The bookshelf is groaning under the weight of books that I am keen to read and review, so here are two that have made the journey from the ‘to be read’ shelf to their place on my regular bookshelves.
The Illustrated College Herbal: Plants from the Pharmacopoea Londinensis of 1618
The first is the The Illustrated College Herbal: Plants from the Pharmacopoea Londinensis 1618 by Jane Knowles, Henry Oakeley and Gillian Barlow (£20 + £5 p&p in UK from Oakeley Books; ISBN 978 0 95214 617 9).
I attended the launch of the book at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in May when one of its authors, Dr Henry Oakeley, the Garden Fellow, took us on a tour of the gardens. One area was the front gardens of a row of Nash houses where Head Gardener and co-author Jane Knowles has developed a series of gardens dedicated to the plants that were authorised for use as medicines in the first edition of the RCP’s first pharmacopoeia of May 1681. This collection of front gardens forms a living reference collection of 17th-century medicine and the plants in the book are their portraits.
Published to mark the 500th anniversary of the RCP and the 400th anniversary of the Pharmacopoea Londinensis this new herbal puts a new spin on the publication of 1618. The original was published to give the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, newly formed in November 1617, a simple standard for the formulation of medicines. It contained 430 compound medicines and a ‘Catalogue of Simples’, in effect a list of the plants, minerals and animal ingredients that were used to make the medicines. It listed 774 ingredients, of which 634 were plants. The plant names were written in contemporary Latin and covered 380 plants. It was a milestone publication as it was the first pharmacopoeia, which had, by edict of King James I, to be used by everyone in the country.
The recently launched College Herbal interleaves herbal woodcuts from the folios of earlier herbals with the botanical drawings and paintings of some 80 celebrated botanical artists of modern times. The modern artworks were commissioned by Gillian Barlow, who was artist in residence at the RCP garden in 2012–13. She brought together artists who had contributed to the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society, the Hampton Court Florilegium Society and others. Each artist worked with live plant material from plants grown at the RCP. The mix of new, modern styles with the old woodcuts makes for a good visual effect, moving the reader forward to check out each plant.
There is a history of the earlier herbal, a glossary of past medical terms and a directory of all the artists who contributed their work to the book. The original paintings and drawings for this book are on display in the Council Chamber at RCP 20–31 August 2018. They and limited editions prints will be available to purchase.
A Taste of Herbs: Tasty Buds, Luscious Leaves, Succulent Shoots
The second book is A Taste of Herbs, a fact-packed notebook from Kim Hurst, one of our most experienced herb growers (£4.50 from www.thecottageherbery.co.uk). Kim and her husband Rob have been growing herbs for 42 years and are now based at The Cottage Herbery in North Worcestershire.
First published in 2002, this slim volume is a punchy and packed revised edition of Kim’s notes from her experience as a herb grower. It includes well-known and favourite herbs plus many from the Far East, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and North and South America. Kim and her husband Rob have grown them all and know their individual characteristics well.
Apart from the wonderful tunnels full of herbs that they grow to sell at shows and markets, Rob and Kim have created a dreamy garden using the agricultural relics of their farm’s former life. The Cottage Herbery is not open on a daily basis but can be booked for visits and is open on special, designated ‘open’ weekends.
In the book, alongside each herb is a code to show its uses, its type (hardy, annual, perennial etc), where it thrives, how to propagate, as well as some miscellaneous codes to indicate whether it is poisonous, deadly, self sows, is invasive or is a good nectar or caterpillar plant. There is also a Potting Shed Tip for most herbs listed.
The entries for basil, mint, rosemary and thyme are particularly useful, since they list out by common name the various flavours and types that are in use. There are only a few photographs in the central pages of the book, but the individual descriptions of each herb are clear and each entry has a line or two about medicinal or culinary properties and uses.
Kim is also the author of Hidden Histories Herbs – 150 Herbs, which was published by Timber Press in 2015. Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to buy a copy of that book and read more about the history of herb garden plants.