Herballs

Meeting with those singular artefacts, that have not always contained only plants…

Nowdays we see herballs as simple collections of  plants realized in a scientific or playful purpose. In fact, those artefacts tell us many things about sciences, our societies and history. We can only satisfy to contemplate but if we take time to explore them, they show us their secrets…

Before herballs that we know – those we make at school, after a trip in forest, and which are presented as collections of dry plants, there were big books of engraving plants. The first herball is attributed to the greek Crateus in the first century BC. In Middle Age, herbalists study works of antique authors and their herballs are not very precises and realistics : the representation of a plant only the useful part is hightlighted. Those herballs are used in pharmacology as guides to recognize the plants.

The first herballs of dry specimens appears on the Renaissance and the first collection is attributed to Jean Falconer in the middle of 16th century (the first herball of algae is made in 1750’s). Those are realisations on order of nobles who want to enrich their collections curiosity cabinet or to inventory species in their gardens. During the 17th century and especially the 18th century, many herballs begin to be realized in a systematical aim. They are tools to classify plants but also fishes and birds (so herballs of animals exist!). Herballs of those scholars testify of this period of research and classification.

Nowdays, herballs are part of our scientific and cutural heritage. They are database which inquire us about evolution of populations of plants during times. They serve in researches systematics and genetics, but also in ecology for example to understand function and variations of ecosystems.


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