Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/504

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

little to say; they are of a class so foreign, that though often loud-spoken, as foreigners sometimes become, they are not botanists to the manor born and never will become anything but sutlers.

Far back in the early centuries, men looked at plants largely from the standpoint of utility, and every plant not useful for food was supposed to have some virtues of the healing sort that made it useful medicinally. Doubtless many of these notions came from the real presence of some remedial virtues, for many plants of the pharmacopeia were known to the ancients; but in attributing so many virtues to so many harmless succulents, one wonders sometimes just how far the principle of dishonest graft entered into the dealings of the old simplers with their nostrums. At any rate, volume after volume of herbals was published, illustrating many common and often rare plants, and sometimes in a very realistic way their real or supposed effects on the human system. A few illustrations of these from among the works of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may not be amiss. Porta in 1591 published page after page of illustrations showing fancied resemblances between plants and all sorts of human and animal parts, and often the discovery of such a similarity to some part of the human frame led to the unwarranted conclusion that the Almighty thus pointed out to mortals a definite specific in the plant thus possessing this resemblance. One of the favorites among these early medicinal frauds was the supposition that because the delicate stems and branches of the maidenhair fern were really hair-like, one had only to steep them in water to supply an effective hair tonic which, for growing copious and lustrous hair and preventing incipient baldness, would place the danderines and herpicides of these degenerate days sadly in the shade!

Many of these early herbals were printed in Latin as the standard language of medicine and learning generally, but later they were printed in the vernacular of the country in which they were written, and often something symbolic of the particular plant they illustrated was added to appeal more strongly to the mind of the reader. We give an illustration from one of the larger herbals of the sixteenth century, that of Hieronymus Bock (1587) in old German, depicting with the apple the serpent and death that was supposed to have been brought into the world by eating this really delicious fruit. We also give a quotation from Parkinson (1640), whose English herbal is perhaps the most complete compendium of the folk-lore of plants and all the other old dames' fancies concerning the English flora that was ever written. Here every plant description and history is followed by an account of its 'virtues,' often set forth in exaggerated terms.

Concerning Salvinia natans, which he describes and figures as 'Lens palustris latifolia punctata' Parkinson says: