Tag Archives: flowers

Astrological Healing from the Seventeenth Century

An herbal is a book containing the names and descriptions of various plants, and usually contains the effects that were associated with each one. Effects could range from a plant’s toxicity to its magical power. In the 15th century, it was common practice to publish medical journals in Latin, which was only accessible to those with wealth or nobility. In 1652, Nicholas Culpeper published one of his most notable works, The English Physician, in English, allowing those who did not read Latin to be able to practice medicine. 

Culpeper’s herbal was groundbreaking for its combination of the “doctrine of signatures” with astrology. The doctrine of signatures was the idea that plants and herbs that looked like human body parts would help heal ailments that stemmed from that part. Combining this practice with astrology formed what is known as astrological herbalism. Astrological herbalists connected herbs to different signs of the zodiac. They treated specific ailments by determining what sign and planet ruled over the part of the body that needed care, and then prescribing an herb of the same astrological sign.

Culpeper’s British herbal ; and, Complete English family physician. (1802)

Culpeper’s earlier works mainly relied on written descriptions of the plants to be able to identify them. As he progressed, his herbals included more images and color, illustrating them with etchings that are then colored in with watercolors, such as the 1802 edition of his British Herbal.

The heart and blood, for example, are ruled by Leo, which is ruled by the sun, so for ailments such as anemia, the patient would be prescribed “centaury,” or centaurium erythraea. Issues like anxiety are ruled by Mercury, and depending upon your astrological sign you might be prescribed lavender as a treatment. The process goes more in depth depending on your sign and other planetary factors.

While we cannot recommend depending upon Culpeper’s prescribed treatments — medicine has come a long way in 400 years — it is fun to see what herbal applications he found for a variety of ailments. FSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives possesses seven editions of The English Physician, from the 1652 first edition up to one from 1932. Fortunately, three editions have been digitized and are available for your perusal from home!

Culpeper’s English Physician and complete herbal. (1798)

Culpeper’s British herbal; and, Complete English family physician. (1802)

Culpeper’s Complete herbal. (1817)

Wildflowers of North America


Mary Vaux Walcott sitting on some rocks facing the camera with waterfalls behind her. (original image)

Special Collections here at FSU holds a large collection of books on botany and herbal medicine that go as far back as the 16th century. As much as I would love to scour through the many many herbal encyclopedia we hold, I found myself more interested in the different types of flowers and plants collected and depicted through either art or scientific study that can be found in the archives.

The full collection as it sits in the archives.

Here is Special Collections, we have the five volumes of a collection that holds some of the most beautiful prints of flowers created in the early 1900s. This collection, titled North American Wild Flowers, includes some 400 plates illustrated by American artist and naturalist Mary Vaux Walcott and was first published in 1925 by the Smithsonian Institute.

What’s most interesting about this collection is not the images themselves, but the sweet story of how they came to be. Walcott first took interest in watercolor painting after graduating from Friends Select School, a Quaker college preparatory school. She painted wildflowers she came upon during family trips with her brother who would study and record glacier flow in drawings and photographs as part of his mineralogical studies.

This was only the start for Mary Walcott. She would go on to marry Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Charles Doolittle Walcott at the age of 54. As she traveled with her husband for his paleontology research in the Rockies and throughout Canada, Mary made watercolor illustrations of wildflowers which can now be seen in the five-volume collection held in Special Collections & Archives.

During a 10 year period, Mary would spend somewhere between three and four months in the Canadian Rockies, finding and studying the finest specimens. More often then not, these illustrations were created under “trying conditions” such as on a mountain side of high pass, and at times when a fire was necessary to warm her numb fingers and body. Despite these conditions and others, such as diffused lighting and subjects which had a lifespan seemingly too short for creating art from them, the fruits of Walcott’s labor can be seen in these immortalized specimens.

Each box volume in this collection consists of a slipcase which holds a book listing each flower, describing them in detail, and a plate of each flower beautifully detailed by Walcott’s hand.

The North American Wild Flowers Collection, can be referenced here in the library catalog. For more information please call or visit Special Collections & Archives.

All photo credits go to the author.