The renaissance of the plant

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    The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs

    Standford University Press, $249.50, £185

    The tradition of illustrated herbals, or herb books, established in ancient Greece by Diokles of Karystos around 350 bc, was revived during the German Renaissance by the “German fathers of botany”, most notably Otto Brunfels and Leonhart Fuchs.

    The use of printed woodcuts greatly helped the dissemination of knowledge of plants in medicine during the fifteenth century, although these early illustrations were mostly useless for the purposes of identification. But it was the invention of the printing press that paved the way for the golden age of the herbal. Fuchs' De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants) was published in 1542, a year before and equally illustrative of the Renaissance as Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (see overleaf). A historical and botanical commentary by Frederick G. Meyer, Emily Emmart Trueblood and John L. Heller accompanies the facsimile edition of Fuchs' masterpiece (The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs, Stanford University Press, $249.50, £185).

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    The renaissance of the plant. Nature 402, 853 (1999) doi:10.1038/47185

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