


hedgehog detail

The soul is the same in all living creatures although the body of each is different

Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC)


Botanical Illustrators at Work

fuchs-botanical-illustrators-at-work-great-herbalLeonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes 1542

German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs published De historia stirpium (On the History of Plants) in Basel at the office of printer Michael Isengrin. Fuchs’s herbal was illustrated with full-page woodcut illustrations drawn by Albrecht Meyer, copied onto the blocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer and cut by Veit Rudolf Speckle; the artists’ self-portraits appear on the final leaf.

Describing and illustrating 400 native German and 100 foreign plants– wild and domestic—in alphabetical order, with a discussion of their medical uses, De historia stirpium was probably inspired by the pioneering effort of Otto Brunfels, whose Herbarum vivae imagines had appeared twelve years earlier.  “These two works have rightly been ascribed importance in the history of botany, and for two reasons.  In the first place they established the requisites of botanical illustration—verisimilitude in form and habit, and accuracy of significant detail. . . . Secondly they provided a corpus of plant species which were identifiable with a considerable degree of certainty by any reasonably careful observer, no matter by what classical or vernacular names they were called. . .”
(Alan Morton, History of Botanical Science).

Fuchs’s herbal is also remarkable for containing the first glossary of botanical terms, for providing the first depictions of a number of American plants, including pumpkins and maize, and for its generous tribute to the artists Meyer, Füllmaurer and Speckle, whose self-portraits appear on the last leaf.  This tribute to the artists may be unique among sixteenth century scientific works, many of which were illustrated by unidentified artists, or artists identified by name only. It is especially unusual for the name of the artist who transferred the drawings onto the woodblocks to be recorded, let alone for that artist to be portrayed.

The plant species Fuchsia, named after Fuchs, was discovered on Santo Domingo in the Caribbean in 1696 by the French scientist Dom Charles Plumier, who published the first description. The color fuchsia is also named for Fuchs, describing the purplish-red of the shrub’s flowers.

“Fuchs’s herbal exists in both hand-colored and uncolored versions. While some colored copies may have been painted by their owners after purchase, as was sometimes done in books of this nature, there is sufficient evidence to show that copies were also colored for the publisher Isingrin, who presumably made use of the artist’s original drawings. Such ‘original colored’ copies possess many features in common—for example, the illustration of the rose has the left shoot bearing white flowers and the right shoot red flowers, and the plum tree shows yellow fruits on the left, blue fruits in the center, and reddish fruits on the right—and it is these features that permit one to distinguish between original colored copies and those colored later by private owners. The coloring in the colored copies issued by the publisher accords well with Fuchs’s descriptions in the text, which suggest that Fuchs had some control over the painting”
(Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine [1995] no. 17, pp. 66-67).

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 846.
Secret Gardener is grateful to the wonderful website “The History of Information,” and the generous and learned Jeremy Norman.

Scarlet he thought the most beautiful of all colours

francois-ii-roi-de-franceFrançois II roi de France
Francois Clouet (1510 – 1572)



Observations made by a young Gentleman, who was born blind, or lost his Sight, so early, that he had no Remembrance of ever having seen, and was couched between 13 and 14 Years of Age. By Mr. William Chesselden, F.R.S. Surgeon to Her Majesty, and to St. Thomas’s Hospital  January 1, 1753

Though we say of the gentleman that he was blind, as we do of all people who have ripe cataracts, yet they are never so blind from that cause, but that they can discern day from night; and for the most part in a strong light, distinguish black, white, and scarlet; but they cannot perceive the shape of any thing; for the light by which these perceptions are made, being let in obliquely through the aqueous humour, or the anterior surface of the crystalline, by which the rays cannot be brought into a focus upon the retina, they can discern in no other manner, than a sound eye can through a glass of broken jelly, where a great variety of surfaces so differently refract the light, that the several distinct pencils of rays cannot be collected by the eye into their proper foci; therefore the shape of an object in such a case, cannot be at all discerned, though the colour may. And thus it was with this young gentleman, who, though he knew these colours asunder in a good light, yet when he saw them after he was couched, the faint ideas he had of them before, were not sufficient for him to know them by afterwards; and therefore he did not think them the same, which he had before known by those names. Now scarlet he thought the most beautiful of all colours, and of others the most gay were the most pleasing; whereas the first time he saw black, it gave him great uneasiness, yet after a little time he was reconciled to it ….

When he first saw, he was so far from making any judgment about distances, that he thought all objects whatever touched his eyes, as he expressed it, as what he felt, did his skin; and thought no objects so agreeable as those which were smooth and regular, though he could form no judgment of their shape, or guess what it was in any object that was pleasing to him. He knew not the shape of any thing, nor any one thing from another, however different in shape, or magnitude; but on being told what things were, whose form he before knew from feeling, he would carefully observe, that he might know them again; but having too many objects to learn at once, he forgot many of them; and, as he said, at first he learned to know, and again forgot a thousand things in a day. One particular only, though it may appear trifling, Mr. C. relates: having often forgot which was the cat, and which the dog, he was ashamed to ask; but catching the cat, which he knew by feeling, he was observed to look at her stedfastly, and then setting her down, said, so puss! I shall know you another time. He was very much surprised, that those things which he had liked best, did not appear most agreeable to his eyes, expecting those persons would appear most beautiful that he loved most, and such things to be most agreeable to his sight that were so to his taste. They thought he soon knew what pictures represented, which were showed to him, but they found afterwards they were mistaken: for about 2 months after he was couched, he discovered at once, they represented solid bodies; when to that time he considered them only as party-coloured planes, or surfaces diversified with variety of paint; but even then he was no less surprised, expecting the pictures would feel like the things they represented, and was amazed when he found those parts, which by their light and shadow appeared now round and uneven, felt only flat like the rest; and asked which was the lying sense, feeling, or seeing?

Being shown his father’s picture in a locket at his mother’s watch, and told what it was, he acknowledged a likeness, but was vastly surprised; asking, how it could be, that a large face could be expressed in so little room, saying, it should have seemed as impossible to him, as to put a bushel of any thing into a pint.

At first, he could bear but very little sight, and the things he saw, he thought extremely large; but on seeing things larger, those first seen he conceived less, never being able to imagine any lines beyond the bounds he saw; the room he was in he said, he knew to be but part of the house, yet he could not conceive that the whole house could look larger. Before he was couched, he expected little advantage from seeing, worth undergoing an operation for, except reading and writing; for he said, he thought he could have no more pleasure in walking abroad than he had in the garden which he could do safely and readily. And even blindness he observed, had this advantage, that he could go any where in the dark much better than those who can see; and after he had seen, he did not soon lose this quality, nor desire a light to go about the house in the night. He said, every new object was a new delight, and the pleasure was so great, that he wanted ways to express it; but his gratitude to his operator he could not conceal, never seeing him for some time without tears of joy in his eyes, and other marks of affection: and if he did not happen to come at any time when he was expected, he would be so grieved, that he could not forbear crying at his disappointment. A year after first seeing, being carried upon Epsom Downs, and observing a large prospect, he was exceedingly delighted with it, and called it a new kind of seeing. And now being lately couched of his other eye, he says, that objects at first appeared large to this eye, but not so large as they did at first to the other; and looking on the same object with both eyes, he thought it looked about twice as large as with the first couched eye only, but not double, that they could any ways discover.

De historia stirpium commentarii insignes

digitalis purpurea

Leonhart Fuchs (1501 – 1566) was a German physician and one of the three founding fathers of botany, along with Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Tragus.

Notable commentaries on the history of plants was first published in 1542.

Over 100 species are illustrated for the first time, many of the specimens probably coming from Fuchs’s garden in Tübingen.

Plantae Medicinales Officinalis

Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1776 – 1858) was a prolific German botanist, physician, zoologist, and natural philosopher. He was a contemporary of Goethe and was born within the lifetime of Linnaeus. He described approximately 7,000 plant species.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating‏

durer violetsViolets
Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)


by John Vaillant

Whether birdsong at dawn or just a weed in a sidewalk, nature is all around us. Yet all too frequently we only appreciate it when it’s out of reach. For Elizabeth Tova Bailey, it was a mysterious disease that separated her from the natural world. But then a friend brought some violets in a flowerpot, into which she had placed a snail, and with that small gift came a deep reconnection with life, and a slow healing.
At the age of thirty-four, while on holiday in a small town in the European Alps, Bailey began to feel that something was wrong with her body. Time became strange, and she had a tendency to feel lost and confused. Within a few weeks of returning to New England, she says, she spiraled into “a deep darkness, falling farther and farther away until I am impossibly distant. I cannot come back up; I cannot reach my body.” Doctors cannot put a name to her ailment, and soon she finds herself lying, almost entirely incapacitated, in a hospital ward, “flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness, and intolerable loss.” Things seem so out of control that she fears even to sleep, in case her slender grasp on life should slip entirely away. The disease played her as a cat does a mouse, over years plunging her into helplessness, then letting her crawl slowly out, before again driving her down.
It was during a period of convalescence in a studio apartment in early spring that a friend brought her the flowerpot. Unable even to rise from her bed, Bailey seems to have been annoyed by the gift. But then, around dinnertime, she noticed the snail gliding slowly down the pot, exploring its new world. Its slow, fluid movement mesmerized her—perhaps because she herself was forced to live at a snail’s pace.
Bailey expected the snail to wander off in the night, but the next morning she spied it, neatly tucked up in its shell under the violets. Then she noticed a square hole in an envelope that had been placed near the pot:

This was baffling. How could a hole—a square hole—appear in an envelope overnight? Then I thought of the snail and its evening activity. The snail was clearly nocturnal. It must have some kind of teeth, and it wasn’t shy about using them.

Thinking that the snail might like something more than paper to eat, she took a few long-gone flowers from a vase in her sick room and placed them in the dish beneath the pot. That evening, the snail made its way to them and “investigated the offering with great interest.” Then,

a petal started to disappear at a barely discernible rate. I listened carefully. I could hear it eating. The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously. I watched, transfixed, as over the course of an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner.

The convalescent room was entirely white, and though it had a window Bailey could not sit up to see out of it. While she was trapped inside a stark white box, the snail became not only a focus of attention but a friend. For weeks it lived happily in the flowerpot, descending each night to eat withered flowers, and often, when she awoke in the stillness of an interminable night, Bailey could hear it munching.
The snail liked it when the violets were watered, waving its tentacles in apparent delight as it descended to the saucer to drink. But it had dislikes too, and was particularly displeased when new soil was added to its pot. This it refused to touch, progressing to the pot’s rim by way of a conveniently placed violet leaf. When the sandy soil was replaced with humus from the woods, however, the snail once again took to sleeping under the violets, and making its way over the soil.
As time went by the snail became more adventurous. It climbed down the crate its pot stood on and ate the label off a vitamin bottle. It even nibbled at the letters stamped on the crate in india ink. Bailey felt that “the snail and I were both living in altered landscapes not of our choosing; I figured we shared a sense of loss and displacement.” But there was more to the relationship than that:

By day, the strangeness of my situation was sharpest: I was bed-bound at a time my friends and peers were moving forward in their careers and raising families. Yet the snail’s daytime sleeping habits gave me a fresh perspective; I was not the only one resting away the days.

Bailey found that watching the snail’s purposeful nocturnal explorations calmed her often frantic and frustrated mind. “With its mysterious, fluid movement, the snail was the quintessential tai chi master,” she writes.
Eventually a terrarium was obtained for the snail, and in this larger world the creature began to display astonishing abilities. It moved over the tips of mosses without bending them in a way that seemed to defy the laws of physics, and so impeccable was its balance that it could perch on the rim of a mussel shell as surely as if it were glued to it. Several times she caught the snail grooming itself. Although unable to hold a book or read, Bailey found observing the snail effortless—and endlessly fascinating.

As she began to recover, Bailey read extensively about snails, discovering that they possess a sword-like tongue with around 2,640 teeth. Their tentacles, she learned, have eyes at their tips and are expressive of mood, either drooping with dismay or becoming turgid with alertness. The Chinese characters for “snail” read as “slime cow”—and slime, as Bailey writes, “is the sticky essence of a gastropod’s soul.” When a snail wants to move it secretes “pedal mucous,” which the ripple of its foot muscle momentarily transforms from solid to liquid, so aiding its progress. So adherent is the substance that the nineteenth-century naturalist E. Sandford showed that a snail can hoist fifty-one times its own weight up a window blind using its pedal mucous. But pedal mucous is just one of many kinds of slime snails produce. If harmed, snails can even secrete a medicinal slime that will protect them from infection.

Seized, perhaps, with the spirit of the nineteenth-century experimental naturalists, Bailey decided to feed her snail a special treat of cornstarch and cornmeal:

It was a big mistake: the snail over-ate. It climbed in a staggering sort of way to the top of the terrarium. Clearly suffering from a severe case of indigestion, it stayed there for hours, excreting wastes from all orifices.

I was terribly worried. If the snail didn’t recover from cornstarch indulgence, then how, I wondered selfishly, could I survive my illness without the snail for a companion?

Surprisingly, there is ample evidence of intelligence among snails, and even some indications of social feelings. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote of a

pair of land-snails…one of which was [observed to be] weakly, [placed by a Mr. Lonsdale] into a small and ill-provided garden. After a short time the strong and healthy individual disappeared, and was traced by its track of slime over a wall into an adjoining well-stocked garden. Mr. Lonsdale concluded that it had deserted its sickly mate; but, after an absence of twenty-four hours, it returned, and apparently communicated the result of its successful exploration, for both then started along the same track and disappeared over the wall.

No less than the US Department of Agriculture warns that snails have been known to work together to escape their shipping crate while en route to a restaurant. As Bailey puts it, “With one purpose in mind, they join forces, push up with their muscular heads against the top of the crate, and pop the lid right off, gliding slowly but steadily toward freedom.”
One morning Bailey looked into her terrarium and saw eight tiny eggs, which set her wondering how her snail had conceived. According to the nineteenth-century American zoologist Louis Agassiz, the snail is “a very model lover” that “will spend hours…paying attentions the most assiduous to the object of [its] affections.” But there is a sting in the tail of snail romance, for as explained by another nineteenth-century observer, the courtship of snails “realises the Pagan fable of Cupid’s arrows, for, previous to their union, each snail throws a winged dart or arrow at its partner.” These spicula amoris, as the love-darts of snails are known, are unique in the animal kingdom, and can be extraordinarily beautiful. Formed of calcium carbonate, they can be one third the length of the snail’s shell, and sport four fin-like blades and a harpoon-sharp tip. They are, technically speaking, not necessary for mating, and not all snails have them, but it’s thought that they contain a special slime that improves the longevity of sperm.
All snails are hermaphrodites. In some species, both individuals play both parts, while in others they must decide whether to be boy or girl. If both want to be male, or both female, conflict may arise. Once fertilized, a snail can carry sperm around for years, and if isolated it can also self-fertilize, explaining how Bailey’s solitary snail managed to give birth.
Some days after laying its eight eggs, the snail vanished. Bailey searched as widely as she could for it, and as the hours passed she realized that she was “almost more attached to the snail than to my own tenuous life.” But then a friend visited and located it in the terrarium, under a patch of moss—along with around 150 eggs.
Bailey’s health was by now slowly improving, and she longed to return home. In preparation, she had the friend who had brought her the snail release it where she had first found it, along with its offspring. But she did take one tiny baby snail, which she kept in a huge, antique glass bowl. But something had changed: “Watching a snail began to take patience. I wondered at what point in my convalescence I might leave the snail’s world behind.”
Years later Bailey discovered that she was suffering from a disease of the mitochondria—the tiny organelles that power our cells—which she may have acquired as a result of viral infection. She also learned the identity of her snail: it was a white-lipped forest snail, Neohelix albolabris, which is native to the eastern woodlands of North America, from Georgia to Quebec.
Like Bailey, Charles Darwin was afflicted, for much of his adult life, with a mystery ailment (now tentatively diagnosed as Chagas disease). Did Darwin’s illness give him the patience to undertake his lifelong studies on nature’s minutiae? If not, it’s hard to know what else could have transformed the energetic young Darwin of the Beagle voyage into an uncannily patient observer and perpetual valetudinarian.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
by Elizabeth Tova Bailey
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill