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'The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants', book, London, England, 1633

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Feeling a bit “short-winded”? Touch of the “naughty humours”? Or maybe producing too much “grosse and slimie flegme”? If so, back in the 1600s, you might have been thankful for this book, “The Herball or A General Historie of Plants” by John Gerard – commonly known as Gerard’s Herbal. First published in 1597 and amended and enlarged in subsequent years, the book sets out the many practical uses – particularly medical – of numerous plants. For “grosse and slimie flegme”, for example, drinking some foxglove boiled in water or wine was highly recommended. People have been using plants and herbs as medical treatments for many thousands of years. From cultures as diverse as Ancient China and the Incas, the Roman Empire and Ancient India, herbalism was at the core of medical practice. Collecting this knowledge together in the form of a book has a long history and the earliest surviving herbal – the Vienna Dioscurides – predates Gerard’s by more than a thousand years. Ironically, although the book bears his name and Gerard was one of the great plant experts of the time, his actual contribution to the book was probably quite limited. Scholars claim that his original book was essentially a translation of a popular earlier Flemish herbal by Rembert Dodoens, while later corrections and additions were mainly the work of English botanist Thomas Johnson. Still, if the book could help your “evill liver” or “bad stomacke”, it’s true authorship was probably of marginal interest.

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Glossary: book

A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. Usually continuous printing or writing.

Glossary: herbal medicine

the use of plant or plant extracts for medicinal purposes in order to improve the body's natural functions and restore balance. Herbal medicines are given in many forms (liquids, infusions, tablets, topical preparations, etc.) and form part of an increasing number of complementary medical therapies