Carrots in Ancient Manuscripts

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Illustrations of Carrots in Ancient Manuscripts or Early Printed Books
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This page takes a detailed look at how carrots were illustrated in some of the famous Materia Medica Manuscripts and Early Printed Books. (most images have a larger version, please check the hyperlinks) Read some of the significant references in Ancient Herbals here.

NEWS - The World Carrot Museum has the honour of having an article published in the renowned academic journal Chronica Horticulturae.  Co-authored with Jules Janick, the James Troop Distinguished Professor in Horticulture, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University.   The item is called Carrot History and Iconography, a fascinating journey through the Carrot's development from Wild to Domesticated Orange and beyond.  Full copy here (page 13 onwards). Extract here.

Read about the use of carrots in ancient remedies here - Myth, Magic and Folklore.

A manuscript is hand written information that has been manually created by one or more people, as oppms747 Egerton Tractus de Herbisosed to being printed or reproduced some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched (the original meaning of graffiti) as with a knife point in plaster or with a stylus on a waxed tablet (the way Romans made notes), or are in cuneiform writing, impressed with a pointed stylus in a flat tablet of unbaked clay. (Left - Tractatus de herbis (Herbal); De Simplici Medicina ; Circa instans; Antidotarium Nicolai, 1280-1310,  Egerton MS 747 f. 33 Carrot - Source: British Library Illuminated Manuscripts).

Carrots are said to have been recognised as one of the plants in the garden of the Babylonian King Marduk-apla-iddina, the Biblical Merodach-Baladan ll, who reigned at Babylon in 721–710 and 703 BC. There is no documentary evidence for this carrot reference. 

The clay tablet with cuneiform inscription is located in the British Museum. 67 plants are listed and appear in two columns, subdivided into groups, perhaps to represent plant beds. Only 26 plant names have been identified with certainty including leeks, onion garlic, lettuce, radish, cucumber, gherkin, cardamom, caraway, dill, thyme, oregano, fennel, coriander, cumin and fenugreek. Many remain to be identified. Carrot is currently not amongst those identified, though some of the above identified are umbellifers. The tablet also lists utensils and personnel in the garden. If the carrot was used it would probably have been placed amongst the aromatic herbs along with fennel, suggesting that the root was discounted, using only the pleasantly scented flowers and leaves in cooking.

One of the first late medieval herbals to depict plants and vegetables accurately, although it may have been based on a now lost Byzantine prototype. Such illustrated handbooks of health, as well as numerous herbals, offer a rich visual record of the sorts of vegetables deemed worthy by the physicians and for the dining table in that period.

Colours in illustrations obviously degrade over time depending on such factors as type and availability of materials used and storage methods.  If then you also factor in personal artistic interpretation, the colours we currently see in manuscripts and hand coloured books may well have changed over time and cannot be regarded as definitive.

Another point to bear in mind is that many manuscripts are copies, or interpretations of earlier manuscripts. This is evident in another paper co-authored by the Carrot Museum Curator - "Synteny of Images in Three Illustrated Dioscoridean Herbals: Juliana Anicia Codex (JAC), Codex Neapolitanus (NAP), and Morgan 652" - where it was concluded that M652 illustrations are based on images from both JAC and NAP. A database of the three herbals is available online It was previously shown that 44% of the images in JAC and NAP are common to both herbals.

(Sources - Journal papers - (a) Comparison of JAC/NAP; (b)  Synteny between JAC/NAP/Morgan comparison; (c) A Database for Three Dioscoridean Illustrated Herbals)

The above-ground parts of plants tend to be showy, but often the roots are hidden from view. Though roots are endowed with the beauty of nature, they are enmeshed with the mystery of the unknown. Roots have been both a boon and hazard to humans. They have been used as drugs and poisons and as food. They have been the sources of comfort in myths of fairies and forest nymphs, as well as a source of fear in popular legends of devils and curses. A rich association has existed between people and roots throughout and before the development of "civilized" societies. This relationship was most often one of dependence on roots as a source of food, then medicine. But sometimes because of their appearance, colour, odour or actual chemical properties roots were given a special importance by ancient peoples.

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.

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, 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.

Adam Lonitzer - Early Orange Carrot IllustrationEarly handwritten herbals were often illustrated with paintings and drawings. A typical example (left) is Adam Lonitzer's Kreuterbuch - Frankfurt 1582 - A very early manuscript clearly shows an orange root, entitled "Pastenachen Mören Pastinaca sativa, & sylvestris".

(Photo, compliments of the Smithsonian Digital Collection of Early manuscripts.)

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, with pictures not made from direct natural observation.  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.

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.

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.

A commentary on references and imagery from some of the significant manuscripts through the ages.

AD 512  The  Greek Herbal of Dioscorides: Illustrated by a Byzantine A.D. 512. - First known depiction of Orange rooted Carrot - Dioskorides Codex Vindobonensis Medicus Greacus. (Austrian facsimiles from 1965, together with commentary - studied at the Royal Botanical Gardens Library, Kew Gardens, England). Three "orange rooted carrots" are depicted:

Cultivated and Wild Carrots depicted in the Codex of ad 512

Staphylinos Keras - cultivated carrot

Staphylinos Agrios - primitive cultivated carrot

Gingidion - wild carrot
Staphylinos Keras

The cultivated carrot


Staphylinos Agrios

The wild carrot;appears to be a primitive type of cultivated carrots


The wild carrot (Daucus gingidium) also referred to as Cretan carrot

The oldest known manuscript of Dioscorides work is the Juliana Anicia Codex (ca. 512 A.D.), housed in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Listed as Codex Vindobonensis Medicus Graecus 1, it is better known as the “Vienna Dioscorides,” the oldest and most valuable work in the history of botany and pharmacology. (above images of carrots).  Similar images are also included in Codex Neapolitanus, shown below, a 6th century manuscript which drew heavily on the images contained in the above mentioned AD 512 "Vienna" Codex.

The World Carrot Museum has the honour of having an article published in the renowned academic journal Chronica Horticulturae, co-authored with Jules Janick, the James Troop Distinguished Professor in Horticulture, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University (USA).   The item is called Carrot History and Iconography a fascinating journey through the Carrot's development from Wild to Orange and beyond.  Full copy here (page 13 onwards). Extract here.

There are many surviving manuscripts of De Materia Medica after Codex Vindobonensis, an important example being the seventh-century Greek alphabetic Codex Neapolitanus, in the possession of a Neapolitan monastery for many years, and then presented to Emperor Charles VI in 1717. It was taken to Vienna and subsequently to the Bibliotheca Nazionale in Naples. Some of the drawings in Codex Neapolitanus are thought to be from the same source as Codex Vindobonensis, but are smaller and grouped together on fewer pages.

Three Images below - Codex Neapolitanus (6th Century) consulted at Kew Gardens Library September 2011

Folio 151L Domesticated Carrot - Greek name stafulinos kepaios (kepeos) Folio 151R Wild carrot - Greek name stafulinos agrios Folio 59R Wild Carrot - Greek name Gingidion

6th century domesticated carrot

Stafilinus wild carrot Codex Neapolitanus

gingidion - wild carrot Neapolitanus Manuscript

Image below - Codex Neapolitanus (6th Century)
 Folio CL1 - Left Kepeos (cultivated carrot) - right Agrios (wild carrot) consulted at Kew Gardens Library September 2011

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 cartoa L, or Pastinaca sativa L, pastinaca sivatica, 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, thae the plant we call pasticanna sivatica (willd 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."  read more here.

Morgan Manuscript MS652, - written in Greek miniscule and illuminated in Constantinople during the mid-10th century, contains an alphabetical five-book version of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, including 769 illustrations, Constantinople around ad 960. (Images courtesy of Morgan Pierpoint Library, New York)

Morgan MS652 Gingidium Morgan MS652 Daucus cretensis
MS M.652 fol. 32v - Gingidium (Mallabaila sekakul), inscribed gingidion. MS M.652 fol. 35v - Daucus - Daucos (Athamanta cretensis), inscribed daukos. MS M.0652, fol. 064v  - Deadly Carrot (Thapsia garganica), inscribed thapsia.(not strictly carrot but a nice image!)

Bodleian Scripts  - 11th Century

The late 11th century witnessed an intriguing script from Bury St Edmonds in England - MS Bodley 130 - a handwritten manuscript containing a copy of a much earlier Latin text; its illustrations are similarly inherited. The original illustrated text had been compiled in the late Roman period (4th or 5th century) relying on Greek sources.


MS Bodley 130 - 11th century script - Pseudo Apuleian text

Known as "Pseudo-Apuleius, Dioscorides, Herbals (extracts); De virtutibus bestiarum in arte medicinae, in Latin and English",  St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury; c. 1070-1100.  This apparently shows a diagram of an orange carrot, which, according to most other historical records did not appear until the 15th century. So another mystery in the origins of modern carrot. 

The script indicated that "It grows in stony places and mounds." and "For women who suffer at childbirth and are not purged. - With 'Herba pastinaca', cooked, together with the same water in which it was cooked, you take 30 peppercorns; mix together and give to drink; she will be purged." and then ... "The same recipe as written above also works against toothache." 

Further evidence of the use by the ancients of Pastinaca for both carrot and parsnip.

Much more background information, including a full translation of the script together with a larger photo are included on a separate page here.

Important Copyright Notice: The image (right) appears with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and is copyright and any use is restricted by law. Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.

The script is held by the Bodleian Library of Oxford University as part of its collection of illuminated mediaeval manuscripts.

Similar scripts shown below - MS. Ashmole 1462 and MS Ashmole 1431 contain the same Pseudo-Apuleian text as MS. Bodl. 130, although with some slight variations in wording.

You may notice a typo! "Pasnatica" instead of "Pastinaca" - a typical transcription error in such scripts.  This again gives a remedy for toothache. Otherwise the same recipes and place names as in the MS Bodley script referred to above.

The carrot leaves and flower do look quite accurate and no doubt orange is the root colour! Click on photos for full picture - note this a large file and will take a while to download.

MS Ashmole 1431 - Bodelian Library Script MS Ashmole 1462 Script - Pseudo Apuleian text
MS Ashmole 1431 - Pastinaca (Carrot) MS. Ashmole 1462 - Pastinaca Silvatica


Important Copyright Notice: The images (above) appear with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and are copyright and any use is restricted by law. Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.

The script is held by the Bodleian Library of Oxford University as part of its collection of illuminated mediaeval manuscripts.

10th century image of carrot - pastinaca silvatica pseudo apulieus

This 10th century image shows Pastinaca Silvatica, which herbalists also knew as wild carrot or parsnip. (900-1000 a.d.)

It taken from a version of the Pseudo-Apuleius the author of a Herbarium or De herbarum virtutibus, also referred as Herbarium Apuleii Platonici; which is a medical herbal of the 5th century, A.D. (see above)

A 10th century manuscript of the work is in the Musee Meermanno Westreenianum, Holland.

Den Haag, MMW, 10 D 7 (left) is an image from the 10th century version of the Pseudo Apulieus.


Tractatus de herbis (Herbal) - De Simplici Medicina Egerton MS 747- (Right - Egerton MS 747 f. 33 Carrot). This is held by the British Libraryms747 Egerton Tractus de Herbis and was produced between 1280 and1310 and is probably an original manuscript of Tractus de Herbis a type of medicinal herbal which was to become one of the most influential texts on medicinal plants between the 14th and 16th centuries. 

Written by Bartholomaei Mini de Senis; Platearius; Nicolaus of Salerno, it contains miniature illustrations of plants in colours, usually several on a page, together with their medicinal uses inherited from Greek, Roman and Arabic sources. It also covered instructions on how to prepare each fruit or vegetable. This manuscript contains the earliest known illustrated copy of "Circa Instans", and sought to enhance the text only original by including images of plants referred to, and expanding on the list of substances used in medicine at the time.

In some cases it gives suggestions on the aphrodisiac, cosmetic and magical properties of herbs. 

The illustrations are drawn from life wherever possible to produce identifiable likenesses but over the centuries these herbals were copied repeatedly by scribes and artists who were anxious to reproduce the books in front of them. Haste, lack of skill and misunderstandings frequently resulted in plant images that were simplified, distorted and often unrecognisable!

It contains numerous miniatures of plants in colours, usually several on a page. Initials in red or blue, some with penwork decoration in the other colour. This is the record for Daucus. (picture right)

The ‘Circa instans’ was an extremely popular text. Preserved in about 240 surviving manuscripts, and translated into several vernacular languages (English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Hebrew and Serbian), it was first printed in 1497 in Venice. It also became an authoritative source for several other herbals, pharmacological collections, and encyclopedias, at least until the 16th century. The New York Botanical Gardens Metrz Digital Collection has an original copy of ''Circa Instans'' which is dated between 1175 and 1200, but it has no images. Link here

Pharmacy was one of the pillars of medical therapy during antiquity and the Middle Ages. Medicaments were derived from the natural world (plants, minerals and animals), and resulted from the combination of different substances, each with specific properties and therapeutic effects.

Finally, we should not forget that the ‘Circa instans’ was not only read and used for medical purposes. It also became the basis for a tradition of illustrated herbals conveying visual knowledge of the natural world, and often produced for reading pleasure rather than practical purposes.

Pastinaca Ilustration 1400 LombardyItalian herbal, Herbarium Apuleii, Lombardy, 1400 another orange rooted illustration of Pastinaca appeared, featured left.

Description: One plant, "pastinaca silvatice", probably (family Umbelliferae) Pastinaca sp. (often Parsnip, sometimes carrot) has three major stems bearing odd-pinnate compound leaves with triangular dentate leaflets and terminating in umbels of flowers or seeds. At the top of each stem are small round objects. (Cf. Corpus medicorum Latinorum, v. 4, p. 147-148.) Adjacent text: Herbarium Apuleii.

(Source  :Yale Medical Library. Manuscript. 18 [Herbarium Apuleii and other works]. [ca. 1400] MS 18 fol. [33v] )

Wellcome Collection MS335 - c 1490 (Parsnip left - pastinaca silvaticae and Carrot right named as Pastinaca domestica). (the leaves appear to be parsnip but the author tries to distinguish the root color and the carrot flowers are correct).

(Herbal in Latin, partly in French with 116 water-colour illustrations of plants. Preceded by medical receipts,)

Far right - Wellcome Collection - Herbarium MS XV - Erbario medicinale manuscrotto del sec XV MS336 - 15th century Folio 34r - Dauco pastinacha salvatucha

Tacuinum Sanitatis - Lavishly illustrated manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis were first commissioned by northern Italian nobility during the last decades of the 14th century. Tacunium Sanitatis 14th century illustration of orange carrot

These manuscripts were based on an 11th century Arabic manuscript known as the Taqwim al-Sihha bi al-Ashab al- Sitta (Rectifying Health by Six Causes), which was a guide for healthy living written by the Christian physician and philosopher Abu al- Hasan al-Mukhtar ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Abdun ibn Sa’dun Ibn Butlan (d. 1063), who was born and educated in Baghdad and whose travels took him to localities that are today in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. The Taqwim was a guide for healthy living, based on ancient philosophical concepts of Greek sciences. It summarized in tabular form information on some 280 health-related items, in particular food and especially vegetables and fruits.

1400  - Another orange rooted illustration of Pastinaca appeared, this time in an Italian herbal, Herbarium Apuleii, Lombardy. (picture below - (E) parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) from Vienna 2644 folio 28r; (F) carrot (Daucus carota) from Roma 4182 folio 49r.) (Source  :Yale Medical Library. Manuscript. 18 [Herbarium Apuleii and other works]. [ca. 1400] MS 18 fol. [33v] )

tacuinum vienna carrot tacuinum sanitatis carrots 15th century carrots tacuinum roma carrots

Vienna 2644 folio 28r

Carrot (possibly parsnip, based on leaf form) labelled pastinace, a gardener harvests very long and narrow, pale yellow roots of a species, which some authorities have identified as parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, on the basis of the colour of the roots and the shape of the leaves


Ms.3054 fol.9

Harvesting Parsnips and Carrots, from 'Tacuinum Sanitatis' (vellum), Italian School, (15th century) / Bibliotheque Municipale, Rouen, France


Roma 4182 folio 49r. In a similar scene to Vienna (left) and also labelled pastinace a gardener is busy harvesting a root crop, the foliage of which is comprised of many small, slightly dentate leaflets. The long, thin roots, either purple or light yellow, intermingled in the foreground row and in the harvested pile clearly represent carrot, The Latin text reports that pastinace stimulates sexual intercourse but slows down digestion, and that the purple type, ripe in winter, is the best.

The Historia Plantarum (1395) is an interesting and historically significant source about medicine and also about the everyday life of the Middle Ages. According to medieval doctors, various elements were needed for a healthy lifestyle: proper diet, exercise and enough sleep, and a balanced emotional state. A life in harmony with nature was recommended. This guaranteed people health and well-being. The illuminated manuscript is illustrated with over five hundred illustrations of plants in alphabetical order. The depictions convey an astoundingly detailed and imposing overview of the thorough knowledge about plant life, which one possessed in late medieval Italy. In addition to these botanical pictudaucus creticus ms 459 Roma  CARROTres come more than eighty illustrations of animals, from which one obtained healing remedies, as well as over 30 depictions of mineral derivatives.

Prominent Previous Owners - The manuscript was made at the end of the 14th century at the court of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The ruler was the most powerful and glorious scion of the great Visconti family and created during his reign one of the most impressive collections of unbelievably valuable book treasures. Gian Galeazzo presented the splendid Historia Plantarum to Wenzel IV, King of Bohemia and Germany, with whom he forged a good political relationship. Today the medical encyclopedia is found in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome. (Image right fol 85r daucus creticus (cretan carrot)

Historia Plantarum - Known as MS 459 Historia Plantarum (Biblioteca Casanatense, Ms. 459) (1395-40)  - An encyclopedia of natural science, in which plants, minerals, animals are deciphered with particular reference to their medical and therapeutic properties. This manuscript is one of several that are derivatives of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval healthy living guide which is a Latin translation of an 11th Century Arab medical treatise, Taqwīm as-sihha bi al-Ashab al-Sitta, written by the Christian physician and philosopher Ibn Butlan of Baghdad (d. 1063) . The Taqwīm synthesised a variety of Greek-derived medical science and traditions and considered approximately 280 health-related items including food, drink, climate, bodily activities and clothing The translation into Latin was commissioned by the Court of Naples and Sicily and completed by 1266.  (source - The Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis). (main source)

The Codex contains 295 large format images that make up the manuscript, followed by over five hundred illustrations of plants. The quality and finish provides a detailed and impressive picture of the vastness of knowledge of the plant world reached in Italy at the end of the Middle Ages.

This Latin version was copied repeatedly and circulated around Europe, with the first illustrated copies being commissioned in the late 14th Century by northern Italian nobility (source). The codex is beautifully illuminated by the workshop of Giovannino de 'Grassi.

Derivative copies merged abbreviated versions of the Tacuinum sanitatis (usually the entries regarding food) with medical encyclopaedias and/or Theoprastus' Historia Plantarum, an early botanical handbook that included the medical uses of plants. This copy consists of the Historia Plantarum followed by some Tacuinum sanitatis entries.

There is some ambiguity between the text and the image. It refers to parsnip and yet the image is described in carrot terms. e.g. (rough translation) "The plant starts from a tripartite carrot with black marks that wrap around it, the stem is very high, the first leaves branch off at the middle of the stem on racemes of five palmate laminae, deeply incised, toothed; these present the reason for the chromatic division of the page; however, since the leaf is normally palminervia (leaf whose main nerves are born from the point of union between the limbus and the petiole.), with a division so marked along the axis of symmetry, a paradoxical and absolutely unrealistic effect is created. The umbrellas, five in number, have elegant skeletal bracts and are equally stylized. The flower has now closed, bringing the flowers to maturity, the image of the collected inflorescence forms a network of rays that converge at the apex of the scape and form a weave (stylized with a net motif) at the base of the Umbrella itself."

Here is a rough translation of the text relating to daucus cretica in respect of its medicinal qualities:

Uses - The dauco cretico is also known as the wild parsnip. It is warm at the beginning and end of the third degree. It is a fairly well-known herb. Its flowers and above all the seeds enter into the preparation of medicines, minus the leaves and the root. They are of two species: the dauco cretico and the dauco asinino. The cretico is of greater utility and is so called because it is found mainly on the island of Crete. It is highly effective. The asinino (donkey) takes the place of the cretico because this is present in small quantities. It enjoys high efficacy in flowers, seeds, leaves and even in the root. It can be kept for a year and must be renewed every year. It enjoys the virtue of dissolving stone, and aiding the break of wind. It is diuretic and thinner than matter. Against cold, asthma and wet and cold cough is given in with a decoction of dried figs. Against the cold phlegm a bag of dust made with this leaves and well heated is placed on the head. (a poultice)

Against the pain of the stomach due to windiness and against stranguary, dysuria (difficulty in urination) and colitis disorders for chilling, the wine of its decoction is given and the grass is also placed in a large quantity cooked in wine and oil over the sore place. Against the stranguary and dysuria, against the pain of the liver from cold and against dropsy is made a syrup with the juice of its decoction of seeds. Against the hardness of the spleen and liver the leaves are is placed in large quantities in the wine and in the oil and is macerated in them for 10 days. On the eleventh day it is cooked until only the oil remains, the leaves are is squeezed well and the pouring is put on the fire to join the wax and make the plaster.

Against the hardnesses and the other apostemes (swelling filled with puss) is sufficiently suitable, according to Constantine.

Livre des Simples Medicines - Codex Bruxellensis iv MS 1024 written in the 15th century, aWellcome MS 1024 Bruxellensisnd became the basis of all English herbals of the 16th century.   Daucus Cretensis (wild carrot) is depicted in a drawing in the original manuscript. (right - image from Wellcome Library collection,  (Image right and continuance here)

Translation - It is a fairly common plant which has a flower as wide as flowers of the elder tree, and in the middle it has a little red spot. It grows best in dry places. There are two kinds: one is called daucus creticus because it grows in Crete, the other is called daucus asinus because donkeys eat it. Daucus creticus is the better kind. Its greatest virtue is in the flower and the root, for the plant has hardly any virtue. It should be picked when it flowers, the root removed and put to dry in the shade. It keeps its qualities for a year.

It lightens and disperses the humors, and it is diuretic because of the fine quality of its substance. For asthma provoked by a cold humor and for a cold moist cough, give the decoction of this plant with dried figs and wine. For cold catarrh, fill a sachet with powdered carrot and place it hot on the head.

To ease stomach pain caused by flatulence and cold humors, stranguary, dysury and impossibility of urinating, pain in the lower belly, colic and gripes, give wine in which this plant has cooked and at the same time cook large quantities of the plant with wine and oil and apply this to the painful places. To treat stone and impossibility of urinating, give the wine in which carrot and saxifrage seed have been cooked.

For obstruction of the liver and spleen caused by cold, and for dropsy, make a syrup of fennel juice with the decoction of this plant. To relieve hardness of the liver and spleen, put to soak in wine and oil for ten days a large amount of this plant, boil until the oil has disappeared, then strain. Put some wax into this filtrate and make an ointment. This is very effective in reducing hardness of apostumes. 

Images from 1485 - Herbarius. Patauie impressus : Johann Petri. Entitled "Of the Virtues of Herbs".
Original in Harvard University Library.

pastinaca wildmoren 1485

pastinaca domesticus 1485

daucus creticus 1485

Pastinaca Wildmoren - Wild Carrot Pastinaca Domesticus Moren - Domestic Carrot Daucus Creticus fogelnest - Cretan Carrot Bird's Nest

1487 - The Garden of Health (below)

Augsburg, Germany.   .(pg 189)  Printed by Hamsen Schönsperger.

This contains a recipe for a "good drink to cure Dyspnea" - Difficulty in breathing, often associated with lung or heart disease and resulting in shortness of breath.  Also called air hunger.

Click on picture for full text in German.



This illustration from an Italian Herbal in 1500 shows one plant, top, "Pastinacha," probably (family Umbelliferae) (usually but not always! Parsnip) but perhaps Athamanta cretensis three compound branchings from a vertical stem, green with white roots and white berries. Figures associated with plant, "Pastinacha," apparently in reference to its use to promote lactation, evidenced by a nude woman holding a baby (also nude), which presses its face against her breast and touches it with its hand. .

Source : University of Vermont. Library. MS 2. [Italian herbal]. [ca. 1500] MS 2 fol. 24


wild carrot image 1487 pastinaca or carrot italian herbal 1500

Above image scanned from the Grete Herball 1526 more information here

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.(above)



Left - Walther Hermann Ryff - Lustgarten der Gesundtheit. (Garden of Health) - Frankfurt, 1546 (Note that the woodcut image is exactly the same as the 1535 manuscript above)

Gelb means yellow" and "Rublinl" tranlates as "carrot"

This document has a notation that acreage is grown of the 'gelb' (yellow) carrot near Cologne, but a 'roter' (red) is grown near Strassburg. Since the descriptions both use the word robe, which can be translated as beet, I don't know if the discussion about the two types means a yellow and a more reddish carrot or a yellow carrot and a red beet or not.

It does seem that the illustration and attribution as daucia signifies a carrot, and there is the notation that the gelb (yellow) one is found in the wild. Full extract here (pdf)

Wellcome Collection MS 342 - (below)

German drawings with names, anonymous - Series of coloured drawings of plants, with names in German or Latin. Followed by notes on urology and miscellaneous medical receipts in German. The illustrations are carefully drawn and natural representations, probably copied from a middle 16th cent. German herbal.

Moren (current German = "mohren") 16th century

Adam Lonitzer - Frankfurt 1582 - A further very early manuscript clearly shows an orange root, from Germany. Adam Lonitzer a German botanist, noted for his 1577 revised version of Eucharius Rösslin's herbal, wrote Kreuterbuch including -  "Pastenachen Mören Pastinaca sativa, & sylvestris".

(Photo, below compliments of the Smithsonian Digital Collection of Early manuscripts.)

Wellcome MS 342 Moren

Adam Lonitzer - Early Orange Carrot Illustration

Leonhart Fuchs 1542 - The author of the Historia Stirpium, (On the History of Plants) Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), is known as 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.

Above - Leonhart Fuchs, 1542 - marked "Pastinaca Sativa Prima", but clearly has the attributes of the carrot plant. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institute)

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.

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 images for full page version)

t was illustrated by 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).

Rembert Dodoens - Image of Yellow and Red Carrot 1554

Rembert Dodoens - Image of Wild Carrot 1554

Yellow Carrot and Red Carrot Wild Carrot

Pastinaca Sativus Rubens Rembert Dodoens Pastinaca Silvetris tenuifolia

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 Carrot museum 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)

1554 - Petri Andreae Matthioli -  a doctor and naturalist born in Siena, write "Medici Senensis Commentarii, in Libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei, de Materia Medica, Adjectis quàm plurimis plantarum & animalium imaginibus, eodem authore", also known as Commentarii - Discorsi ("Commentaries") on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides.. (image right shows Pastinaca Sativa and Pastinaca Sylvestris, probably parsnip!) He was a careful student of botany and described 100 new plants and progressed medical botany in his time.

1555 - Allied to the work of Matthioli - Acerca de la materia medicinal y de los venenos mortiferos (About medicinal matters and deadly poisons). This is another version of the work of Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos,translated by Andrés de Laguna, ‏1499-1559.

This book exemplifies the transfer of knowledge across the centuries. During the first century, the Greek doctor and apothecary Dioscorides, who is considered the father of pharmacology, wrote a very important document on botany and pharmaceuticals. In the 10th century, during the times of ʻAbd al-Rahman III (891−961), caliph of Cordova, the work was translated into Arabic. In 1518 at the Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (the School of Translators of Toledo), Antonio de Nebrija made the first translation of the work in Spain into Latin. In 1555 in the city of Antwerp (present-day Belgium, then ruled by Spain), the publisher Juan Lacio (circa 1524–66) published a Spanish translation from the Latin, which was done by Andrés Laguna, the doctor of the Pope Julius III. On his frequent trips to Rome, Laguna consulted a variety of codices as well as the books on medicinal plants produced in Venice by the herbalist Pietro Andrea Matthioli. (source: Library of Congress Note: Both images were identical, Laguna decided to add colour, thus confirming the existence of purple (or deep red) roots in the 16th century.


Andrés de Laguna

1554, Petri Andreae Matthioli   a doctor and naturalist born in Siena. Medici Senensis Commentarii, in Libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei, de Materia Medica, Mattioli's 1554 edition of Materia Medica

John Gerard's Herball  - The General Historie of Plants 1597 - It relies heavily on previously published texts, most notably plagiarising a translation Dodoens' Latin Herbal of 1583 (see above).

The original Herbal of 1597 contained the description, times, places, nature and vertues of all sorts of Herbs for meate, medicine, or sweet smelling use.

It has long been considered one of the most famous of English herbals. 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 plants are Thapsia, a relative of carrots. 

Gerard added 182 new plants and appended some of his own observations. The work is a valuable source for the culinary historian, not only to prove certain plants were known at this time, but also to see how they were used.

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.

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)

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

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

A Curious Herbal mid 1700's, "containing five hundred wood cuts, of the most useful plants, which are now used in the practice of physick : engraved on folio copper plates, after drawings taken from the life by Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short description of ye plants and their common uses in physick."

This Herbal was issued in weekly parts between 1737 and 1739, each part containing four illustrated plates and a page of text. It was highly praised by leading physicians and apothecaries (makers and sellers of medicines), and made enough money to secure her husband's freedom.

Image below right is the depiction of Daucus Carota

L’Erbario Essiccato del laghitano Domenico Coscarelli - "The Herbarium Dried" of 1804 is a unique manuscript, which collects and describes hundreds of species of the plant kingdom, and it was exhibited at the Museo Correale di Sorrento until 31 May 2007.

The author was born June 29, 1772 in Lake (CS), and was bearer of the Princess Royal Regiment in the service of S. M. Ferdinand IV King of Naples. The non-commissioned Bourbon was "a passionate naturalist" who had among his many interests a passion to collect and dry herbs and draw, mostly from traditional folk culture, information on their medicinal qualities.

The image reads "Parts of this plant are beneficial for the stomach, provoke urine and assist with the menstrual issues of women."

L’Erbario Essiccato del laghitano Domenico Coscarelli

A Curious Herbal mid 1700's

elizabeth blackwell curious herbal 1737

Finally ... for completeness ...  The bizarre Voynich Manuscript - described as an elegant enigma and the most mysterious book in the world, and "A Textbook of Medieval Plant Physiology" - has long been noted that some of the Voynich botanical illustrations suggest carrots.

Note the Carrot Museum does not endorse or agree with the assumptions and assignment of carrot to any of the images or text, but provides the information given below as a matter of interest only.  Neither the leaf nor root depictions show little or no similarity with Daucus Carota.  The script contains many somewhat carrot shaped, orange/brown coloured roots that one could forward a tenuous argument for several images being carrot. Until someone in authority can come forward with a reliable decoding and translation of the mystery script it is remains difficult to treat it seriously.

The enigmatic Voynich manuscript, undecipherable to scholars for more than a century, is a 16th century Mexican manuscript, according to a new book written by Purdue University and Delaware State University professors. Janick and Tucker conclude the Voynich Codex is a compendium of Aztec knowledge that is largely medicinal and herbal but includes information on astronomy, astrology and ritual bathing. The Voynich Codex is of extreme historical importance as it contains seminal information of New Spain unfiltered though Spanish or Inquisitorial censors.

Janick and Tucker are continuing to identify the plants pictured in the Voynich manuscript and plan to continue publishing their findings.

Update 2018 - Some academic papers (Purdue University, Jules Janick)



The discovery, which also identifies the manuscript’s author and illustrator, is a collaboration between Jules Janick, Distinguished Professor of Horticulture at Purdue University, and Arthur O. Tucker, Emeritus Herbarium Director at Delaware State University. Contributions to the book were made by Fernando Moreira, a Canadian linguist, and Elizabeth A. Flaherty, a Purdue wildlife ecologist.

The evidence is contained in “Unraveling the Voynich Codex,” recently released by Springer Nature. Key evidence for the Mexican origin of the Voynich Codex includes identification of Mexican plants and animals as well as clarification of a kabbalah-like map that shows landmarks of central Mexico.

The three plants labelled “okae89″, show similarities. The one on f101v2 is said to look very much like a carrot, and the other two could also be carrots (There are several more images in the script which could be interpreted to look more like carrots than the ones shown here!):

voynich manuscript - carrot voynich manuscript - carrot voynich manuscript - carrot

Some people claim to have deciphered the Voynich Manuscript - - this claims that the language used in the manuscript is Turkish! this is disproved by the Purdue research which definitively proves it to be Mexican.

Reference material is here.

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