Old English Illustrated Herbal


Medieval medicine often used plant- and animal-based remedies. This is the only illustrated collection of such remedies that survives from Anglo-Saxon England. They were translated into Old English from a group of earlier Latin remedies that were popular throughout early medieval Europe and are now known as the’ Pseudo-Apuleius complex’. These remedies had been developed by writers in the Mediterranean, and sometimes included plants such as cumin and liquorice that were probably not grown in early medieval England.

This copy is extensively illustrated with paintings of plants and animals, plus two full-page images of classical figures. However, it was not a practical handbook, but a lavish library copy used for the study of ancient learning. The illustrations do not help identify plants or animals in the wild.

Entries in the Herbal include a depiction of a plant, its name in Old English and/or Latin, descriptions of ailments it could be used to treat, and instructions for picking and preparing it. Remedies for poisonous bites are marked by drawings of snakes and scorpions.

The manuscript may have belonged to William Harvey (b. 1578, d. 1657) who discovered the circulation of the blood, as some of his own medicinal recipes are bound at the end. These works are now bound with several other medieval manuscripts, including a ninth-century collection of Roman religious lore, the Saturnalia.

This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Full title:
Old English Illustrated Herbal and other medical remedies
1st quarter of the 11th century, Canterbury or Winchester, England
Latin / Old English / Anglo-Norman
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Cotton MS Vitellius C III

Full catalogue details

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