This article is about a type of book. For nicholas culpeper complete herbal pdf used as herbs, see herb. For herbal medicine and related topics, see herbalism. A herbal is a book containing the names and descriptions of plants, usually with information on their medicinal, tonic, culinary, toxic, hallucinatory, aromatic, or magical powers, and the legends associated with them.
A herbal may also classify the plants it describes, may give recipes for herbal extracts, tinctures, or potions, and sometimes include mineral and animal medicaments in addition to those obtained from plants. Herbals were often illustrated to assist plant identification. Herbals were among the first literature produced in Ancient Egypt, China, India, and Europe as the medical wisdom of the day accumulated by herbalists, apothecaries and physicians.
Herbals were also among the first books to be printed in both China and Europe. In the late 17th century, the rise of modern chemistry, toxicology and pharmacology reduced the medicinal value of the classical herbal.
Much of the information found in printed herbals arose out of traditional medicine and herbal knowledge that predated the invention of writing. Before the advent of printing, herbals were produced as manuscripts, which could be kept as scrolls or loose sheets, or bound into codices. Early handwritten herbals were often illustrated with paintings and drawings. Like other manuscript books, herbals were “published” through repeated copying by hand, either by professional scribes or by the readers themselves.
In the process of making a copy, the copyist would often translate, expand, adapt, or reorder the content. As printing became available, it was promptly used to publish herbals, the first printed matter being known as incunabula.