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Physic Garden

ricinus communis
Ricinus Communis

The Armstrong Campus Physic Garden displays medicinal plants described by selected authors from four different historical eras.

Roman and Greek Scholars

Book Cover of Enquiry into Plants by Theophrastus
Enquiry into Plants (Historia Plantarum) by Theophrastus
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The era of the early herbalists features writings of Roman and Greek scholars. Plants in the Physic Garden from this time period are described in the works of the following authors. 

Theophrastus, (c. 371-c. 287 B.C.), was a Greek scholar who, because of his study of plants, is considered the father of botany. One section of his book Enquiry into Plants (Historia Plantarum), is devoted to the medicinal uses of plants, making it one of the first written herbals.

Pliny the Elder, born Gaius Plinius Secundus, (23–79 A.D.), was a Roman naturalist, philosopher and military commander of the early Roman Empire. He wrote Natural History (Naturalis Historia) beginning in 77 AD but died during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. before he could make his final revisions.

Pedanius Dioscorides, (c. 40-90 A.D.), a Greek botanist and physician in the Roman Army, wrote a five-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine titled On Medical Material (De Materia Medica). It remained an important reference of European pharmacopeia through the 19th century.

16th and 17th Centuries

Book Cover of Enquiry into Plants by Theophrastus
Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard
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The 16th and 17th centuries were characterized by the rise of herbalism in Europe. Plants in the collection from this time period are described in the works of the following authors.

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) was an English physician, herbalist and botanist. Culpeper popularized astrological herbalism and in his most famous work, The English Physician (later the Complete Herbal), he describes the use of medicinal plants and their intertwined connection with the stars and planets. His herbal was among the books taken by the pilgrims to the New World. 

John Gerard (1545-1612) was an English botanist and author of Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, published in 1597. Gerard included some New World plants in this 1,484-page book which became a standard reference of the time.

John Parkinson (1567-1650), an English botanist, lived during a time when the practice of herbalism was transitioning into the science of botany. He was the official apothecary to King James I and the royal botanist to his successor, Charles I. His book The Botanical Theatre (Theatrum Botanicum) published in 1640, describes over 3,800 plants and became the standard for English apothecaries for 100 years. 

18th and 19th Centuries

The discovery of new medicinal plants from the Americas expanded herbalism during the 18th and 19th centuries. Plants in our garden from this era are featured in the writings of the following authors. 

Book Cover of Enquiry into Plants by Theophrastus
Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard
click image to view larger version

Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1785) was a Scottish botanical illustrator and author of A Curious Herbal, published between 1737 and 1739. Mrs. Blackwell undertook the creation of this book to generate income to support her family while her questionably trained physician husband resided in a London debtor’s prison in 1736. She provided the illustrations while her husband, during visits to his cell, supplied her with his knowledge about the medicinal properties of herbs and plants. 

Charles Fredrick Millspaugh (1854-1932) was an American botanist and physician. In 1887, he published an extensive ten volume work titled American Medicinal Plants, in which he describes the preparation, chemistry and physiological effects of American plants used as homeopathic remedies.  

Thomas Short (c. 1690-1772) was a physician born in Scotland. In addition to publishing numerous dissertations on the health benefits of mineral water and tea, Short wrote Medicina Britannica, also published as a treatise on such physical plants, as are generally to be found in the fields or gardens in Great Britain in 1746. The third edition of this book was reprinted and sold by Benjamin Franklin with a preface and inside notes provided by botanist John Bartram. 

20th and 21st Centuries

The 20th and 21st centuries feature plants described in modern herbals and the use of plants in medicine today. The following authors describe some of the plants in our garden.

Maude Grieve (1858- 1941) was an English herbalist and author of A Modern Herbal published in 1931. The book contains information on the folklore and the medicinal and culinary uses of herbs from all over the world and is still in print. She founded The Whins Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm near London and during World War I, trained people in the preparation of medicinal herbs to help remedy the shortage of medicinal supplies.  

Arnold Krochmal (1919-1993) was an American botanist and educator. As a botanist and experimental horticulturist, Krochmal made medicinal plants and naturopathy his specialty. He published A Guide to the Medicinal Plants of the United States in 1973.

Last updated: 3/10/2020