Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gerard's Herbal: Mirabilis jalapa

This print comes from Gerard's Herbal, first published in 1597. What he called Admirabilis peruana is now known as Mirabilis jalapa.

A few facts about John Gerard and his Herball

A few more facts about John Gerard and his Herball
1. He superintended the gardens of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, who was chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Gerard dedicated the Herball to Cecil.
2. The potato was first described in the Herball.
3. How much of the Herball is original? It's debatable. It seems largely to be a translation of the work of Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585). At the very least, Dodoens's work was source for Gerard.
4. There were errors in Gerard's translation which were corrected by the Flemish physician and botanist Matthias de l'Obel as the work was being prepared for publication. Gerard found out about l'Obel's work and summarily had him fired. I don't know whether Gerard had l'Obel's corrections removed.

A few facts about Mirabilis jalapa
1. It is commonly known as four o'clock flower because of its tendency to bloom in late afternoon. It is also known as Marvel of Peru; it is native to tropical South America.
2. The plant is two to three feet in height and width. Flowers are about two inches long. Flowers can be red, white, purple, pink, or multi-colored.
3. In herbal medicine (i.e., don't try this at home, kids), an extraction from the roots is used as a diuretic. Leaves are also used by herbalists (same caveat applies here) for wound healing.
4. Although seeds are said to germinate easily, the plant is commonly grown from tubers.

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