The Illustrated College Herbal Book



The book is a stunning tribute to our past and present, The Illustrated College Herbal features paintings and late medieval woodcuts of nearly 200 plants from the Pharmacopoea Londinensis beds in the RCP’s Medicinal Garden. Authors Jane Knowles, Henry Oakeley and Gillian Barlow pay tribute to Britain’s rst pharmacopoeia, breathing new life into the history of medical botany with beautiful artwork from dozens of distinguished artists, including that of Sarah Jane Humphrey.


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The Royal College of Physicians

The Valerian, is a delicate painting with a gentle composition to capture the aesthetic allure and restful medicinal values of this plant. Commissioned by the Royal College of Physicians for their upcoming book ‘The Illustrated College Herbal’ due to be published May 2018. The RCP is a British professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, chiefly through the accreditation of physicians by examination. Founded in 1518, it set the first international standard in the classification of diseases, with a library holding medical texts of great historical interest.

Illustrated book of nearly 200 plants

With this book, the gardeners and the garden fellows of the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians of London celebrate the 500th anniversary and the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Pharmacopoea (sic) Londinensis by the college. This was produced to provide the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, newly formed in November 1617, with a single, simple standard for the formulation of medicines, rather than the plethora of different pharmacopoeias then available.

It was the rst pharmacopoeia which, by edict of King James I, had to be used by a whole country, not just a city, anywhere in the world, and the most important publication by the college in its rst century of existence, and one which continues – as the British Pharmacopoeia – to this day.

Valeriana officinalis

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Pharmacopoea (sic) Londinensis by the college.

The Illustrated College Herbal is a beautiful book with 118 paintings and drawings donated by 80 of the nest botanical artists
of our era, and 77 woodcuts from the folios of the greatest publisher of herbals in the 16th century. The Pharmacopoea Londinensis contained 430 compound medicines, and a list of the plants, minerals and animal ingredients which were used to make them. There are 774 ingredients listed, of which 634 are plants and 140 are minerals or animal products. The plant names are in contemporary Latin, and are often duplicated, with different spellings or synonyms and represent about 380 different plants, listed according to which part (eg roots, leaves, sap, etc) was used. Around 200 are now grown in the RCP’s Medicinal Garden in the unique Pharmacopoea Londinensis beds, researched, designed and planted by head gardener Jane Knowles along St Andrews Place. These, a living 17th-century medical chest, are illustrated and their uses described, in The Illustrated College Herbal.

Jane Knowles has translated the nomenclature of all the plants from their archaic pre-Linnean names to those by which they are now known internationally, a unique reference source for all interested in the history of botany and medicine. The 17th-century uses of each plant have been provided from the synoptic descriptions of Nicholas Culpeper as given in his translation of the pharmacopoeia, A Physicall Directory (1649), and by other more erudite authors when Culpeper is insufficient.

The medical notes which accompany each plant re ect an era when a migratory uterus (referred to as ‘dislocation of the matrix’ and ‘suffocation of the mother’) could cause choking, breathlessness and hysterical af ictions. The humoural therapies of Hippocrates and Galen held sway, and plants were judged as hot or cold, dry or wet, or effective in abolishing the choleric humour and expelling the black melancholic humour in order to restore the imbalance of humours which was believed to be the cause of illness.

Only a few years before Harvey’s De Motu Cordis, our predecessors had believed for nearly 2,000 years that blood was manufactured continuously in the liver and delivered to the body via the veins, and that air from the lungs passed through the solid interventricular septum to be distributed to the peripheries in the arteries. Remnants of the Doctrine of Signatures persisted, with yellow owers and three-lobed leaves being regarded as good for jaundice and liver disorders. The Illustrated College Herbal reminds us how far we have come, and is a salutary reminder that our successors may regard our current beliefs and practices with similar perplexity.

Gillian Barlow, who was artist in residence at the RCP garden in 2012–2013, commissioned the paintings from artists in the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society, the Hampton Court Florilegium Society and others, and we are grateful to them all. All through the spring, summer and autumn a steady stream of artists visited the RCP to collect plants so they could paint from life. They have allowed us to follow in the tradition of the great illustrated herbals of Leonard Fuchs (1542), Jean Ruellius (1543 et seq), Petrus Matthiolus (1554 et seq), Rembert Dodoens (1554, 1583), William Turner (1561–68), Henry Lyte (1578), John Gerard (1597, 1633), John Parkinson (1640), Elizabeth Blackwell (1737) and the Medical Botany of William Woodville (1790). These works had beautiful line drawings, woodcuts and engravings, and while The Illustrated College Herbal pays tribute to the incomparable woodcuts of Matthiolus, none had watercolours or drawings to match those of our artists.

The book contains a brief history of the origins of the Pharmacopoea Londinensis, a glossary of long-forgotten medical terms, and a bibliography of the literature consulted. It contains a directory of all the artists with their career and contact details. The original paintings and limited edition prints will be available to purchase from the artists and will be exhibited in the Council Chamber at the RCP in London from 20–31 August 2018.

The paintings are beautiful and the woodcuts a reminder of the skills of our predecessors. As a source of pleasure, of source literature, as a commemoration of one of the RCP’s most important achievements
in half a millennium of existence and as a unique reference book or elegant coffee-table decoration, we commend it to you.



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