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Blackwell's Herbal - Introduction

Elizabeth Blackwell's A Curious Herbal cover image
Copyright © The British Library Board

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 Library.

British Library 34.I.12 -13


 
     
   
 

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