by Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian & Keeper of the Lloyd’s Marine Collection, Guildhall Library
This is the ‘Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes Gathered by John Gerarde of London Master in Chirvrgerie; very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson Citizen and Apothecarye of London’. Gerard’s Herbal was first published in 1597 but this enlarged edition was published in 1633, after Gerard’s death.
John Gerard, also spelt John Gerarde (1545-1612), was a botanist and herbalist who maintained a large garden in London. His Herbal is largely an English translation of a popular herbal by Rembert Dodoens published in 1554. Gerard’s Herball is profusely illustrated with over 1800 woodcut illustrations of plants. After Gerard’s death, his Herbal was corrected and expanded and it was the most widely circulated botany book in English in the 17th century. Linnaeus was later to honour him in the name of the plant genus ‘Gerardia’.
Gerard’s ‘Herball’ references many of the plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, for example, the herb mandragora or the mandrake, which promotes sleep as well as having other medicinal properties.
Gerard says of mandrogora ‘The wine wherin the root hath been boiled or infused provoketh sleep and assuageth pain.’ You may remember that Shakespeare has Iago comment in ‘Othello’…
Not Poppy, nor Mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday
Othello, act 3, scene 3.
…and Cleopatra says
‘Give me to drink Mandragora…That I might sleep out this great gap of time my Antony is away.’
Antony and Cleopatra, act 1, scene 5
On this engraved title page by William Rogers, Gerard is shown holding some potato foliage. Holding such a plant would have been a novelty in 1597 as the potato only arrived in England around 1590, probably as part of booty seized from Spanish ships by English pirates.
Gerard cared for the gardens of Lord Burghley, William Cecil (1520-1598) at Covent Garden and Theobalds in Hertfordshire and Gerard dedicated his ‘Herball’ to him.
This volume is held at Guildhall Library and forms part of the collection of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.