Exploring herbal medicine

Woodville, William, Medical botany vol. 1, 1793. Call no Qx 113.
Woodville, William, Medical botany vol. 1, 1793. Call no Qx 113.

Herbal medicine has been in use for millennia, with some of the earliest recorded instances being found in the ancient East, Middle East, and the Egyptians. Ancient Greeks and Romans relied on herbs for their healing properties, and early scholars like Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.) and Theophrastus (371 – 287 B.C.E.) wrote about these plants and their healing properties. De materia medica (Latin for “medical material”) by Pedanius Dioscorides, written sometime between 50 and 75 C.E., is an early example of an encyclopedia and pharmacopoeia. Books like this would contain descriptions of plants, their traits, and recipes for medicinal use.

During the Middle Ages, herbal medicine was still a common form of treatment.  The first printed books about it, called herbals, were printed in the late 15th century. Herbals contain illustrations or woodcuts of plants along with descriptions, traits, and medicinal recipes. Herbals remained popular well into the 19th century. The first synthetic drug was discovered and 1869, and synthetic drugs became more widely used during the next century and a half.

Near the end of the 20th century, more people began looking for alternatives to synthetic drugs and “re-discovered” herbal medicine. Today, many stores offer plant-based medicines and more medical practices offer integrative or alternative care.

The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed.  Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about herbal medicine!

Primary sources

fulton-diaryEdgar Hewish recipe book of medical remedies and household mixture, undated
Call number: 10a 434


fulton-diaryTimothy Hall recipe book, 1823-1834
Call number: MSS 2/0285-01


fulton-diaryA course of fifteen lectures on medical botany…
by Samuel Robinson, 1834
Call number: Qk 4b


book-croppedThe sick man’s friend. Being a plain, practical medical work; designed for the use of families and individuals on vegetable, or botanical principles
by P.E. Sanborn, 1836
Call number: Qk 25


book-croppedPaul Goddard “receipt” (recipe) book, circa 1857
Call number: 10a 43


book-croppedMadame Young’s guide to health: her experience and practice for nearly forty years, a true family herbal ….
by Amelia Young, 1858
Call number: WB 120 Y68m 1858


cameraPhotograph: Medicinal herb peddler, circa 1870
Call number: Picture file #2


book-croppedMeals medicinal: with “herbal simples, ” (of edible parts) curative foods from the cook; in place of drugs from the chemist
by William Thomas Fernie, 1905
Call number: Qd 80


book-croppedHerbs for health; a concise treatise on medicinal herbs, their usefulness and correct combination in the treatment of diseases. A guide to health by natural means. With many black and colored illustrations
by Otto Mausert, circa 1932
Call number: Yb 54


book-croppedThe green pharmacy: new discoveries in herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world’s foremost authority on healing herbs
by James A. Duke, 1997
Call number: WB 925 D877g 1997


Secondary sources

book-croppedHerbals, their origin and evolution: a chapter in the history of botany, 1470-1670
by Agnes Robertson Arber, 1938
Call number: QK 15 A664h 1938


book-croppedNature’s medicines: the folklore, romance, and value of herbal remedies
by Richard Lucas, 1966
Call number: Qb 121


*Content written by Chrissie Perella, Archivist