John Gerard’s The Herball, or generall historie of plantes

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight - Gerard's Herbal

This beautiful book is the second edition, published in 1633, of one of the most celebrated botanical works ever written. It was well known in Elizabethan England where herb lore was an important part of every housewife’s knowledge. Comprehensively illustrated with woodcuts, the book gives information about the medicinal and culinary uses of plants as well as details of where they are to be found and how they should be cultivated. Shakespeare’s plays contain many references to the properties of plants and flowers.

This copy has beautiful contemporary hand-colouring of the woodcuts throughout. The binding is also contemporary and is decorated with tiny gold-tooled flowers and stars. The SCLA has a significant collection of early printed books on horticulture and botany which includes two copies of the first 1597 edition of The herball, one of which is also hand-coloured.

John Gerard (c.1545-1612) was born in Cheshire and became a Master of the Company of Barber-Surgeons but is better known as a herbalist. He had charge of several gardens. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was Elizabeth I’s principal advisor for most of her reign, employed him as superintendent of his gardens in London and Hertfordshire. Gerard was appointed the first Curator of the College of Physicians’ physic garden in Chelsea in 1586, and he had a celebrated garden of his own in Holborn between Chancery and Fetter Lanes.