Woodville (1810)

Dr William Woodville


In the preface to Medical Botany, Dr. William Woodville (1752-1805) states: ‘For some time past the medicinal uses of vegetable simples have been less regarded by physicians than they were formerly’. He doubts whether there has been any improvement in medicine by the growing use of ‘Chemicals’ as distinct from what he calls ‘Galenicals’ (natural remedies). Woodville had a deep interest in botany.

He was elected to the Linnean Society in 1791, and maintained a botanic garden on 2 acres of land rented from the Smallpox Hospital at St Pancras where he worked. Between 1790 and 1794 he published the present work, Medical Botany, a four-volume catalogue of plants, based on the pharmacopoeia of the royal colleges of physicians in London and Edinburgh.

Each plant was described by both its botanical characteristics and its therapeutic uses, and illustrated with an engraving. The plates were originally drawn, etched and painted by James Sowerby, an artist noted for his lifelike and accurate representation of plants. It became the standard book on the subject of medicinal botany and held that position for nearly 100 years, until the publication of Medicinal Plants by Bentley and Trimen in 1875.

Shown here is plate 17 of Medical Botany whichillustrates Arnica montana.