Elizabeth Blackwell's A
Curious Herbal is notable both for its beautiful illustrations
and for the unusual circumstances of its creation. A herbal
contains illustrations and descriptions of plants, their
medicinal preparations, and the ailments for which they
are used. The first herbal was written by the Greek physician
Dioscorides in the first century AD.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Aberdeen in about 1700,
but moved to London after she married. She undertook this
ambitious project to raise money to pay her husband's debts
and release him from debtors' prison.
Blackwell's Herbal was an unprecedented enterprise
for a woman of her time. She drew, engraved and coloured
the illustrations herself, mostly using plant specimens
from the Chelsea Physic Garden.
The Herbal was issued in weekly parts between
1737 and 1739, each part containing four illustrated plates
and a page of text. It was highly praised by leading physicians
and apothecaries (makers and sellers of medicines), and
made enough money to secure her husband's freedom.
This finely-bound copy of A Curious Herbal is
from the collection of King George III, held in the British
British Library 34.I.12 -13