'[W]hat greater delight is there than to behold the Earth apparelled with plants?'
Herbals are books that describe the appearance and medicinal properties of plants. They were predominantly used by early doctors as guides for prescribing and preparing ointments and medicines. The earliest known herbals date back to the ancient Greeks, who compiled catalogues of plants with healing properties.
The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, written by John Gerard (1545-1612) and published in 1597, expands on this tradition. It notes not just medicinal but culinary uses for plants, as well as their habitats, physical descriptions and seasons. Gerard saw the catalogue as a means of preserving botanical knowledge for all.
After Gerard died, his book was revised and extended by botanist Thomas Johnson, resulting in two later editions, published in 1633 and 1636.
The Herball is notable for featuring a number of plants that we now take for granted, but were new to Europeans in the late-sixteenth century - for example, the potato plant, which can be seen in the frontispiece to the book. This illustration is one of the earliest depictions of a potato.