University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

What Is an Herb?

According to legend, the Anglo-Latin scholar Alcuin (ca. 732-804) posed this question to his pupil Charlemagne. The King replied, “the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”

This response might seem odd to late twentieth-century readers, but Charlemagne’s answer was certainly indicative of his time. By the eighth century, people had been using herbs as medical tools for over four thousand years. Herbalism and medicine were essentially the same practice.

Originally displayed in July and August of 1997, this exhibit highlights four herbals that are milestones of western herbal medicine. Each of these herbals can currently be found in the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library’s Wilhelm Moll Rare Book and Medical History Room, at the University of Virginia.

Unless marked otherwise, all text and images in this exhibit are the property of Historical Collections & Services of the Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia. For permission to reproduce any of the text or images, please contact Joan Echtenkamp Klein, Assistant Director for Historical Collections & Services, at jre@virginia.edu, or by phone at (434) 924-0052.