New Kreuterbuch

by Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566)

A native of Memmingen, Bavaria, Leonhard Fuchs graduatedfrom the University of Ingolstadt at the age of twenty-three with a Masterof Arts and Doctor of Medicine degree. Fuchs was not a born botanist butcreated into one through his career as a physician. During his time, medicineswere mainly plant products, and the names of medicines were plant names.In the schools of medicine, each plant was usually the subject of a chapterin the standard books of medicine, such as those written by the Greeks,Hippocrates, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Galenus. Identifying plants describedin these works was a regular process in learning medicine. It is believedthat Fuchs' avid interest in examining plants and demonstrating that thedrug vendors often sold important medicines under wrong names was whatled him afield in the wild and to drug gardens in search of plants. Thus,resulted Fuchs' sincere interest in botany.

Fuchs also recognized that many physicians that practiceddid not know their medicine. They obtained their information from illiterateapothecaries, who in turn relied on the peasants that collected herbs forthem. Fuchs realized the dangers of these mistakes and began to compilean herbal. It was created for the "common man" who could notread Latin.

De historia stirpium of 1542 came from the pressof Insingrin Basle. The work was based mainly upon Discorides. Thisherbal was one of the first illustrated herbals that recognized not onlythe author, but the painter, the draftsman, and the woodcutter as wellfor their contributions. The portraits of the three men responsible forthe illustrations are located at the end of the herbal. The illustrationsare respected for their clarity and style. The work of the three craftsmeninfluenced botanical illustration for many years. A number of books, publishedin the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century, contain illustrationscopied from Fuchs or were even printed from his actual blocks.

In De historia stirpium, Fuchs presents a veryuseful introductory chapter named "An Explanation of Difficult Terms."This chapter is the earliest known vocabulary of botanic terms. From thevocabulary one can gather the progress gained in the field of botany andalso the retrogresions made. Fuchs did not define the more familiar termssuch as the root, the stem, the leaf, and the flower because he had nothingto add to the classic diagnoses of these organs.

Fuchs portrayed one hundred new plants that were neverseen before in earlier herbals. He attempted to identify the plants inhis herbal as accurately as possible. Although Fuchs' descriptions andidentifications of various plant species prove to be inaccurate from whatis known today, his contributions in trying to improve and correct thebotanical part of the pharmacopeia is significant in the historical standpoint.In his honor, the South American genus Fuschia was dedicated toFuchs, the second father of plant iconography.

In 1543, a German edition of De historia stirpium waspublished, entitled New Kreuterbuch. The Cushing Memorial Librarycontains this version of the herbal.


Images from New Kreuterbuch

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