Nicholas Culpeper: The Complete Herbal


Not only do many modern medicines have their origins in herbal medicine, more and more people are turning to herbal preparations—with or without also accepting modern drugs, vaccines and medications—and alternative, traditional treatments are popular. At Talking of Food we have our series on Vitamins, so we have decided to look into one of the most celebrated of herbalists, Nicholas Culpeper, who in the first half of the 17th century took knowledge of the medical use of herbs out of the grip of the Society of Apothecaries and made it accesible to ordinary people.

We cannot include the whole Herbal, which covers hundreds of plants, together with instructions for making the various kinds of medicaments, and an Alphabetical list of all human diseases with the names of the herbs that will cure them… it runs to 430 pages! So we will pick those herbs and plants that we use everyday in our cooking, plus others which we know are used medecinally today. If we miss any that you think should be included, let us know in a comment.

Image of Nicholas Culpeper by Thomas Cross, line engraving, published 1649, Catalogue NPG D29025. Used with permission from the National Portrait Gallery under Creative Commons licence. Image resized.

The Complete Herbal title page

In his introduction to The Complete Herbal, Thomas Kelly says, ‘Culpeper was a writer and translator of several Works, the most celebrated of which is his Herbal, “being an astrologo-physical discourse of the common herbs of the nation; containing a complete Method or Practice of Physic, whereby a Man may preserve his Body in Health, or cure himself when sick, with such things only as grow in England, they being most fit for English Constitutions.” ’

Nicholas Culpeper 1649  line engraving

Nicholas Culpeper (18 October 1616 – 10 January 1654), was a botanist, hebalist, physician and astrologer. Brought up by his mother and his maternal grandparents, he learned Latin and Greek at a young age, and became interested in astronomy, astrology, time, his grandfather’s collection of clocks, and medical texts in his grandfather’s library, and learned about herbs and medicine from his grandmother.