Tag Archives: New York Botanical Garden

Herbals: Once Essential, Now a Rarity

Leonhart Fuchs

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance books known as “herbals” were popular for their classifications of plants and descriptions of their medicinal and culinary uses. Even as summer’s greenery fades, plants remain verdant year-round on the illustrated pages. I recently had the chance to see some up close in “The Renaissance Herbal,” an exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens’ Mertz Library, the largest botanical and horticultural library in the world. The exhibit is part of a larger program titled “Wild Medicine” about the many cultural uses of plants.


Before the advent of movable type in the 1400s, herbals were written as scrolls and manuscripts.

Page fro m al-Ghafiqi Herbal

Herbals were second in popularity only to the Bible, but as modern medicine developed and synthetic drugs grew more common, these books became tomes of a bygone era. Still, their amazing artwork and handcrafted beauty make them highly sought after today.

 Basilius Besler-Caltha palustris flore

“The Renaissance Herbal” is up at the New York Botanical Garden until September 8th. Here’s one stunning page (below) on view at the Mertz Library. Find more peeks  here.

New York Botanical Garden Wild Medicine page

Images, from top to bottom: Leonhart Fuchs, Basilius Besler, Herbal of al-Ghafiqi, Basilius BeslerNew York Botanical Garden,

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