Report on Exhibition at Botanical Gardens – Herbals: Myth, Magic, Medicine

My two week visit to Sydney last month was just as I had looked forward to — time with my family and old friends, eating delicious food I didn’t have to prepare, add in a healthy dash of culture, a sail on the harbour – what more could one ask for!

Before leaving home I had posted on my webpage about the Exhibition presented by the Daniel Solander Library of precious books containing remedies that pre-date modern medicine that I planned to see in the Botanical library at the Botanical gardens Herbarium, and I was so pleased that I did just that.

I arrived early and was lucky to have a really informative discussion with Miguel Garcia, the exhibition’s curator and librarian as he guided me through the exhibition for about an hour before other interested people arrived.

It was a beautifully presented display of amazingly preserved books and illustrations mostly from the Renaissance and mediaeval eras, that had been in constant use by physicians and their families – that is until recent times when the conventional medical world switched to pharmaceutical compounds made from chemically altered plant derivatives, taking over from traditional medicine.

Records of many of the plants illustrated and their formulae even dated back to their use in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans, and further back still, thanks to the preservation over time of clay tables etc. from ancient Egypt and Sumeria.

One that really impressed me was De Re Medica 1550  – “On Medicine ”  compiled originally by Diascoredes , a 1st century physician. They wrote that it became the most influential herbal ever written, a model for all future works on pharmacology across Europe and the middle east for over 1500 years.  Our bible when studying pharmacy was called Materia Medica!  It had been through many editions since the first one!

Another ‘Medica’ , first compiled in the time of Augustus and Tiberius, was made up of 8 books covering numerous subjects including diet and exercise, surgery, music therapy and massage, directions for making plant decoctions, salves and ointments.  It was lost until the  Renaissance, and when it came to light again in Florence, it became the first Medical book to come out in print – this was in1478.

It was amazing to see page after page of illustrations of the plants, all there to see in such fresh and  finely sketched detail – an inspiring combination of art and science and history!

There was also a register of the medicinal plants growing in the Botanic gardens from as early as 1823   During a stroll in the gardens afterwards I was also able to check out the selection of  native plants that had been collected by Solander and Banks in 1770.

A plackard in

A placard in the area of the  gardens celebrating Daniel Solander’s contribution to introducing the world to Australian flora.


2 thoughts on “Report on Exhibition at Botanical Gardens – Herbals: Myth, Magic, Medicine

  1. Chrissy

    Great photos and blog Elizabeth. I’m so glad you got to the Library / Museum. If only we all understood that botanical history is really true epidemiological evidence showing that nature is the best way to helping the body heal itself. Great to have you in Sydney. Love C xx



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