John Gerard, The herball or Generall historie of plantes (London, 1597)
Winchester College Fellows' Library
First published in 1597, this book by the Elizabethan botanist John Gerard (c. 1545–1612) provides practical information on more than 1,000 plants, illustrated by around 2,150 woodcuts.The book is divided into three sections, each one focusing on a different group of plants. For each plant, a Latin and English name is given, as well as a physical description, where and when it grows, as well as their ‘tempers’ and ‘vertues’ (habits and uses).
Some of these plants were completely alien to the average European, as they have only recently been observed in the New World, including the potato. Hundreds of the woodcuts in the book had been reused from earlier works, but the potato image here was first published by Gerard, and is the first description of a potato in English. Although he writes that it is from Virginia, the tuber actually originates from Peru. The proportions of the plant have been altered so that as much of it can be shown. Gerard was known to have his own potato plant in his garden, and he wrote about how the plant grew differently in the English climate.