At the 2018 RHS Plant Society event Sally Hayward, one of the extremely hard working organisers of the event, mentioned she had been carrying out research into the 1597 edition of the English botanist John Gerard’s Herbal, an original copy of which is held at Canterbury Cathedral.
Information from the book is being used as part of their herb garden project which involves using Near Field Communication (NFC), the technology that allows you to Tap & Pay using a credit card or mobile phone. Using the NFC chips placed in the herb garden, you can link to digital entries from a 1597 edition of Gerard’s ‘The herball or generall historie of plantes’.
Gerard (1545–1612) followed the same format for every plant listed in the Herbal (the 1597 version runs to in excess of 1400 pages), giving a description of the plant, where it can be found growing, the flowering and seeding times, the names by which it was known in other countries e.g. German, Dutch and English, and finally ‘The Temperature and Vertues’ whereby he assessed the medicinal uses.
In the research Sally had been doing, she came across the entry for box which is an interesting read either from the original document or by reading the helpfully retyped version Sally has provided.
Another interesting point she raised was that box is referred to as being ‘fit for dagger hafts’. The modern spelling is ‘heft’ and it means to give weight, something that is required for dagger and gun handles. Original historic examples with intricate inlays and carving are very valuable and sell for large sums when they come up for auction. Also mentioned are ‘Dudgeon hafted daggers’ with dudgeon being the root rather than the trunk.
Thanks very much to Sally Hayward for bringing this information to our attention and be sure to visit the herb garden at Canterbury Cathedral if you are in the area to see the garden and the results of the rest of the research.
The gardens at the Cathedral won the Gold Award at the Royal Horticultural Society’s South and South East in Bloom finals in 2017.
Not surprisingly you aren’t allowed to touch the original copy at the Cathedral, but don’t despair you can read the whole book if you want by visiting archive.org who have the whole thing scanned and word searchable – isn’t the internet brilliant!
Extract from Gerard’s Herbal
CHAP. 70. Of the Box Tree
The great Box is a faire tree, bearing a great body or trunke: the wood or timber is yellow and very hard, and fit for sundry works, having many boughs and hard branches, beset with sundry small hard greene leaves, both Winter and Summer like the Bay tree: the floures are very little, growing among the leaves, of a greene colour: which being vaded [‘faded’] there succeed small blacke shining berries, of bignesse of the seeds of Corianders, which are inclosed in round greenish huskes, having three feet or legs like a brasse or boyling pot: the root is likewise yellow, and harder than the timber, but of greater beauty, and more fit for dagger hafts, boxes, and such like uses, whereto the trucke or body serveth, than to make medecines; though foolish emperickes and Women leaches, doe minister it against the Apoplexie, and such diseases: Turners and Cutlers, if I mistake not the matter, doe call this wood Dudgeon, wherewith they make Dudgeon hafted daggers.
There is also a certaine kinde hereof, growing low, and not above halfe a yard high, but it spreadeth all abroad: the branches hereof are many and slender: the leaves bee round, and of a light greene.
Buxus, or the Box tree growth upon sundry waste and barren hills in England, and in divers gardens.
The Box tree growth greene Winter and Summer: it floureth in February and March, and the seed is ripe in September.
The Grecians call it πύξος: in Latine, Buxus: in high Dutch, Buchszbaum : in low Dutch, Burzboom : in Italian, Bosse : in English, Box tree.
The lesser may be called Hamasbyksios: and in Latine Humi Buxus: in English, dwarfe Box, or ground Box, and it is commonly called Dutch Box.
The Temperature and Vertues
A The leaves of the Box tree are hot, dry and astringent, of an evill and loathsome smell, not used in medicine, but only as I said before in the description.