Sheldrake (1759)

Timothy Sheldrake


One of the most attractive herbals ever produced is Botanicum medicinale: an herbal of medicinal plants written and illustrated by Timothy Sheldrake (fl 1756). Its 118 copperplates are by James Basire (who trained William Blake) and Cornelius Heinrich Hemmerich, an engraver from Nuremburg who specialised in natural history subjects. What is remarkable is that not only the illustrations (all in colour) but also the text of this large folio volume are engraved, the calligraphy being first class and the presentation of each plant very artistic. While the text is in English, the plant names are in several languages.

Each plant is set in an oval with the words neatly arranged around it. The botanical descriptions are quite thorough compared with the often meagre references to medicinal uses. Of the primrose, for instance, it says:’ The juice of the root is sometimes used to snuff up the Nose with intent to clear the Head: ‘tis seldom used’. And about the species it calls Botrys or Ambosia, it is even more vague:’This plant is accounted Warm, and useful in some Cases to Women’. Among the best of the charming lifelike illustrations are those of dill, juniper, mezerion, primrose and, shown here, nutmeg.