For Geeks Like Me: 18th Century Herbal

If you haven’t seen my Facebook page or Twitter feed in the last week, you missed my post that the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow have scanned an 18th century herbal, thought to be from lowland Scotland. It’s obvious this is someone’s personal herbal – not a physician’s. It’s information compiled over many years … it’s not well-organized but the RCPSG has kindly indexed it.

Almost as soon as I found the link, I dug in. It took me about 2 hours to read it. Then again, because I’m a history geek, I’m accustomed to 18th – 19th century English and the atrocious spelling. YMMV. (What amazes me is it’s in the same person’s hand, yet the same words are spelled differently throughout.)

While I can guarantee you I wouldn’t use many of the recipes contained therein, many more make sense even today. (Sorry, I’m not putting fresh hog manure up my nostril to stop a nosebleed. But I will rinse my mouth out with sage water to cure a problem with gums.)

This isn’t the first – or oldest – herbal I’ve read. It won’t be the last, either. It’s books like these that that keep me updating my personal herbal (the basis for A Green Witch’s Formulary). You find little tidbits tucked in, like:

“Another ther is an old cock yow may find when yow have opened his gizzard and look a white stone sum times more than one never fewer this bing born about one adds valour and makes one strong in the sports of venus and beloved by all –this is the magical use of it”

(I’m not going to cut open the gizzard of a cock to find a white stone for Love, either, but it’s interesting.)


“how to write a sacrit letter to your sweet hart write on the back of the leter with ink but in the in seed of leter write with milk and having drected your sweet heart befor to hold it to the fire and then it will apie to be Redable so by holding it upn betuixt yow and the fire will easy be Read: the joice of a limon will do the same way with milk”

(Our version of “invisible ink” when we were kids, eh?)

So you don’t miss it again, have a gander here. Not only did they scan the pages but they also did a text conversion so you don’t have to try to read the handwriting. They typed it verbatim so you’ll have to decipher the spelling – see above. My thanks to the RCPSG for making this available to the public.

N.B. Many folks will try to tell you that an animal body part is a euphemism for a plant. 99 times out of 100: nay, not so! They’re really talking about a body part. In this particular herbal, they do mean a fox’s head and the marrow of a dead man or woman. Gulp!