Period Herbals & Physica: A Research Document

Before the Common Era (BCE)

Historia Planatarum, Theophrastus, c. 350-287 BCE, Greek

  • Considered to be one of the great founding botanical works having a significant influence on medieval herbals.
  • Ten original volumes.  Nine survive today.  Book 9 is on Medicinal Uses of Plants.   This was a working research doument that Theophrastus used as curriculum notes for his students rather than a book.
  • Translations include the Latin translation by Theodore Gaza (1483) , Johannes Bodaeus (Amsterdam, 1644), and Sir Arthur Hort (English, 1916)


Dioscorides (50-70 AD), De Materia Medica

  • Greek origin, 5 volume medicinal text
  • wikisource including downloads of modern english translations.
  • One known Byzantine illustrated manuscript dates to 512 AD

Galen, the writings of c. 162-216 AD*


Antidotarium Nicolai (aka. Antidotarium parvum); 12th century Latin, Schola Medica Salernitana

  • pharmacopeia of about 150 medininal recipes
  • has been called the most influential physic of the Middle Ages
  • Based on the 11th century Antidotarium of Constantine the African, also part of the Schola Medica Salernitana. However, this manuscript has no known author or origin.
  • Find an english language edition?  Let me know! Middle French edition found here.


Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari  (Persian Muslim physician, b. ca.800-830 ,d. ca. 850-870 ), the writings of

 Shapur ibn Sahl (before 869 AD, Persian), Aqrabadhin of Al-Kindi, or, “The Medical Formulary”

Tacuinum Sanitatis (“maintenance of health”), Ibn Butlan, Baghdad, 11th century

Serafeddin Sabuncuoglu (1465, Turkish),  Cerrahiyyetu’l-Haniyya (“Imperial Surgery”)

Western Europe + British Isles

The Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti by Ellbachasm de Baldach, 11th Century, Italian

Tractatus de herbis (“from herbs of the feminine“), late 13th to early 14th century Italian, Schola Medica Salernitana

  • Italian illustrated materia medica lacking a signature, colophon, provenance, or date.
  • terminus post quem 1282 AD; terminus ante quem 1309 AD†
  • The oldest known, and probably earliest, manuscript from the Tractatus de herbis, Egerton 747, has a generally accepted date of 1330-1340†, although some sources date 1280-1310.
  • The manuscript was illuminated ca. 1440
  • It resides in the British Library in London
  • Along with Egerton 747, Liber Dietarium Universalium et Particularium (a treatise on diet) by Isaac Judeaus (Arabic) is often included in the Tractatus as a whole.  This work, translated from the original Arabic into Latin by Constantine the African and became an integral part of the curriculum at the Medical School at Salerno.

Histoire Generale des Plants; Jacques Dalechamps (1513-1588, French)

Historia Plantarum, by Conrad Gessner, written 1555-1565, published 1750

Modern Commentary, Compilations, and Collections

Translations and modern publications of Galen:

Translations and modern publications of Dioscorides:

  • De Materia Medica: Being an Herbal with many other medicinal materials, translated by Tess Anne Osbaldeston (2000). Ibidis Press: Johannesburg.
  • De Materia Medica, translated by Lily Y. Beck (2005). Hildesheim: Olms-Weidman.
  • The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides … Englished by John Goodyer A. D. 1655, edited by R.T. Gunter (1933).
  • De Materia medica : libri V Eiusdem de Venenis Libri duo. Interprete Iano Antonio Saraceno Lugdunaeo, Medico, translated by Janus Antonius Saracenus (1598)

Medieval Medical Miniatures, by Peter Murray Jones

† Medieval Herbals: The Illustrated Traditions, by Minta Collins

Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550, edited by Jean A. Givens, Karen M. Reeds, Alain Touwaide

Permissions and Copyright:

Please feel free to utilize anything found in my blog.  The text you are reading was written by Yours Truly, and I have many hours of work put into compiling these sources in an organized and user-friendly scheme, so please be cool and cite me as your source.  I’m sure you were going to do that, anyway, since it’s the ethical thing to do.  


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