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Adam Lonicer’s Herbal.

Adam Lonicer (Lonitzer) (1528-1586) had studied in Marburg and Mainz before becoming professor of mathematics at the Lutheran University of Marburg. It was there that he received his medical degree and he later pursued a medical career as the city physician of Frankfurt. In 1554 (the same year as he received his medical degree), he married Magdalena Egenolph, the daughter of the controversial Frankfurt printer Christian Egenolph, who had been involved in one of the first copyright disputes – in this case over Egenolph’s pirating of an edition of BrunfelsHerbarum vivae eicones. Figala (1973) points out that Egenolph specialized in the publication of herbals and whether it was a result of this or his own professional interests, Lonicer decided to produce one of his own. As Elliott (2011) remarks, Lonicer’s herbal proved to be the great printing success of the Egenolph firm: though by no means the most innovative of its kind, it proved to be one of the most enduring of all, and editions of it were still being produced in Germany in 1783.


Adam Lonicer, Naturalis historiae opus novum (Frankfurt, 1551), fol. 184, Peony.

As the title makes clear, Lonicer’s herbal did not solely focus on plants but also included some descriptions of animals, birds, fish and metals: Naturalis historiae opus novum : in quo tractatur de natura et viribus arborum, fruticum, herbarum, Animantiumque terrestrium, uolatilium & aquatilium …  (Frankfurt, 1551).  Crowther-Heyck (2003) points out that the divisions within the book mirrored those in the book of Genesis and it is therefore not surprising that Lonicer began his section on plants with the apple tree. His text was not original but was a version of the Ortus sanitatis, a medieval text which had been translated in the fifteenth century by a previous city physician at Frankfurt, Johann de Cuba. Lonicer’s edition was not Egenolph’s first venture with this text – he had previously published a version of it by yet another city physician of Frankfurt, Eucharius Rösslin, but it was his son-in-law’s which was to prove the most effective. Just as Brunfels and Fuchs had produced the German names for plants, so too did Lonicer.

Worth’s copy of Lonicer’s herbal is one of two coloured herbals in the Worth Library. Such coloured herbals were relatively rare since they were very costly to produce: Ogilvie (2006) recounts the story of the colouring of a Flemish edition of L’Obel’s herbal for the Duke of Prussia – which took three months to colour and was far too costly for hard-working botanists to buy. In Worth’s copy we see depicted Paeonia officinalis or the peony, a perennial herbaceous plant, a member of the Ranunuculaceae family, which has been used for medicinal purposes for over 2000 years. Called after the Greek god Paeon or Paieon, the peony was probably the plant Paeon used to heal the war god Ares, wounded by the Greek, Diomedes, in Book V of the Iliad. Used by Hippocrates for treating epilepsy, Pliny describes both its magical and medical use: like the mandrake it was supposed to be only uprooted at night and had many mystical associations with the moon; medicinally it was used against insanity though according to John Gerard, Dioscorides recommended it for  labour pains and childbirth while Galen added that it was useful in jaundice and kidney disorders. The roots and seeds were used with a necklace of single peony roots being particularly recommended for children to prevent convulsions, a practice which seems to have continued up to at least the end of the nineteenth century in West Sussex. Herbalists divided it into two species, male and female: the male was larger with less divided foliage and appearing to have stronger powers was preferred in most remedies. A recent review (Ahmad et al. 2012) of its medicinal uses and active constituents notes its use in Arab, Indian and Chinese medicine and in homeopathy and references some animal studies suggesting antihypertensive effects. However, severe adverse reactions have also been reported: thus the role of Paeonia officinalis L., if any, remains to be scientifically proven.

A native of southwest Europe, particularly Greece and the Balkans, it is not found wild in the British Isles. Thomas Johnston, the editor of the second edition of John Gerard’s Herbal 1633, takes issue with Gerard’s story of the peony growing wild in Kent near Gravesend, and says he had been told that Gerard planted it there himself and then pretended to have found it by accident. Although Paeonia officinalis grows well in gardens, the forms of herbaceous peony commonly grown in gardens today  are usually doubled flowered  hybrids of Paeonia lactiflora in pink, red or  white. Peonies need rich well-drained soil, growing best in sun. When happy, they resent being moved but if they stop flowering, Graham Stuart Thomas says they can lifted and replanted in October in well prepared soil with the crowns planted at the same depth.

Paeonia offinicalis, with its single red flower similar to a rose but lacking thorns, was adopted as a Christian symbol of salvation. According to Tisdall, St Ambrose said that the rose only grew thorns after the Fall. It may be for this reason that the peony is particularly associated with the Virgin Mary, whose epithet ‘The Rose without Thorns’, thus symbolizes her freedom from original sin. Representations of the peony were frequent in fifteenth-century paintings of the Madonna. Peony flowers have also been found on carving on the bosses of columns in English churches and ecclesiastic buildings from around the same time or earlier.


Adam Lonicer, Naturalis historiae opus novum (Frankfurt, 1551), fol. 56, Arbutus.

Arbutus unedo or the Strawberry Tree, an attractive evergreen tree is so called because of the resemblance of its fruits to the strawberry. It derives its botanical name, however, from the disappointed reaction of the sampler to the taste of the berries which Pliny the Elder notes derived from unumedo or unedo – meaning I (just) eat one.  Although Lonicer only shows the fruits, which take a year to ripen in regions where summers are warm enough, at flowering time in early winter, flowers and fruit can be found on the same tree.

Arbutus unedo L. a native of the Mediterranean is found in Ireland, its most northerly reach in Western Europe, growing wild in Kerry round the lakes of Killarney, in very local areas in the southwest and round Lough Gill in Sligo (Webb, 1983 and 2012). The first Irish mention of Arbutus according to Praeger is in the eighth-century Brehon laws (Praeger, 1934) under the Irish name of ‘Caithne’ where it was a protected tree. The Arbutus and its red soft fruit is also mentioned in the up to recently unpublished manuscript, The Zoilomastix of Philip O’Sullivan Beare, which although finished in 1626, by a nice irony had lain unnoticed in the University of Uppsala until 1932. In the eighteenth century, the Arbutus is mentioned in the first Irish Flora written by the dissenting minister and physician, Caleb Threlkeld (Threlkeld, 1727). It is also listed as an unusual native plant in the Natural Histories of the Counties of Cork and Kerry (Smith 1750, 1756) written by the apothecary Charles Smith.

It is of considerable interest to Irish botanists as one of the fifteen indigenous Irish plants not found in Britain (Webb, 1983) with its nearest station in Brittany 550 km away. The reasons for this are still debated: possibilities include long range seed dispersal; survival in warmer land areas south of the ice sheets; or it may have been brought in the baggage of Mesolithic hunter gatherers or Neolithic farmers. The literature evaluating these possibilities has been recently reviewed by Forbes (2012).


Adam Lonicer, Naturalis historiae opus novum (Frankfurt, 1551), fol. 258, Cyclaminus.

Cyclamen members of the primrose family Primulacea consist of about 20 species from round the Mediterranean area. Though mainly present in Europe they are also found in Western Asia and parts of North Africa. The delicate red, or pink flowers with heart-shaped leaves mottled with silver are captured well in Lonicer’s woodcut and it is likely that the picture here represents the common autumn flowering Cyclamen hederifolium L. It was included in many herbals because of its medicinal qualities, described variously as a love charm, a hair restorer or to ease pains of childbirth*. It was commonly known as ‘sow bread’ because the corms which grow very large were believed to be eaten by pigs.

As Hobhouse (1992) notes, after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the interest and skill of the Sultans in growing a specialised number of plants such as roses, carnations, tulips, hyacinths, narcissus and cyclamen in the gardens of Constantinople took the fancy of European diplomats and visitors. The story of the import of the tulip from Constantinople and the excitement they generated is well known, but interest  in other bulbs and corms also spread throughout the princely gardens of Europe including Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands (for example three varieties may be found in the Hortus Eystettensis).

This interest in cyclamen is also reflected in early Flemish flower paintings. Ebert-Schifferer (1999) points to an instance of this in the Milan Pinoteca Ambrosiana where a single leaf can be seen poking out just above the  glazed earthenware vase in Large Milan Bouquet (1606), in what is believed to be the first painting Jan Breughel the Elder (1568-1625), painted for his patron Cardinal Federigo Borromeo. Flowers and leaves can also be seen in Ambroisius Bosschaert’s (1573-1621) Still life of Flowers (AltePinakothek, Munich) and numerous other examples can be found. In the seventeenth century John Evelyn makes frequent references to cyclamen in his Kalendarium Hortense or Gardeners Calendar, where he mentions their time of flowering, when to lift or transplant them or to collect or plant the seed.

Most but not all varieties are hardy and tolerate dry shade, blooming depending on variety between autumn and spring bringing welcome flowers at a sparse time of year. Anna Pavord (2009) has a useful section on cyclamen including how to manage the temperamental indoor pot plants, cultivars derived from Cyclamen persicum, which can be difficult to keep happy (particularly in centrally heated rooms, which they detest). A useful website belonging to The Cyclamen Society is well worth consulting both for information and bibliography on the botanic species and also on the potted plants.


Adam Lonicer, Naturalis historiae opus novum (Frankfurt, 1551), fol. 208, Bryon.

* The Worth Library does not advocate this use of cyclamen.


Ahmad F, Tabassum N ,Rasool, S. (2012), ‘Medicinal Uses and phytoconstituents of paeonia Officinalis’ in International Research Journal of Pharmacy vol 3, pp. 85-87.

Bown, Deni. (2010), Herbal. The Essential Guide to herbs for living (London), pp. 191-193.

Crowther-Heyck, Kathleen, ‘Wonderful Secrets of Nature: Natural Knowledge and Religious Piety in Reformation Germany’, in Isis vol 94, no. 2, pp. 253-273.

Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille (1999), Still Life: a history (New York: Harry N Abrams Inc), pp. 84-5.

Elliott, Brent (2011), ‘The world of the Renaissance herbal’, in Renaissance Studies vol 25 no 1, pp. 24-41.

Figala, Karin (1973), ‘Lonicerus (Lonitzer), Adam’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie (New York), vol VIII.

Fisher Celia (2011) Flowers of the Renaissance (London), pp. 11, 44-45, 94-95.

Forbes, R. (2012) Vegetation history of post-glacial Ireland and the origin and immigration of the Flora in The Flora of County Fermanagh. Edited by R. S. Forbes RS and R. H. Northridge, National Museums Northern Ireland Publication no 27 Holywood County Down, p79-86.

Gerard, John (1633), The herball or Generall historie of plantes. Gathered by Iohn Gerarde of London Master in Chirurgerie very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Iohnson citizen and apothecarye of London (London), pp. 980-4.

Hobhouse Penelope (1992), Plants in Garden History (London: Pavilion Books).

Homer (1985), The Iliad.  Translated by Robert FitzGerald,  (Everyman’s Library. Collins Harvill, Great Britain), p136-138 line 900.

Macurdy G.H. (1915), ‘The ΟΔΥΝΗΦΑΤΑ ΦΑΡΜΑΚΑ of Iliad V .900 and their bearing on the prehistoric culture of old Servia’ in The Classical Quarterly. April, p. 65.

Ogilvie, Brian W. (2006), The Science of Describing (University of Chicago Press), p. 202.

O’Sullivan Beare, Philip (2009), The Natural History of Ireland included in Book One of the Zoilomastix of Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare. Translated and edited by D. C. O’Sullivan (Cork University Press), p.191.

Pavord, Anna (2009) Bulb (London: Mitchell Beazley  ), pp. 167-180.

Pliny the Elder Natural History Book 15 Ch 24 (for arbutus reference).

Praeger, R. L. (1934), The Botanist in Ireland (Dublin: Hodges Figgis&Co.) Chapter 5.

Smith, Charles (1750), The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork, (Dublin).

Smith,  Charles (1756),The Ancient and Present State of the County of Kerry (Dublin).

Thomas, G. S. (1982), Perennial Garden Plants 2nd Edition J.M. (London: Dent and Sons) pp. 238-244.

Threlkeld, Caleb (1727) Synopsis stirpiumhibernicarumalphabeticedispositarum (Dublin). This work is not in the Worth Library.

Tisdall, M. W. (2012), God’s Flowers An Iconography for Foliage Decoration Charlesfort Press Plymouth available online at

Webb, D. (1983), ‘The Flora of Ireland in its European Context The Boyle Medal Discourse’ in Journal of Life Sciences ,Royal Dublin Society vol 4, pp143-160.

Webb’s (2012) An Irish Flora 8th edition, edited by John Parnell and Tom Curtis (Cork University Press).

The Cyclamen Society website:

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