"The Greate Herball" or "Generall Historie of Plantes" by John Gerard, apothecary and master of the Company of Barber Surgeons, was published in London in 1597. Gerard has three chapters in the "Herball" on plants from the "Indies." With its witty text and remarkably accurate illustrations, the book was popular in medical-botanical and literary circles of Elizabethan England. Gerard had never been to India and assembled the chapters on plants of the "Indies" from the vast amount of Indian botanical knowledge available in Europe at the end of the 16th century. Throughout the book he gives fascinating accounts of how he learned about "From Forreine Places All the Varietie of Herbes," and collected cuttings and seeds of exotic plants for his garden in London, leaving for posterity glimpses of the circuitous routes Indian botanicals and knowledge about their uses traveled from Asia to Europe.

The accuracy of images in the book, as with this image of the Ficus tree, one of 200 Indian medicinal plants in The Herball, are also remarkable. Descriptions of exotic Indian plants with unusual properties inspired poets and writers of the period. Interestingly John Milton's description of the Fig Tree of Eden in his epic poem "Paradise Lost" refers to the Fig Tree of Malabar, "not that kind for fruit renowned, but such as, at this day to Indians known, in Malabar or Deccan spreads her arms, branching so broad and long, that in the ground the bended twigs root and daughters grow about the mother tree…" (John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667). The description closely resembles the arched Indian Fig Tree described by Gerard in the Greate Herball at the end of the 16th century.


  • Title: The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes,
  • Date Created: 1597
  • Physical Dimensions: 2 x 3.2 in.
  • Subject Keywords: Dr. Anna Spudich, India Spice Trade
  • Type: Woodcut
  • Original Source: The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. Private collection.
  • Rights: Private collection.
  • Medium: Woodcut on paper
  • Region: Private collection
  • Bibliography: The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, John Gerard, John Norton, London, 1597.
  • Author: John Gerard, John Norton

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