Olde Thyme Herbals

John Parkinson. 1640. Published a 1776 page tome on herbal medicines. The medicines of the time. He mentions Claudius Galen (AD 130-200), Dioscorides—mid first century AD, Matthiolus (1501-1577) , Pliny the elder (AD23-79) Written with a pot of ink and a nib. Burnt wood images.

I am but a foundling in the world of herbal medicine. I have devoted part of my time to the study, the practice, the mashinations of the herbal world. John Parkinson, a man who gave his life to herbal medicine, humbles. Over fifty years he noted, observed, practiced herbal medicine, and compiled the information into an eleven pound, leather bound book. Theatrum Botanicum, The Theater of Plants. The history of ‘current’ herbal medicines in the Roman world.

He uses herb names such as baulme, medowsweete, ladies thistle, paritary of the wall, soure dock, tyme, & love apples. (Lemon balm, meadowsweet, milk thistle, savory, thyme, & tomatoes.) The words of the time: privities (sexual organs), Kings Evill (scrofula), cod’s itch (itchy balls), cataplasme (herbal poultice), fundament (bowels.)

Yet the applications are similar or more involved. Some uses thought lost to us or have fallen out of favour are abundant. I laughed out loud at a treatment for either piles (haemorrhoids) or ‘the falling down of the fundament’ using the seeds & flowers of Mullein. One 'casts the seeds & flowers of mullein, flowers of camomill, & dryed venice turpentine on to a few coals in a chafing-dish set into a close-stoole and sit bare over the fumes.' When in doubt, smoke it out, I suppose.

The 'oyl' of mullein flowers was used for the treatment of piles. It brings new meaning to Herb Nerd NZ’s Soothing Herbal Oil which is oil infused with the flowers of mullein! I may use the spelling of oyl in the future.

An example of a herb in the Theatrum Botanicum is Sanicula europaea. Leaves are gathered in the spring before or during flowering. Roots are collected in the autumn. Sanicle comes from the Latin to heal.


It is bitter in taste, heating & drying, good to heale all greene wounds speedily or ulcers imposthumes.

A decoction of the leaves until golden then sweetened with honey can give energy and clarity. It works gently to make the whold body function better. (The Herbalists Bible, J. Seal, pg. 187.)

Leaves are wound healing.

To heale up all the maligne putride or stinking ulcers of the mouth, throat and privities by gargling or washing with the decoction of the leaves and roote made in water and a little hony put thereto.
(J. Parkinson, Chapter 28, pp 532-534 Theatrum botanicum, An Herball of Large Extent. )
Hmmm, something to consider before my next dental visit!

It is fascinating reading, these old time herbal things. Especially for a nerd. The 1600's. Someone was able to write it down. The use of plants as medicine since the beginning of our time. What we had, what we needed. We derived our current medicines from plants and it's evolved into our modern health care system. The pendulum is swinging. Back to the use of whole plants and respecting the wisdom surrounding us. To finding a balance between the plant world and our current medical model.

So if you come to clinic with ‘the falling down of the fundament,’ you might find yourself sitting over hot coals fuming with chamomile and mullein or some nice Soothing Herbal Oil.

Want to view John Parkinson's book online?

(Photo courtesy of abebooks.com)