The Herbalists Writings on Carrots

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What the Ancient Herbalists said about Carrots

This page takes a detailed look at some of the significant references to carrots in Herbals and their medicinal uses.

Navigation of this page:

Leech Book 925 H Daniel
Forme of Cury 1390 Hortus
Sanitatis 1491
R Banckes
Grete Herball
L Fuchs
Wm Turner
R Dodoens
H Lyte
J Gerard
William Coles 1657 Nicholas Culpepper 1653

Introduction - The prehistoric discovery that certain plants cause harm and others have curative powers is the origin of the healing professions and its practitioners (priest, physician, and apothecary), as well as professions devoted to plants (botany and horticulture). The description of plants and their propeGermal Herbal Showing Orange Rooted Carrot 1600rties and virtues (termed herbals in the 16th century) became an invaluable resource for the physician and apothecary. The earliest medico-botanical treatises date to antiquity.

A good reference source on this subject is Project Gutenberg's The Old English Herbals, by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, 1922 available to download here.

A Sumerian tablet from about 2100 BCE (before current era) contains a dozen prescriptions and proscribes plant sources. In China, the Pen T’Sao Ching, assumed to be authored by the legendary Emperor Shen Nung in “2700 BCE,” but probably written in the first century, contains about 100 herbal remedies. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical treatise from ancient Egypt dates to 1550 BCE but contains material from 5 to 20 centuries earlier. In Greece, the great botanical treatise Enquiry into Plants of Theophrastus, devotes book IX to the medicinal value of herbs. The herbal De Materia Medica by Pedanios Dioscorides of Anazarba, a Roman army physician, written in 65 A.D., the most famous ever written, was slavishly referred to, copied, and commented on for 1500 years. The great epoch of printed herbals appeared in the 16th century

Many ancient societies have a body of traditional medicine, largely based on herbalism, that predates the invention of writing. It is not surprising that, as they became literate, those cultures felt the urge to commit that knowledge to writing - in the form of herbals. Before the advent of printing, herbals were produced as manuscripts, which could be kept as scrolls or loose sheets, or bound into codices. The European Renaissance pharmacopoeia borrows heavily from ancient sources, particularly Galen, Dioscorides, Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder.  See separate page showing illustrations from ancient manuscripts.

Early handwritten herbals were often illustrated with paintings and drawings. Like other manuscript books, herbals were "published" through repeated copying by hand, either by professional scribes or by the readers themselves. In the process of making a copy, the copyist would often translate, expand, adapt, or reorder the content. Most of the original herbals have been lost; many have survived only as later copies (of copies of copies!), and many others are known only through references from other texts.  They tend to follow the same pattern  - the plant's physical appearance, smell, taste and natural habitat, followed by a discussion on any known medicinal qualities, culinary virtues, and then any useful products obtained from the plants roots, leaves, seeds or flowers. Sadly colour variations (of carrot) were rarely described until much later.

The advent of printing in the 15th century and the technology of the woodblock print was to have an enormous influence in herbals. Printed herbals were in great demand by physicians, the apothecary, as well as for ordinary people who needed a source for remedies. Hand-illuminated manuscripts were too expensive to be owned by all except nobility or clergy in wealthy monasteries. Thus, the printed book became a source of information for the middle classes, while the focus of inquiry and new information came out of the burgeoning universities. In the 16th century, the age of exploration and the beginnings of scientific inquiry coupled with the tremendous interest in the new plants discovered in the "New Worlds" brought about an unprecedented demand for the printed herbal.

In Europe, the first printed herbal with woodcut (xylograph) illustrations, the "Buch der Natur" of Konrad of Megenberg, appeared in 1475. Metal-engraved plates were first used in about 1580. The woodcuts and metal engravings could now be reproduced almost indefinitely, and they were traded among printers: there was therefore a large increase in the number of illustrations together with an improvement in their quality and detail. This is also why one scan often see the same illustration in different herbals.

Traditional Herbals are compilations of information about medicinal or therapeutic plants, typically including plaRembert Dodoens - Image of Yellow and Red Carrot 1554nt names, descriptions, and illustrations, and information on medicinal uses. Herbals have been written for thousands of years and form an important historical record and scientific resource. Many plant medicines listed in older herbals are still used in some form, but some herbals, especially earlier ones, also contain much inaccurate information and plant lore.

Herbals are a particularly interesting group in the history of written communication in that they have always been in circulation since the antiquities and were not 'rediscovered' during the renaissance. (image right - Rembert Dodoens - Image of Yellow and Red Carrot 1554)

Despite the faithful transcription of the manuscript text by monastic scribes, distortions inevitably crept in as the work passed from one hand to the next. Greater variation exists among the illustrations which were often painted without reference to the living world. Regional variation in both plant types and knowledge as well as differences in editorial control also contributed over a thousand years of copying to a body of herbal manuscripts deriving from a few ancient sources.

This all makes for a complex history but there are two lines or branches generally identified in classifying the lineage of a herbal. Perhaps the most important is the five volume pharmacopoeia/herbal, 'De Materia Medica' by Dioscorides from the first century AD, which represents the Greek/Arabic tradition. This work also supplies much of the textual origin for the other branch, the Latin tradition -  which is contained within a corpus of works by an amalgamated author, referred to as Pseudo-Apuleius (sometimes called Apuleius Platonic, to distinguish him or them from a number of other authors from the middle ages called Apuleius). The original Pseudo-Apuleius Herbal was produced in about the 5th century AD.

For most of human history, people have relied on herbalism for at least some of their medicinal needs, and this remains true for more than half of the world's population in the twenty-first century. Much of our modern pharmacopoeia also has its roots in the historical knowledge of medicinal plants.

There is a very interesting presentation on line by the University of Minnesota Library entitled "Woodcut Herbals from 1491-1633" here.

European herbal medicine is rooted in the works of classical writers such as Pliny the Elder who wrote Historia Naturalis (here); and Dioscorides (here), a Greek physician and author of the first known illustrated guide to medicinal plants whose De Materia Medica (78 C. E.) formed the basis of herbals in Europe for 1,500 years and the most influential herbal of all time.

Then, as voyages of exploration began to bring new plants from far away lands, European herbal authors expanded their coverage. This also led to a heightened interest in naming and classifying plants, contributing to the development of botanical science.

Also The Old English Herbarium (late10th C) takes its material from Pliny and other Latin compilations and cites uses for carrot: 

"The pastinaca silvatica plant which is wild carrot or parsnip - For difficult childbirth and  For womens cleansing -

82. Wild Carrot of Parsnip (Daucus carota L, or Pastinaca sativa L, pastinaca silvatica, Feldmoru.

This plant which is called pastinace silvatice or wild carrots, grows in sandy soils and hills.

1. If a woman has difficulty in giving birth, the plant we call pastinaca silvatica (wild carrot or parsnip), simmer it in water, and give it so that she can bathe herself with it. She will be healed.

2. For a woman's cleansing, take the same plant, pastinaca, simmer it in water, and when it is soft, mix it well and give it to drink. She will be cleansed."

Leech Book of Bald - The oldest surviving medical text book in England is also the oldest herbal, for of course herbs were medicine in the middle ages. This is the Leech Book of Bald, ( læce in Old English means healer) compiled in Ælfred's time or very shortly thereafter by a monk named Bald, and penned, in its surviving copy, between 924 and 946 by a scribe (almost certainly also a monk) named Cild and possibly under the influence of Alfred the Great's educational reforms.

The Leechbook of Bald is an Old English medical text probably compiled in the tenth century.  It takes its name from a Latin verse colophon at the end of the second book which begins "Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscribere iussit", meaning 'Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.' The text survives in only one manuscript in London at the British Library, Royal 12, D xvii.

Its wisdom formed the foundation of every succeeding English medical treatise. The Saxon herbal, the Leech Book of Bald, which dates from the first half of the 10th century, includes remedies and treatments and lots of superstition.  It contains lots of herbal remedies, charms and incantations including many practices used by the Greeks and Romans.

The Leech Book of Bald reveals that herbs were used to protect people from infections. Bald remains a shadowy figure from the past and his writings suggest a time of superstition. It was believed disease occurred when people were struck with elves' arrows. Here are some extracts from this work:

For him who hath thick eyelids, take a copper vessel, put therein cathartic seeds and salt there among, take celandine and bishopwort and cuckoosour and attorlothe and springwort  and English carrot, and a somewhat of radish, and ravens foot, then wash them all, then pour wine on ; let it stand, strain again into the copper vessel; then let it stand fifteen nights and the dregs will be good. Have with thee clean curds and introduce into the vessel on which the dregs are, as much of the curd as may cleave thereon. Then scrape the scrapings off" the vessel, that will be a very good salve for the man who hath thick eyelids.

A quieting drink; betony, helenium, wormwood, ontre, horehound, lupin, wenwort, yarrow, dwarf dowstie, attorlothe, fieldmore or carrot.

For pock disease, (smallpox)' use " onred," houseleek, the netherpart of it, fieldmore, the nether part of it; of "onred" an equal quantity, and of the two others by half less of the fieldmore or carrot than of the houseleek, pound them thoroughly together, add so much clear ale as may mount above the worts ; let them stand three nights, administer in the morning a cup full.

For the "dry" pain (atrophy or consumption); make into a drink, alexanders, sedum, wormwood, the two kneeholns,- sage, savine, carrot, lovage, feverfue, marche, costmary, garlic, aslithroat, betony, bishopwort, work them up into double brewed ale, sweeten with honey, drink for nine mornings no other liquid ; drink afterwards a strong potion, and let blood.

It also recommended a broth of carrot (or mint)  to cure a hiccup which came from having a chill.

The 15th to the 17th centuries were the great age of herbals, many of them available for the first time in English and other languages, rather than Latin or Greek. 

1166 - Mattheau Platearius of Naples wrote Circa Instans  a twelfth-century manuscript originating at Europe’s first medical school at Salerno, a loose translation of Dioscorides work describing 273 simple herbs used in the medical school in Salerno. Circa Instans is probably the most important work of botanical medicine of the Middle Ages as it contributed to a better understanding of unknown plants also identified each of them alphabetically showing geographical origin and variety, giving the names in Greek, Latin and often the vulgar too. The Circa Instans strongly influenced the Grand Herbier of Paris (1520) and was subsequently translated and printed into English as the Grete Herball in 1526

Although these early printed herbals undoubtedly revolutionised the dissemination of knowledge about medicinal plants, their illustrations were often crude and inaccurate, being based upon images repeatedly copied out from manuscripts from generation to generation, errors and all. They are of limited use for identification purposes and different plants were often depicted by repeated use of the same woodcuts, while the descriptions of the properties of the herbs tended to mix genuine Discoridean tradition with local folk lore and the pure imagination!.

The Sixteenth Century was the century of great herbals. The serious study of herbalism flourished as never before, resulting in the production of a plethora of works based upon field work and scientific fact.

Here are some of the references to the uses of carrots (wild and domesticated) in herbal works dating from the14th century.

Henry Daniel (1315 approx - 1385) was an English physician of the mid 14th century and a pioneer in the fields of botanical observation, ecology and the cultivation of exotic plants.  Although little is known of Daniel's life, a good deal can be deduced from his surviving works, which include translations of medical treatises from the Latin and the extensive herbal De re Herbaria (1375). He must originally have been comparatively well-to-do, but later became poor and joined the Dominican Order.  It was probably after entering religion that he was able to get access to the many authorities which he consulted in the compilation of his herbal.

Friar Henry Daniel was an outstanding field naturalist, botanist and skilled gardener, who spent seven years training as a physician before becoming a Dominican Friar. He grew 252 plants in his garden at Stepney (London) and wrote many treatises on gardening and in particular herbs native to Britain, including detailed descriptions of soil and climates. Daniel was a scholar of distinction. He sought out works which, in many cases, must have been rare in English libraries, and his surviving translations are correct, clear, and forcibly expressed. His garden at Stepney may well have been the earliest deliberate collection planned on a large scale in the British Isles, and certainly contained many more species than would have been present in the herbarium of a monastic infirmary

In the botanical habitats for plants named by Daniel were -  "Carrots - growing in dry places, and in meers."

The Forme Of Cury1390 - A Roll of Ancient English Cookery. (printed and edited by Samuel Pegge in 1785, who deduced that Pasturnakes was taken to mean Parsnips or Carrots, from Pastinaca.)  (Cury means cookery)

Compiled, by the Master-Cooks of King RICHARD II, Presented afterwards to Queen ELIZABETH, by EDWARD Lord STAFFORD.

Two recipes containing "Pasturnakes" are given in this very early work.


Take rapus and make hem clene and waissh hem clene. quare hem . parboile hem. take hem up. cast hem in a gode broth and see hem. mynce Oynouns and cast erto Safroun and salt and messe it forth with powdour douce. the wise [3] make of Pasturnakes  and skyrwates.

[1] Rapes, or rapus. Turneps. [2] quare hem. Cut them in _squares_, or small pieces. V. Gloss. [3] in the wise, _i.e._ in the same manner. _Self_ or _same_, seems to be casually omitted. Vide No. 11 and 122. [4] Pasturnakes, for parsnips or carrots.  Gloss. skyrwates, for skirrits or skirwicks."

"FRYTOUR OF PASTERNAKES OF APPLES [1]. XX.VII. IX.  (Carrot & Apple Fritters)

Take skyrwate  and pasternakes and apples, & parboile hem, make a batour of flour and ayrenn, cast pto ale. safroun & salt. wete hem in de batour and frye hem in oile or in grece. do pto Almaund Mylk. & serve it forth."

The Hortus Sanitatis 1491 or the Ortus Sanitatis (the origin of health), as it is also known, is in the tradition of the medieval herbals and shows one of the earliest illustrations of the Carrot (shown right).

It is partly based on Der Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of Health), which is sometimes attributed to Johann von Cube, and was originally printed by Peter Schoeffer at Mainz in 1485. However, it should be regarded as a separate work as it covered nearly a hundred more medicinal plants than the Gart der Gesundheit and also included extensive sections on animals, birds, fish and minerals, as well as a treatise on urine. The authorship of this lavishly illustrated herbal is unknown but it is generally believed to have been compiled by its printer, Jacob Meydenbach. It was first printed in  in Mainz and is therefore the last major medical work to cover medicines from the Old World only.

Rycharde Banckes 1525

The first book printed in England, which can really be called a herbal, is an anonymous quarto volume, without illustrations, published in 1525.  It was based on an unknown medieval manuscript dealing with herbs. A number of editions followed with different names.

The title-page says: 

"Here begynneth a newe mater, the whiche sheweth and treateth of ye vertues and proprytes of herbes, the whiche is called an Herball."


This herbe is called Carut, this herbe hath leaves somewhat like to fenel wyth a longe stalke and a round seede more than parsnep seede.

The vertue of this herbe is to destroy evel windes and the coughe, and it is good for the tretie and for bytinge of venemous bestes. Also this herbe medled with allu is good for Scabbes and Teters (eruptive skin diseases like eczema, and impetigo).  Also it restoreth hair there as it is fallen away, this herbe groweth in moyst places."

(Note there were several plagiarised versions of Banckes Herbal in this period, notably A "Newe Herbal Translated out of Laten in to Englysshe" known as Macers Herbal was in fact a simple re-working of Banckes work)nter>

Image right shows an early German drawing taken from “Herbarum Imagines Vivae”  printed from a copy of the original 1535 Frankfurt Edition belonging to the Leopold Sophien Bibliothek Uberlingen.

Grete Herbal 1526 - One of the most reputed English Herbals,  it was nevertheless a translation from the French, namely from the work known as ' Le Grant Herbier,' and shows some indebtedness to the Ortus Sanitatis. Other sources say it is derived from the Codex Bruxellensis iv MS 1024 and became the basis of all English herbals of the 16th century.   Daucus Cretensis (wild carrot) is depicted in a drawing in the original manuscript. (below - image from Wellcome Library collection, subject to copyright).

French Herbal image of Daucus Cretensis


"De Dauco Dawke - Daucus Dawke is hote and drye in the third degree, it is a comyn herbe, and hath a large floure and in the middle thereof a lytel redprciks.

Vertue is in the floure and the herbe, for its rote is nought, it ought to be gadzed (gathered?) what it bereth floures.

The rote must be hanged in shadowed place to dye. It kepeth good one yere. It hath vertue to sprede to waste and to dysmyss the humours by the quallytees, and hath vertue dyurytyke (duiretic) by the subtylyte of the substaunce.

For the brethe - Against lettynge of the brethe caused of colde humours and colde cough take drynke that this herbe a drye sygges is sobe in agaynst poose or cold cewme bynde powder of this herbe to ye heed in a bagge.

For the Stomake Agaynst paine of the stomacke caused of wynde. Agaynst stoppage of urine as stranguary and dyssury and agaynst ache of the wombe. Spue the drynke that it is soden in. And also sethe it in wyne and oyle and lay it to the paynfull places and for the same take the drynke that the sedes of daucus and saxifrage is soden in.

For the Lyver - Agaynst stoppynge of ye lyver and mylt (spleen) caused of colde and agaynst dropsy make syrope with the juice of fenell and the decoccyon of this herbe for the same put this herbe in wyne and oyle the space of c (ten) dayes and then sethe it with the oyle onely and wrynge the herbe and streyne it with oyle and put ware thereto and make it playster or cyroyne. It is also good for harde apostrumes." (abcesses)

Image scanned from the Grete Herball

Image shows an early German drawing taken from “Herbarum Imagines Vivae”  printed from a copy of the original 1535 Frankfurt Edition belonging to the Leopold Sophien Bibliothek Uberlingen.

Leonhart Fuchs 1542 - The author of the Historia Stirpium, (On the History of Plants) Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), is known aTaken from “Herbarum Imagines Vivae”  printed from a copy of the original 1535 Frankfurt Edition belonging to the Leopold Sophien Bibliothek Uberlingen.s the third of the German fathers of Botany, after Otto Brunfels and Jerome Bock. In fact, Fuchs work was greatly inspired by the Herbarum vivae icones(1530-6) of Brunfels; based upon personal observation, Brunfels work was pioneering in dramatically changing the quality of botanical illustration. Fuchs' great herbal, however, was conceived on a much larger scale than the herb books of his immediate predecessors.

Like most botanical books of its time, “Fuchs’ Herbal” (as it is commonly known) consists largely of “commentaries” on Dioscorides. His aim was to reproduce each plant from life, and he stated in his dedicatory epistle that this was done for no other reason than that 'a picture expresses things more surely and fixes them more deeply in the mind than the bare words of the text'. Each illustration was therefore based upon the appearance of the living plant; furthermore, 'we have not allowed the craftsmen so to indulge their whims as to cause the drawing not to correspond accurately to the truth'. 

Fuchs in 1542 described, in Latin, red and yellow garden carrots and wild carrots, but names them all Pastinaca. Fuchs illustrates red and yellow carrots, although the red is definitely shaded towards purple.



William Turner 1548  set out to produce reliable lists of English plants and animals, which he published as Libellus de re herbaria.

Clergyman, physician, and naturalist, born in Morpeth, Northumberland, NE England, UK. A fellow of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, he became a Protestant, and to escape religious persecution in England travelled extensively abroad, studying medicine and botany in Italy. He is the author of the first original English works on plants, including Names of Herbes (1548) and A New Herball (155168), He is often called the father of English botany.

In the Names of Herbes (1548 - An index of English names, and an identification of the plants enumerated) Turner made the following entries:

There are many kyndes of Daucus after Dioscorides, three at the least, wherof I knowe none suerly but one, whiche is called in latin pastinaca syluestris, in english wild carot & in greeke Staphilinos agrios, for the other kindes ye may use carawey seede, or carot seede. Some learned me not without a cause hold that both the Saxifrages, that is the englishe, and the Italion may be occupied for Dauco. Daucus is sharpe and heateth."

Pastinaca is called in greeke Staphilinos in englishe a Carot, in duche pasteney, in frenche Cariottes. Carettes growe in al countreis in plentie."

A New Herball, (1551) is the first part of Turner's great work; These volumes gave the first clear, systematic survey of English plants, and with their admirable woodcuts (mainly copied from Fuchs' 1542 De historia Stirpium) and detailed observations based on Turner's own field studies put the herbal on an altogether higher footing than in earlier works. At the same time, however, Turner included an account of their "uses and vertues," and in his preface admits that some will accuse him of divulging to the general public what should have been reserved for a professional audience.

Turner considered the Grete Herball (above) to be "al full of unlearned cacographes and falseye naminge of herbes". This was because the Herball was a translation of of French Herbal (Le grant herbier) which in turn was a part reflex of a Latin Work (Circa instans) leading to discrepancies in the correct naming of plants.

Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585)The famous Flemish physician and botanist Rembertus Dodonaeus  is best known for his herbal Cruydeboeck (more precisely: Cruijdeboeck, as the title is printed on the title page), written in old Flemish and published in 1554.  The scans shown below were made from a coloured copy, which is in the library of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland. All wood cuts, initials of the chapters and title pages are hand coloured, by the Dutch artist Hans Liefrinck (1520-1573).   (click on image for full page version)

Rembert Dodoens - Image of Yellow and Red Carrot 1554

Rembert Dodoens - Image of Wild Carrot 1554

Yellow Carrot and Red Carrot Wild Carrot
Carrot page in Dodens work

It was illustrated with 715 woodcuts of plants, including many copies from those in the Fuch's herbal. Dodoens' used Fuchs as his model for the description of each plant. The method of arrangement is his own.  He indicates the localities and times of flowering in the Low Countries, information that could not have been derived from an earlier writer.

It is written in Latin and later translated and enhanced by Henry Lyte (below). Also much of Dodoens work is repeated by Gerard's translation (also below).

Pastinaca Sativus Rubens Rembert Dodoens Pastinaca Silvetris tenuifolia

The Foure Bookes of Husbandrie, collected by Conrad Heresbach 1577 make reference to Red and Yellow Carrots thus:

"Redde and Yellowe Carrettes - You have also in this Garden red Carrets, I have some Yellowe Carrets. Plinie inviteth that Tiberius was so in love with this roote, that he caused Carrets to be yeerley brought him out of Germanie, from the Castell of Geluba standing upon the Rhine.

It delighteth in colde places, and is sowed before the kalendes of Marche, and of some in September; but the third and the best kind of sowing as some thinke, is in August.

There is also Wilde Carret, a kind of Parsnep. There are those that suppose it to be the yellowe roote, that is so common in Germanie, they are to be sowed in March. It is general that they be wello troden uppon, or kept cut, so the end the rootes may growe the greater."  (Copy of original page here)

Henry Lyte (1529 - 1607) was an English botanist and antiquary who published "A niewe Herball" (1578), which was a translation of the Cruydeboeck of Rembert Dodoens (Antwerp, 1564). This herbal, or historie of plants was subtitled "Wherein is contained the whole discourse and perfect description of all sorts of herbs and plants."  Written in old English, it is a fascinating summary of the carrot at the time in England. Basically an English copy of Dodoens earlier work.

He did not perhaps add very greatly to the knowledge of English botany, but he did a valuable service in introducing Dodoens' herbal into England. He said the root of the garden carrots (compared to wild) is more convenient and better to be eaten.

The title of Lyte's book is as follows: 'A Niewe Herball or Historie of Plantes : wherin is contayned the whole discourse and perfect description of all sortes of Herbes and Plantes : their divers and sundry kindes : their straunge Figures, Fashions, and Shapes : their Names, Natures, Operations, and Vertues : and that not onely of those which are here growyng in this our Countrie of Englande, but of all others also of forrayne Realmes, commonly used in Physicke. First set foorth in the Doutche or Almaigne tongue, by that learned D. Rembert Dodoens, Physition to the Emperour : And nowe first translated out of French into English, by Henry Lyte Esquyer.'

Of Carrots (Chap xxxviii) (note this has been edited by the Curator for ease of reading)

The Kinds - There be three sortes of Carrots, yealow and red whereof  two be tame of the garden, the third is wild growing of it selfe.

The Description -

1.The yealow Carrot hath dark greene leaves, all cut and hackt almost like the leaves of Chervil, but a great deal browner, larger, stronger, and smaller cut. The root is thicke and long, yealow both without and within and is used to be eaten in meates.

2. The red Carrot is like to the aforesaid in the cuts of his leaves, and in stalks, flowers and seed. The root is likewise long and thicke, but of a purple red colour both within and without.

3. The wilde is not much unlike garden Carrot, in leaves stalks and flowers, saving the leaves be a little rougher, and not so much cut or jagged. In the middle of the flowry tufts amongst the white flowers groweth one or two little purple marks or specks. The seede is rougher and the root smaller and harder than the other Carrots.

The Place -  1 & 2  the manured or tamed Carrot is sowne in gardens; 3 the wild groweth in the borders of fields, by high waies & paths, and in rough untoiled places.

The Time -Carrots do flower in June and July, and their seed is ripe in August.

He went on to describe its vertues which included, "cleaning evil blood"; "seeds to provoketh urine"; "this root hath the power to increase love".

The roots made into powder helped the "liver, spleen, kidnies and guarded against gravel".

Wild Carrot provoketh womens flowers, and drunk with wine helped in childbirth. It also good against venom and the bitings & stings of venomous beasts.

The greene leaves of Carrots "boiled with honey and laid to, do cleanse and mundifie (purify) uncleane and fretting sores" (- a type of poultice) 

W Langham 1579 Garden of Health  : containing the sundry rare and hidden vertues and properties of all kindes of Simples and Plants. Together with the
manner how they are to bee used and applyed in medicine for the health of mans body, against diuers diseases and infirmities most common amongst men. Gathered by the long experience and industry of William Langham,  Here is the transcription of his work on carrots:  (extract from original here)


1. mother drink one spoonful of the juice of the roots of wild carrots, with a little drink, apply the drosse (sediment or dregs) to the private place 2 Sodden tenderly in meat, they are pleasant and holsome, they nourish well, warm all the inner parts being eaten moderately.

3. The green leaves brushed with honey applied doeth cleanse unclean fretting sores.

4. The seeds of wild carrots drunk or applied to the matrix, bringeth down flowers (menstruation) it provoketh wine being drunk and is good against all venemous bitings and stingings.

5. He that taketh it aforehand, shall not be bitten by serpents: it is good for conception

6. the root drieth out wine, and provoketh venery.

7 And laid to the convenient place, it bringeth forth the child that sticketh in the birth.

8 The Garden Carrots hath the same virtues but not so strong but yet more fit for meat provoketh venery.

9 The roots especially of the wild carrot provoke urine, taken in any sort, and createth love.

10 the powder thereof drunk with honied water openeth the stoppings of the liver, milt and kidneys and is good for the gravel and the jaundice.

11 The seed of wild provoketh termes (menstrual blood), helpeth the suffocation of the mother; being drunk in wine, or used in pessaries, it provoketh urine, casteth out gravel, and is good for stranguary and dropsie, and for the pain of the sides, belly and reines (?), against all venome and venomous bitings.

12 The seeds of garden carrots have like virtues but not so strong. 13 the seeds especially of the wild sodden in wine draweth down the termes (menstrual blood), and urine and water of the dropsie. 14 the root used in meats is good against the droppings of urine, it may be kept in vinegar as other roots. 15 The seed, herb, or root sodden and applied bringeth downe the dead birth, the seconds and the flowers 16 and stamped with honey and applied it is good against the pockes (pox), kankers and fretting sores, which eat the flesh and skin. 17 the seed sodden in wine helpeth the cholic, and wind in the stomach and the hyckit (hiccup?)

John Gerard's Herball  - The Historie of Plants 1597 - this is largely a straight translation of Dodoen's work.

The original Generall Historie of Plantes of 1597 containing the description, times, places, nature and vertues of all sorts of Herbs for meate, medicine, or sweet smelling use.

John Gerard’s “Herbal or General History of Plants” has long been considered one of the most famous of English herbals.  First published in 1597, it was republished in 1633 revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson in an edition that retained much of the original Elizabethan text. 

The 1633 edition contains some 2850 descriptions of plants and about 2700 illustrations.


Stinking and Deadly Carrots - both the plant Thapsia, a relative of carrots

 It relies heavily on previously published texts, most notably plagiarising a translation Dodoens' Latin Herbal of 1583 (see above).  Gerard added 182 new plants and appended some of his own observations. The work is a valuable source fro the culinary historian, not only to prove certain plants were known at this time, but also to see how they were used.

"Of Carrots - Chap 390

There are two kinds of Pastinaca with jagged leaves, called in English, Carrots, and of those with jagged narrow leaves on is wilde.

The roote is long thicke and single, of a faire yellow colour, pleasant to be eaten, and very sweete in taste. There are to be sowen in April; they bring foorth their flowers and seeds the yeere after they be sowen.

There is another kinde hereof like to be the former in all partes, and differeth from it onely in the colour of the roote, which in this is not yellow, but of a blackish red colour.

The roote of the yellow Carrot is most commonly boiled with fat flesh and eaten. The nourishment therof is not much, and not verie good.; it is something windie, but not so much as Turneps, and doth so soone as they passe through the bodies. It doth breaketh and consumeth windinesse, provoketh urine, as doth the wilde Carrot.

    "Of Wilde Carrot - Chap 391 - It groweth in untoiled places, flowers in June and July and the seede is ripe in August.

The seede of this wilde Carrot, and likewise, the root is hot and drie in the second degree, and doth withall open. The roote boiled and eaten, or boiled with wine, and the decooction drunke, provoketh urine, expelleth the stone, bringeth foorth the birth; it also procureth bodily lust."

He also describes it a good for wind, cholic, dropsie; helping with the passions of the mother, helping conception and good against the bites of venomous beasts!  Full text here. Page 1   Page 2

Chapters 392 and 393 go on to examine Candie Carrots (from Crete) and Stinking and Deadly Carrots.

German Herbal Carrot No date. Ca. 1600. Germal Herbal Showing Orange Rooted Carrot 1600

Single woodcut (approximately 5 x 3 inches), hand coloured, on single sheet 8 1/2 x 14 inches, two woodcuts and text on verso.

Beautifully designed and executed wood cut of carrot plant, showing flowers, fruit, roots.

Colouring appears to be early hand colour, simple and carefully done.

Page 131 from an unidentified old German language (fraktur) herbal, possibly Mattioli?s "Kreuterbuch ...."

(Jacob Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 1611) a German version of his "Pedacii Dioscoridis de materia medica libri sex" first published in Venice 1558.

(Click Image for larger version)

Nicholas Culpepper's English Physician and Complete Herbal, (1615-1664)

"to which are now first added, upwards of One Hundred additional Herbs, with a display of their medicinal and occult properties, physically applied to the Cure and Disorders incident to Mankind." (1653)

Culpepper describes how the carrot in various decoctions (mainly boiled in wine or urine!) also help dropsy, wind, liver disease, fits, the lungs, shortness of breath, stitches in the side, eye diseases, consumption, cholic, kidney stones, evil blood, bodily sores.

It also deals with the bitings of venomous worms (snakes?) and serpents and creeping beasts. It could also cure sore paps and teats (nipples).

"Wild Carrots belong to Mercury and therefore break wind, and remove stitches from the sides, provoke urine and womens courses and helpeth to break and expel the stone; the seed is good for the dropsy and those whose bellies are swollen with the wind; helpeth the stone in the kidney; and rising of the mother; being taken in wine or boiled in wine and taken helpeth conception."

"Garden Carrots are so well known that they need no description, but because they are less physical use than the wild kind I shall describe the wild carrot. The wild is more effectual in physic as being more powerful in their operation, than the garden kind."

"To sum up it helpeth the body inwardly and outwardly; it strengthens almost all the principal members of the body, as the brain, the heart, the stomach, the liver, the lungs and the kidneys. It is also a preservative against all diseases for it provoketh sweat by which the body is purged of much corruption which breedeth disease."

Carrots - It is excellent for the head, and the parts thereof; this herb being eat, or the powder or juice drank, keepeth a person from the head ach and megrum, and also driveth it away. Being taken in meat of drink, it is good against dizziness and swimming giddiness of the head. It comforteth the brain, sharpeneth the wit, and strengthen the memory; it is a singular  remedy against deafness, for it amendeth the thickness of the hearing, and provoketh sleep.

The juice of it laid to the eyes, quickeneth the sight, also the water in which the powder, or herb dried, is steeped, hath the same effect if the eyes be washed therewith; the herb eaten, is good for the same purpose. the water or juice dropped into the eyes, cureth the redness, bloodshotten, and itching of them.

Some write that is strengthens the teeth, there being washed and rubbed with a cloth dipped in water of juice thereof. The powder stauncheth the blood that floweth out of the nose, being applied to the place. I comforteth the stomach; the broth of the herb, otherwise called the decoction drank in wine, is good for an evil stomach; it helpeth a weak stomach and causeth appetite to meat; also the wine wherein it has been boiled, doth cleanse and mundify the infected stomach.

The powder  thereof eaten with honey, or drank in wine, doth ripen and digest cold phlegm, purgeth and bringeth up that which is in the breast, scouring the same of gross humours, and causeth to breathe more easily. The herb chewed in the mouth, healeth the stench of breath. It helpeth the heart; the powder being taken before a man is infected, preserveth him from the pestilence; and a dram of it, or a walnut shell full, taken immediately after he feeleth infected, expelleth the venom of the pestilent infection from the heart, for if that man sweateth afterwards, he may be preserved; the same effect hath the herb boiled in wine, or in the urine of a health man child, drank; I mean the decoction or liquor from the which the herb is strained, after that it hath been boiled therein."

"Galen commended garden carrots highly to break wind, yet experience teacheth that they breed it first; and we may thank nature for expelling it, not they."

I suppose the seeds of them perform this better than the roots; and though Galen commended garden Carrots highly to break wind, yet experience teacheth they breed it first, and we may thank nature for expelling it, not they; the seeds of them expel wind indeed, and so mend what the root marreth.

Source - - Early English Books)

William Coles - Adam in Eden, the History of Plants - 1651

Coles mentions six sorts of carrots -

Common yellow; sowne by Gardiners in every country.

Wild Carrots; groweth in most places of this land as well as in  pastures and sides of fields and untilled places.

Wild Carrots of Naples; Prickly Carrots of Naples; both grown in Naples

Wild Carrots; with hairy stalkes; grow in Germany

The true Dauke of Candy; groweth in Candie (modern day Crete)

"The wild Carrot (which is more use in Physick, though lesse knowne than the common sort) groweth in a manner like that of the Garden, but that the leaves are whiter and rougher. The root is small, long and hard, being also somewhat sharp and strong, and therefore unfit for Meat.

The seeds are carminative, that is, powerful to expell wind, and therefore they are very effectual to ease the torments and gripings of the Belly, and to cure the Collick, but especially that of the Dauke of Candy.  The seed of the true Daucus is very usefull to help Strangury (painful, frequent urination of small volumes), to provoke Urine and Womens courses, to expell the Dead birth, and to help the strangling of the Mothers, and remove those stitches which affect the sides."

Coles continues to list the ailments which carrots can deal with including tumours, swellings, bites of venomous beasts, inveterate coughs, wind, dropsy, eaten with beef to stir up the appetite, consumption and Venery.  He also describes carrots being buttered and ate on Wednesdayes and Fridayes when hot meat is not familiarly provided. He tends to speak of carrots and parsnips as having the same qualities.

The full chapter "Of Carrots and Parsneps" is here (pdf)..

1665 saw the publication of The Compleat Herball by Robert Lovell of Oxford containing "the summe of ancient and moderne authors, based on observations from the Physick garden in Oxford."  This again appears to be a reworking of earlier works with a few enhancements. An extract from the work is given here (pdf).

"The carrot is red and yellow. The root of the yellow is temperately hot and something moist, of little nourishment, and that not very good, it's not so windie as the turnep, nor passeth so soon through the belly. The red is of like faculty, the seed of both is hot and dry. The seed breaketh and consumeth windiness and provoketh urine, as that of the wild carrots. The root is usually boyled with fat flesh and eaten."

Robert Billing, Farmer, An Account of the Culture of Carrots and their in feeding and fattening cattle, November 1764. This document gives a detailed description of experiments in farming techniques (sowing, soil, harvesting, timing) to find the ideal carrots to feed to cattle. A fascinating insight into farming in the 18th century.  He organised 24 and a half acres to the production of carrots in 1764. He describes the earth a loamy brick with cold sand and a touch gravely!

"I have found the best method of drawing carrots to be a four tined fork with which a man breaks the ground, six or eight inches deep very carefully without injuring the carrot; and is followed by a little boy who gathers the carrots and throws them in heaps."

"I gave sixteen horses two loads of carrots every week, and these two loads, I compute saved me more than a load of hay; this saving was for 28 weeks so it saved me 28 loads of hay which at 25 shillings a load, saved me £35. To this I might add the benefit received by the swine to whom I threw all the tops and tails of the carrots fed to the horses, and they throve exceedingly and they were so fond o them I could never find and dirt that might stick to them."

He concludes: " Thus I have a given a material and exact account of every material circumstance that has occurred to me in the culture and use of carrots; for the feeding of cattle. I am sensible than more extraordinary, and I have been careful to avoid exaggeration. The large amount of carrots I have grown in this year have given me the opportunity of judging fully and without any danger of considerable fallacy, what may be expected from the common use of carrots in feeding every species of cattle on them."

The document goes on to tell us that it was witnessed as a true account by John Franklin, Vicar.

Henry Phillips - History of cultivated vegetables 1822   (pdf extract here) gives an excellent summary of the history of carrots as known at the time, reviewing what the Greeks and Romans said, then commenting on the contribution of the herbalists to the knowledge of carrot and its medicinal uses, in particular Gerard and Parkinson.

"The ancients used the seed both of the wild and the cultivated carrot, as an internal medicine against the bite of serpents ; they also gave it to animals that had been stung by them ; a dram weight in wine was thought a sufficient dose.

The roots of the garden carrots are now much used as a poultice for running cancers, etc.  Sugar is found in this root, but in less quantities than in the parsnip, or the beet. A very good spirit may be distilled from carrots. An acre of these roots, allowing the produce to be twenty tons, will produce 240 gallons of spirits, which is considerably more than can be obtained from five quarters of barley.

Dr. James says, carrots are one of the most considerable culinary roots ; that they strengthen and fatten the body, and are a very proper food for consumptive persons. They are somewhat flatulent, but are thought to render the body soluble, and to contribute to the cure of a cough.

Carrots are generally served to table with boiled meats : they make an excellent soup, and form an agreeable pudding. In some parts of the country they are sent to table with fish of every description.

Helmont informs us, that he knew a gentleman who was seized with a fit of the stone every fifteen days, freed from the attacks of his disorder for several years, by means of an infusion of carrot-seed in clear malt liquor. An infusion of them in white wine is excellent in hysterical complaints."

A Catalogue of Seeds, Plants &c Sold by Will’m: Lucas att the Naked Boy near Strand Bridge London (C. 1677) - Carrots, red, orang and yellow. (note: orang is how it was spelled) (full list here)

A Modern Herbal, first published in 1931, by Mrs. M. Grieve, an English Horticulturist, contains Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs. Full digital version available here.

"Parts Used Medicinally---The whole herb, collected in July; the seeds and root. The whole herb is the part now more generally in use.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---Diuretic, Stimulant, Deobstruent. An infusion of the whole herb is considered an active and valuable remedy in the treatment of dropsy, chronic kidney diseases and affections of the bladder. The infusion of tea, made from one ounce of the herb in a pint of boiling water, is taken in wineglassful doses. Carrot tea, taken night and morning, and brewed in this manner from the whole plant, is considered excellent for lithic acid or gouty disposition. A strong decoction is very useful in gravel and stone, and is good against flatulence. A fluid extract is also prepared, the dose being from 1/2 to 1 drachm.

The seeds are carminative, stimulant and very useful in flatulence, windy colic, hiccough, dysentery, chronic coughs, etc. The dose of the seeds, bruised, is from one-third to one teaspoonful, repeated as necessary. They were at one time considered a valuable remedy for calculus complaints. They are excellent in obstructions of the viscera, in jaundice (for which they were formerly considered a specific), and in the beginnings of dropsies, and are also of service as an emmenagogue. They have a slight aromatic smell and a warm, pungent taste. They communicate an agreeable flavour to malt liquor, if infused in it while in the vat, and render it a useful drink in scorbutic disorders.

Old writers tell us that a poultice made of the roots has been found to mitigate the pain of cancerous ulcers, and that the leaves, applied with honey, cleanse running sores and ulcers. An infusion of the root was also used as an aperient."

 Reference material is here.

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