English Herbals

‘Drug Trade: therapy, pharmacy and commerce in early-modern Europe’ was displayed at the Museum of the History of Science from 9 October 2004 until 13 March 2005. The exhibition presented the Museum’s fine collection of early drug jars, or pharmacy jars, manufactured from the 16th to the 18th century, together with printed herbals from the Library. Extracts from these herbals, and from other books of the period, were used to provide commentary on the original contents of the drug jars. The extracts tell us some of the medicinal uses for these materials.

The materials were items of commerce in several respects. The more exotic were part of the global trade in herbs and spices, while in parallel there was a very local trade in herbs gathered in neighbouring fields and woods. While ‘prescribing’ was often done within the family or the local community, grocers or especially apothecaries also retailed ingredients, or their ‘decoction’ into medicines according to particular recipes. Apothecaries, who were more likely to be found in urban settings, were expected to have a wide knowledge of the materials and the preparations made from them.

This web version provides a selection drawn from the larger gallery installation. Aside from the pages in this Introduction, there are three main sections, each reached from the menu on the top right of every page:
 Exhibition a series of pages devoted to the different materials used in the preparation of drugs. Herbals provide both illustrations and descriptions of these ingredients and their effects. Each material is also represented by a drug jar. Click on any Exhibition image for a larger version in the Gallery.
 Gallery  all the images from the web exhibition can be viewed as thumbnails. Click to see larger versions, with sources and catalogue information. Information on individual drug jars is taken from C.R. Hill and R.E.A. Drey, University of Oxford. Museum of the History of Science. Catalogue 3, Drug Jars (Oxford, 1980); this book is available from the museum.
 Essay  the exhibition display included twelve panels on ‘Pharmacy and Therapy’, specially written by the medical historian Patrick Wallis. These appear here on six pages illustrated by details from an early-modern Italian edition of Dioscorides’ ‘Materia Medica’.

The images repeated throughout the site are all taken from drug jars featured in the exhibition. Click on the images below to see where they come from.