When someone wanted to know which medicinal properties were ascribed to a certain plant or herb, a herbal could be consulted. This reference book contains drawings of plants and herbs, information about their properties, and medicinal recipes. In the Middle Ages, books like these were often used by monks, who had access to various plants in their garden. They were also used by students, doctors and apothecaries. Herbals gained even more popularity towards the end of the Middle Ages, when increasingly more people became literate. In addition to serving medicinal purposes, herbals were often consulted for recipes during meal preparation.
This herbal was written in South Germany. Originally the manuscript only contained paintings of the plants and their names. The extensive commentary in German, Latin, and Czech was added later, in the seventeenth century. The person who drew these plants did not copy them from another manuscript but based them on real plants from his neighborhood, which scholars today know are plants indigenous to Bohemia. The herbal was probably created for the personal use of a doctor or apothecary.
- Manuscripts were made from parchment, paper or a combination of these two materials. The quality of these materials varied considerably. What material was used in this manuscript and how can you tell?
- Some books were heavily used, while others were not. Observe the presence or absence of wear-and-tear and damage in this book and try to assess how heavily it was used. What are your main reasons for saying so? If there are traces of use, can these be related to a specific kind of use, such as education or religious rituals?
- Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.
- Breugelmans, R. (1987). Goed gezien : tien eeuwen wetenschap in handschrift en druk : catalogus van de tentoonstelling ter gelegenheid van het vierhonderdjarig bestaan van de Universiteitsbibliotheek te Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, 30.10 1987/17.1 1988. Universitaire Pers Leiden.
- IJpelaar, L., & Chavannes-Mazel, C. A. (Eds.). (2016). De groene middeleeuwen : duizend jaar gebruik van planten (600 tot 1600). Lecturis.