The following is an attempt to cover significant events relating to the use of plant oils in medicine throughout recorded history. I will be the first to admit that to try such a thing is both a daunting task and extremely time consuming. However, I have discovered an interest in it that won't seem to vanish. Uncovering information specifically about essential oils throughout history is difficult without including tidbits about herbalogy and botany as well.

When I first started this aromatherapy project I soon realized that the topic of herbalogy was way too large in scope for one person to cover. There are thousands of different herbs and thousands of stories to go with them. I knew that the smaller topic of aromatherapy would leave me with only a couple of hundred plants at most and that was certainly a large enough group for my scholastic appetite.

However, herbalogy and aromatherapy are very closely tied together - essential oils basically being highly concentrated plant essence (barring chemical additives or "missing" natural chemical components). So, it seems only fair to include historical bits about herbalogy in a piece of writing such as this.

In addition, it seems reasonable to include concepts from the field of botany since we can't have an intelligent discussion about essential oils unless we can figure out the exact name of the plant from which each one came.

So, for you readers out there who are curious to know what people like Carl Linnaeus or John Ray or Nicholas Culpeper have to do with aromatherapy, hopefully this has answered that question.

Obviously "history" can be a nebulous thing often without any concrete answers or empirical truths. It's certainly subjective in nature and not something belonging in any precise institutes of measure such as a chemistry lab or machine shop. Perhaps the same thing could be said about the topic of botany since it really is just an attempt to categorize nature, which from a philosophical distance seems like a silly endeavor at best.
However, we continue to try it and plant "classifications" change daily...

Having said that, bits and pieces of "my" historical account and botanical classification system may differ slightly from those of someone else's. This is simply the nature of these things.


  The Foundations of Early Medical Knowledge
Its clear that some form of "essential oils" have been around for thousands of years. Plants and plant essences were written about in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek and Roman literature, and mentioned numerous times in the Bible. Some common "modern" authors were Hippocrates , Pliny the Younger (63-113), and Claudius Galenus (129-199), to name just a few.

Ancient Egyptians were well known for using oils in their society, Kyphi being one example, a mix thought to contain Myrrh, Cinnamon, Frankincense, Spikenard, Juniper, Cassia, and Saffron (and others) and reported to encourage sleep, brighten dreams, and soothe away anxieties. Egyptians were also well known for using Coriander, Clove, Cypress, Elemi, Galbanum, Hyssop, Nutmeg, Oregano, Peppermint, and Rosemary, among others. Essential oils were used throughout Egyptian society; as components in sacred rituals, during prayers, for mummification, as a preservative for papyri (from feasting insects), and as practical medicinal and cosmetic commodities among common men and women.

The Chinese were also well known for using herbs and herbal extracts in ancient times. For example, there are numerous documents which mention the use of Calamus roots and Mugwort leaves thousands of years ago for personal hygiene. In ancient Chinese culture as well, essential oils were pervasive, being used as medicinals, perfumes, incense, etc. The Yellow Emperor's Classic also known as the Chinese Yellow Emperor Book of Internal Medicine dated around 2600 B.C. details the use of several aromatic herbs.

In India, Ayurveda has a history of thousands of years and involves the use of plants and plant essences to balance the body and spirit and promote longevity and healing.

The Bible has several references to plants and oils: Genesis 37:25, Exodus 30:23, Mathew 2:11, Mark 14:3, Song of Solomon 4:14 just to name a few. One reference I certainly find truth in follows:

"The Lord hath created Medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them." - Ecclesiasticus 38:4

Theophrastum (Latin)
370 B.C.-285

One early Greek scholar, Theophrastus was born in 370 B.C. in Lesbos. He moved to Athens and studied with Plato and Aristotle. His interests included a wide range of topics including botany. Two of his well known botanical works were Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants.
Dioscoridem (Latin)

Another early Greek scholar, Pedanius Dioscorides was born in Anazarbus in 30 A.D. and was a well known botanist, pharmacologist, and physician. His famous 5 volume work De Materia Medica included information on approximately 600 plants and covered both their botanical and medicinal aspects.
Avicennam (Latin)

An early Persian scholar, Avicenna (aka Ibn Sina or Abu Ali Sina), born in Bukhara, was known for his in depth works in the fields of medicine, astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics, paleontology, psychology, physiology, and teaching. He wrote about 450 works on various topics, 240 of which are still in existence.

Many of the names for plants that exist today were created by Theophrastus and Dioscorides and their mentors. For example, the names "Aloe", "Citrus", "Menta", and "Thymus" all come to us from their work. We can get an idea of the extent of names that come from them simply by looking at a couple of pages out of Carl Linnaeus's book titled Philosophia Botanica.

One of Avicenna's most popular works, Canon of Medicine, was used as a main university book in European schools into the late 1600s. He was one of the first to do in depth study into the contagious nature of infectious diseases and he created the concept of quarantine. He is often referred to as "The Father of Modern Medicine" and "The Father of Geology" for his work in those fields. Avicenna is also often given credit for "inventing" a method for the steam distillation and extraction of essential oils. It would be much more accurate to say that he greatly improved the distillation equipment that was used during his time. He was seemingly the first to design a system of coiled pipes that were used to cool down steam more quickly, therefore making the distillation equipment more efficient and productive. Avicenna had an affinity for roses and one of his several written works was specifically on the beneficial effects of rose oil.

The work done by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Avicenna has very commonly been referred to in the works of writers, botanists, and doctors ever since. Although each have had their critics, they are all usually regarded as knowledgable scholars who each contributed significant work in the fields of medicine and botany.

   A New Distillation Gizmo
The concept of removing a liquid from plant matter has very old roots easily pre-dating Christ. Even Aristotle covered the topic of distillation in his work known as Meteorology. By far one of the most prevelant reasons for boiling plants and collecting the essence was for the purposes of producing alcohol and alcoholic beverages. "Flavored" alcoholic beverages were often created by extracting the plant essence of a citrus rind. This was perhaps an early type of "essential oil" extraction for the benefit of flavor. Although creud methods for extraction abounded, some time around 800 A.D. an Arabian named Jabir ibn Hayyan came up with an invention known as an alembic. The concept was simple enough; it basically being a cone with a collection pan inside for steam condensation to collect on and a pipe hanging down off of the top of it. The alembic quickly found its way into several different countries and several different environments - chymistry labs, medical labs, breweries, etc. Had Jabir procured something of a "patent" for the alembic he would have surely become a zillionaire overnight.

Early European Plant Distillation
Clearly the practice of plant matter distillation was well known, and popular, by the end of the 15th century. A German writer from Strassburg named Hieronymus Braunschweig (aka Brunschwig, Bruynswyke, Brunschwygk, Brunschwijg) (1452-1513) had a book published titled Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus on May 8, 1500. It soon became affectionately known as "The Small Book of Distillation".

This book should be of particular interest to anyone stuying the history of aromatherapy. To my knowledge it was the first "Aromatherapy book" ever published. It's divided up into 3 sections. The first part explained how to construct furnaces, stills, steam condensers, and receivers for distilling units. These units had a wide range of uses in metalurgy, chemistry, alchemy, and "aromatherapy". The second part of the book described plants and their useful parts and informed readers about the best times to harvest them for distillation. It then went on to explain what each plant essence was used for. The third part of the book covered several diseases and how to cure them with distilled waters from the plants previously outlined.

Essentially, the entire book was a manual on how to build your own still, harvest your own plants, and use distilled plant essence to tend to your own health. Braunschweig claimed to have studied the writings of Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, among others, for thirty years before writing his book. He also gave credit to peasants claiming that they were the ones who had actually built the first "distilling units" during their independent studies of the fermentation of grapes.

Methods for the fermentation of grapes was a trendy thing during (and before) Braunschweig's time. Phillip Von Ulstadt, a professor at Nurnerg, was likely friends with Braunschweig and wrote a book about distillation, Coelum Philosophorum, which was directed more toward the making of alcoholic beverages. I make mention of Ulstadt here only because a few of the woodcut illustrations in his book appeared in later versions of Braunschweig's work.

Braunschweig elaborated on his work and published a second version complete with colored illustrations called Liber de arte distillandi de Compositis on Feb 23, 1512. This was soon known as "The Big Book of Distillation. A portion of the book with English explanations can be viewed here: http://archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/flash/brunschwig/brunschwig.html

The same book was published in German as Das Buch zu Destilliern in 1519. It was so popular at the tyme that it was shortly afterward translated into Englysshe (English) as well, and printed for the benefit of surgyens, physycyens, pothecaryes, and "all maner of people" on Apryll 19, 1527 in London by Laurens Andrewe. The English title was thereafter known as The Vertuose Boke of Distyllacyon of the Waters of all maner of Herbes

During that tyme "distilling units" known as "Styllatoryes" (aka styllan, stiellan) were widely used to boil plants in water and collect the plant essence that rose up in the steam. This was clearly a method of steam distillation and certainly proof that at least the notion and use of hydrosols was abundant within Europe at the tyme. Furthermore, the benefits of the herbal distillate were clearly known: "And ye shall vnderstande that the waters be better than the herbes, as Auicenna (Avicenna) testefyeth in his fourth canon saynge."


Styllatorye made of Erthe


Apothecary with Distilled Herbs

   Improved Distillation Methods
It seems that the methods of distillation continued to improve during this time. A large driving force for this was actually in the fields of metalurgy, chemistry, and alchemy. Of course, the common folk then also wished to improve their methods for making alcoholic beverages and wine makers rejoiced with the newer technology. Obviously medicinal plant distillation improved as well and hydrosol and essential oil production benefited from the improvements too. Several books were written in regards to distillation including popular ones such as Destillirbuch by Gualtherus Ryff in 1567, Alchimia Nova (New Alchemy) by Giovanni Battista in 1603, Le Vray et Methodiqve Covrs de la Physiqve Resolvtive, Vvlgairement dite Chymie (The True and Methodical Course in Resolutive Physick, Commonly called Chemistry) by Annibal Barlet in 1653 and The Art of Distillation: or a Treatise of the Choicest Spagyrical Preparations Experiments and Curiosities by John French in 1667.

Old Wives and their Tales
Anyone doing a serious study of the history of herbalogy will know that, historically, women were responsible for growing, harvesting, and preparing medicinal plants and administering them to the sick. This demanding role was given to women for hundreds of years! Since few people could read and write back in "the old days", information was passed on from mother to daughter, aunt to niece, etc. These "tales" represented a sort of ongoing "field research" that cannot be passed off as just a fanciful exercise unworthy of consideration.

To realize how valid and important the "Old Wives" work was simply imagine how much money, time, and effort went into suppressing it from the burning of books by the Christians to the smear campaign of "witches" to the Salem Witch Trials, etc. Furthermore, common day drugs such as aspirin, and digoxin were "discovered" by modern men who simply studied the work of the "Old Wives". (natural aspirin coming from Salicylic acid extracted from willow bark, meadowsweet, or wintergreen... incidentally, aspirin often works much better when taken together with fish oil... something an "old wife" would have likely known as well...)

I can't help to wonder how many of those reincarnated female souls walk among us today, lost within the mazes of Aquarian age electronic gadgetry, overly politicized "health care", visable aerosol clouds of intentional creation, and pervasive institutes of masculine logic known as "schools". It seems, in my mind, that the pendulum has gone about as far away from "natural" as it should and most certainly needs to find its way back the other direction. Perhaps someday soon these "Old Wives" and their "Tales" shall find their ways back into mainstream society - via men or women, young or old, married or single - I don't care. May God help them.

An "Herball" Bonanza -- From 940 to 1600
Throughout the years there has been a long tradition of writing "Herbals" or "Herballs". An "Herbal" is a type of book that covers the medicinal aspects of plants and herbs. The word "Herbal" likely comes from mediaeval Latin "herbalis" meaning "manual" or "hand-book". These manuals vary considerably in quality, scope, and depth. The older ones often contain large amounts of folklore, superstitions, creative names for plants, and illustrations which are often not accurate for the plants they depict. It's difficult to say for sure how many of these books have been written. Surely, non-European cultures have their fair share of Herbals as well, though currently I am only aware of one Chinese book titled Pen Ts'ao and am uncertain of its original date. For those interested, here is a Guide to the Literature of Botany listing nearly 6,000 botanical works before 1881. The following is a list of some of the more well known herbals that originated in Europe.

  Leech Book of Bald - 940
This book was the work of a monk named Bald and hand written by a monk named Cild. The title means (laece = "healer") The Healer Book by Bald. It currently resides in London at the British Library. It details the use of herbs to maintain good health.

Circa Instans aka De simplici medicina - 1166
Mattheau Platearius wrote this book for the "first medical school" in Salerno, Italy which is said to have been in operation from 1150 to 1817. The book alphabetized 273 simple herbs, explained their habitats, and listed their common names, Latin names, and Greek names. Both the school and the book were very popular and graduates were capped with bay-laurel wreaths. Salerno has a deep history of medicine and is said to be the only city where medical documents survived the fall of Rome. By 1300 it had developed a superb botanical garden.

De re Herbaria - 1375
Henry Daniel (1315 - 1385) was a botanist, gardener, and physician. He grew over 200 plants in a large scale garden and wrote detailed accounts of plants, their habitats, and their uses in medicine.

Herbarium aka Herbarius - 1484
This book is often referred to as the first Latin herbal and was based on manuscripts from an unknown origin. Some historians suggest the manuscripts were written by a native of Africa in the fourth or fifth century.

Der Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of Health) - 1485
This German book was likely written by Johann von Cube.

Hortus Sanitatis aka Ortus Sanitatis (Origins of Health) - 1491
This book was likely an adaptation of Herbarium and Der Gart der Gesundheit containing information about several more varieties of plants and even info on animals and minerals.

Le Grant Herbier - 1520
This French book was likely an adaptation of Circa Instans.

Banckes' Herbal - 1525
Rycharde Banckes was known as writing "the first herbal to be printed in England". This book was highly popular and often copied and published under different titles including: Askham's Herbal by Jhon Kynge, Cary's Herbal, Copland's Herbal, and A newe Herball of Macer by Robert Wyer.


Beak Doctor
  Grete's Herball - 1526
This wildly popular book was simply an English translation of Le Grant Herbier.

A Worthy Practise of the Moste Learned Phisition Maister Leonerd Fuchsius - 1529
Leonhard Fuchs was well known for his work in the use of aromatic plants as protection against the plague. This book was an English version of his work in this area. "Beak Doctors" had became common in the 1500s and often just the sight of them caused panic among citizens because of the proximity of plague germs. The mask had glass pieces for eyes and a long beak in which aromatic plants with anti-bacterial properties were placed to protect the doctor from airborne germs. Often roses, carnations, mints, and camphor were used among others.

Herbarum vivae eicones - 1530
Otto Brunfels (Otho Brunfelsius) (1464-1534) was a physician who was one of the first to illustrate plants in an herbal book in their true form, though his writing ability was poor.


Grete Herball
Paracelsus was an eccentric fellow who disregarded the works of his past and was notorious for burning the books of Avicenna and Galen publically. He was known to be extremely boastful and always took center stage. Many people of his time thought of him as somewhat mad and I mention him here mainly to try to avoid confusion between him and the Greek scholar Theophrastus mentioned above. Paracelsus did leave his mark on history, however, one of his legacies being the bottled Ladanum/Opium mix which created addicts around the globe.  
Theophrastus von Hohenheim
(aka Paracelsus)
  Paracelsus is notably recognized for creating the "Doctrine of Signatures". This was somewhat of a philosophy of medicine. The basic idea is that each plant or food has a physical character to it that lets us humans know what it is good for healing. For example, the walnut meat is in the shape of a human brain, therefore, eating walnuts must be healthy for the brain. According to Paracelsus, "The porositie or holes in the leaves (of St. Johns Wort), signifie to us, that this herb helps both inward and outward holes or cuts in the (human) skin..."

Hieronymus Bock
  Kreuter Buch - 1539
Hieronymus Bock (aka Tragus) (1498-1554) was known for his excellent plant descriptions. He was known for only writing about plants which he had personally seen.

Historia Stirpium (On the History of Plants) aka Fuchs Herbal - 1542
Fuchs Latin work was a large volume based on the writings of Dioscorides and Otto Brunfels. His Herbal was unique because he included several "accurate" drawings that were true to the form of each plant he discussed.

New Kreuterbuch - 1543
This is Fuchs' German edition of Historia Stirpium which is generally understood to be as good, if not better than Bock's Kreuter Buch with excellent text quality and beautiful illustrations.


Leonhard Fuchs

Pierandrea Mattioli
  Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis - 1544
Pierandrea Mattioli (1501-1577) grew up in Venice and became a physician. His book covered a history of all of the plants known to him and works from Dioscorides. It was extremely successful and translated into several languages.

A New Herball - 1551
William Turner was a botanist and physician who traveled around Europe studying plants. His book included detailed observations from his field studies and was considered to be better organized and more accurate then the work of Fuchs.

Cruijdeboeck aka Cruydeboeck - 1554
Rembertus Dodonaeus was a botanist and physician who was well known for his Flemish herbal (written in Latin), Cruijdeboeck containing information and illustrations for over 700 plants. It was somewhat of an extention of Fuchs' work.


Rembert Dodoens

Charles de L'Ecluse
  Stirpium adversaria nova - 1570
This work was written by Mathias de l'Obel (de Lobel, Lobelius) (1538-1616). This was more of a botanical classification type work than an "Herball" and hinted at the the common day seperation of Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons which botanist John Ray further developed. An extended version was compiled and titled Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia in 1576.

Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum Historia - 1576
Charles de L'Ecluse (1526-1609) was a botanist who traveled to Spain and Portugal where he studied plants and recorded his observations in this writing.

A Niewe Herball - 1578
This is an English translation of Cruijdeboeck by Henry Lyte (1529 - 1607).


Mathias de L'Obel

Fabio Colonna
  Historia plantarum Lugdunensis - 1586
Although this book does not mention an author on the title page, most historians give Jacques d'Alechamps credit. His book contained the most complete work on botany at the time with info on over 2,700 plants.

Phytobasanos (Greek for "plant torture") - 1592
An Italian, Fabio Columna (Colonna) (1567-1650) studied the work of Dioscorides and afterward was able to cure his epilipsy with Valerian. This inspired him to write Phytobasanos which was unique as it had very "clean" illustrations produced from etchings on copper plates. Many authors believe that Fabio was his own engraver and did all of the work himself. Fabio is generally given credit for coining the term "petal". His book title was supposed to mean that us humans had to torture the plant in order to obtain the name from it. However, I would also say that it could mean that the plants torture us humans since to this day we still can't decide on the names of several of them...

The Historie of Plants aka Gerard's Herball - 1597
This is another English translation of Cruijdeboeck by Henry Lyte with additions and revisions. In 1633 Gerard's Herball was republished and contained material and illustrations for over 2,700 herbs and plants.


John Gerard

Botany - The Roots of Binomial Nomenclature and Plant Classification Methods
Its important to note that up to this time in Europe there were no standard naming conventions for plants. This was a serious problem that every author had to deal with. One such author, William Turner, published a book in 1548 titled The names of herbes in Greke, Latin, Englishe, Duche, and Frenche wyth the commone names that Herbaries and Apotecaries use. Clearly, as the title of this book shows, there was a need for "name uniformity".

Up to the early 1700s Latin was used extensively as a common international language throughout Europe. Because of this, most scientific books in Europe were written in Latin. (As an aside, its interesting to note that Latin was a required subject of modern medical students clear up until the 1960s.) Since Latin was a "universal language" during the 1400s and 1500s one of the many naming conventions at the time was to use a few Latin adjectives strung together to make up a name that described the characteristics of that particular plant. The equivalent in English would be something like "short shrub lavender plant with small lipped flowers". So, that name could be used when talking about the plant that we commonly know as "Lavender".

One obvious problem with this naming convention was that there was no standardized way of naming one particular plant. Looking at the Lavender plant example, the following ways were are all valid names for Lavender:
   "short shrub lavender plant with small lipped flowers"
"shrub short lavender plant with small lipped flowers"
"shrub lavender short plant with small lipped flowers"
"shrub lavender plant with small lipped flowers short"
"lipped purple flower short shrub"
"shrub lavender plant with small lipped flowers"
"short shrub lavender"
"short shrub plant with small purple lipped flowers"
"short shrub lavender plant with small lipped flowers with fairly shallow hardy root system which prefers alkaline soil with full sunlight"
etc. etc. etc.

Clearly using this naming method lead to an infinite number of names in the field of botany, each being equally acceptable. This "plant name game problem" continued for some time, even after serious attempts to "fix" it with a universal naming system. In some regards this plant name game continues to go on to this day and can even be noticed within this website itself; Attar of Roses means Rose Otto,   Cistus means Rock Rose,   Everlasting means Helichrysum, etc.

Gaspard Bauhin
Jean Bauhin
   Hey Jean, what's the name of that plant?
Around the late 1500s two Swiss brothers with interests in botany, Gaspard (aka Caspar) and Jean Bauhin, started experimenting with the idea of simplifying the naming convention for plants. It was too difficult to research and study plants when there wasn't one standard name for a given plant! So, they came up with the idea of giving each plant a unique two part name. Gaspard appeared to have started his written work in 1596 and eventually completed his work titled Pinax theatri botanici in 1623. In his book (12 book set actually) he described and named thousands of plants. This was one of the earliest attempts at creating a binomial naming convention in the field of botany. One example for their proposed method would be "used to wash and used officially in medicine" or "Lavandula officinalis".

Though they were both well known botanists and each quite respected professionals in their fields, their binomial naming convention for plants was not that well received and it was put on a shelf and effectively ignored for a couple of hundred years...

Respected Medical Doctor -or- Nutty Herbalist?
Nicholas Culpeper was born in England in 1616. During his early education he learned Latin, Greek, and English. Although he went to college for studies in divinity he was very dissatisfied with it and never finished, dropping out so he could devote his time to the study of plants and medicine.

Culpeper was unique for his time because he wrote his findings in English instead of Greek or Latin, as most authors did then. In addition, he also translated medical books into English. He used English for the benefit of the masses and poor who only knew English. This essentially "unlocked" the medical knowledge known during his time, greatly helping the poor and also greatly upsetting the medical establishment who intended to continue to charge extortionist prices for basic "medical service". To the masses he was known as an esteemed doctor and herbalist. In professional circles he was likely known by other names.

He wrote two major pieces in his life: The Complete Herbal and The English Physician. Both of these texts were sometimes published within the same physical book binding making it appear to be one piece. The Complete Herbal covers several commonly known plants of medicinal value while The English Physician explains the use of those plants within the practice of medicine.

  During his time there were some counterfeit copies of his work which contained, according to Culpeper "twenty or thirty gross mistakes in every sheet" Exactly who the parties were behind the counterfeit operation I do not know currently. After reviewing some of the history during Culpeper's time, I would say the "medical establishment" most certainly had a hand in it. The counterfeit copies can easily be spotted as the differences are detailed in the first pages of Culpeper's authentic book titled The Complete Herbal.

Culpeper's work is thoroughly connected to astrology and a basic understanding of the topic is necessary to follow his methodology. People in the 1600s were very aware of astrological concepts so his writing would have been easy to understand for most lay people at the time. I suspect that the association of "plants with planets" or "essential oils with planets" originates from the work of Culpeper and other authors such as him during this time.

Nicholas Culpeper   1616-1654


English Physician And Family Dispensatory - 1800 Version
English Physician - 1814 Version

The Complete Herbal And English Physician - 1835 Version
The Complete Herbal And English Physician - 1850 Version

For further information about many of the herbals and authors outlined above please refer to the book titled, The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord, 2005, Herbals Their Origin and Evolution by Agnes Arber, 1912, and The Old English Herbals by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, 1922.

Back to Classifying Nature
A few years later a French botanist named Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (born in Aix-en-Provence, France) started traveling around Spain, Greece, Armenia, and Georgia studying plants and writing about his findings. He traveled with his pupil, Charles Plumier, and together they worked and studied for many years.

Joseph de Tournefort
Charles Plumier

  Charles Plumier studied botany in the French monastery of Trinita dei Monti in Rome. After returning to France he began working and studying with Joseph. In 1689 he was appointed as a "royal botanist" by the king of France.

Tournefort studied medicine at Montpellier and was appointed as a professor of botany at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1683.

Tournefort's main contribution to the field of botany was his book named Eléments de botanique, ou Méthode pour reconnaître les Plantes written in 1694. In his work he presented a new way of grouping plants which we know today as "Genera" (Genus - singular). He was one of the first to be recognized for making a clear distinction between the concepts of Genera and Species. He effectively created over 700 Genera and grouped over 7000 plant species using his new grouping system. His work also included descriptions and groupings of fungi and lichens.

In the early 1700s an English naturalist named John Ray created the following two general botanical groups:

  I. Phanerogamia (known today as Magnoliophyta) - Plants that bear Flowers.
II. Cryptogamia - Plants that do not produce Flowers.

The second group, Cryptogamia, was later sub-divided into a number of smaller, more specific groups. John Ray also created the divisions of flowering plants that are used today.

  Sub-divisions of Flowering Plants
1. Monocotyledons - Plants whose embryo has one seed leaf.
2. Dicotyledons - Plants whose embryo has two or more seed leaves.
John Ray

Carl Linnaeus
  Carl Linnaeus (aka Carolus Linnaeus) was a Swedish botanist and a university professor who created a classification system for plants in 1736 which focused on the number, arrangement, and relative length of a plant's pistils and stamens. Though this method was somewhat misleading, it existed for a number of years.

Around that same time Linnaeus started flirting with the idea of giving each plant only a two-part name. He argued that long fancifully descriptive names were too cumbersome, not standardized and inconsistent. His opinions echoed those of Gaspard and Jean Bauhin from years ago. Linnaeus, too, received opposition to this binomial scheme. A common argument was that a two-part name was not long enough to give an adequate description of the plant in question. Linnaeus' counter point was that a name should only be a name and not a full description. Anyone seeking a specific plant description could find it by looking in a book. As a result, it became necessary to attach a person's name to the genus name and the plant name so students of botany would know which author had written about that genus or that specific plant's description. To make this system shorter scientists at the time decided on only attaching an abbreviation instead of a complete name. Linnaeus chose to use the abbreviation of L. Also included in the naming convention, the first part of the plant specie name was always to start with a capital letter and the second part was always to start with a lower case letter. In addition, specie names were to always be in italics. For these reasons, the botanical name for one of the species of Lavender is "Lavandula officinalis L." The genus name is "Lavendula L."

Proceeding with this idea, Linnaeus set out to give every plant known to him a two part name and by 1753 he had done so and published his work in a book called Species Plantarum. His work was controversial at the time of publication but became more accepted later in his life.

Because of his work in botany (as well as with animals, and minerals) and his follow-through in these areas he is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Modern Taxonomy", even though the Bauhin brothers (and possibly others) had similar ideas long before him. By the end of his life he was extremely well known and highly acclaimed for his work.

One larger issue with Linnaeus' binomial method often presented itself as time went on. There were conflicts as to which scholar should get credit for a given plant name. What about the plants which had been given standard two part names before Species Plantarum? What about the names of plants listed in Pinax theatri botanici and other works that came before Linnaeus? Debate went on about this topic for years until finally in 1905 the "Vienna Code" was passed. This decision stated that the names that Linnaeus had constructed were the only valid names; any previous names for plants that he had covered were no longer valid. This reinforced Linnaeus' work as being definitive. This system has evolved into what most people recognize today as an "International botanical naming convention" known as the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.

In this system, the first part of a plant's name is the same as the name of the genus to which it belongs in. The second part of a plant's name tells us the specific species within that genus. One way to understand this is the first part of the plant's name is like a person's last name and the second part of a plant's name is like a person's first name.


Linnaeus Library on pdf
  So, let's look at some species in the Lavender genus for example.
Lavandula angustifolia     --     "English Lavender"
Lavandula delphinensis     --     "Lavandin"
Lavandula latifolia     --     "Spike Lavender"
Lavandula stoechas     --     "Spanish Lavender"

As you can see, the first part of the 4 names listed above are all the same. That's because all 4 species come from the same genus, Lavandula. But, the second part or the specific specie name part is unique to each name. This would be similar when talking about the Smith's, for example; we have Jennifer Smith, Jeff Smith, Jack Smith, and Jill Smith; all Smiths, but each one just a bit unique from the other.

For an excellent book concerning plant names and their meanings please refer to the book titled, How Plants get their Names by Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1933.

The following are a few examples for abreviations of the names of scientists. These abreviations (and many others) were created as a result of Linnaeus' work.

Jan Presl
Joseph Hooker
 Author Abbreviations 
Thomas Nuttall
Kurt Sprengel
Benth. --- George Bentham (British)   1800-1884
Hook. F. --- Joseph Dalton Hooker (British)   1817-1911
J.Presl --- Jan Svatopluk Presl (Czech)   1791-1849
Juss. --- Antoine de Jussieu (French)   1748-1836
L. --- Carl Linnaeus (Swedish)   1707-1778
Lindl. --- John Lindley (British)   1799-1865
Mill. --- Philip Miller (Scottish)   1691-1771
Nutt. --- Thomas Nuttall (British)   1786-1859
Spreng. --- Kurt Sprengel (German)   1766-1833

Antoine de Jussieu grew up in France and had his formal education in Paris. He went on to become a professor of botany at Jardin des Plantes in 1770.

He studied the works of John Ray and Joseph de Tournefort and added some ideas of his own to create a "natural system" for the classification of plants. In 1789 he published a book, Genera plantarum, in which he presented a new method for classifying plants based on the use of multiple characters to define groups. (He borrowed some of his ideas for this from Michel Adanson.). His natural system of classification was a big improvement over the one that Linnaeus had presented.

Jussieu recognized the significance of the binomial convention presented by Linnaeus and he incorporated it into his classification method. His work was revolutionary and many of the botanical families in existence today were introduced in his work. The book History of Botanical Science, written by Morton in 1981, shows that 79 families created by Jussieu are listed in the Internationl Code of Botanical Nomenclature. It also shows that only 11 families from Linnaeus' work are still used.

Antoine de Jussieu

Augustin de Candolle
  Augustin de Candolle was a Swiss botanist who studied medicine and natural science in Paris starting in 1796. In 1808, after his formal education and the publication of several works in botany, he was appointed as a professor of botany at Ecole de Medecine in Montpellier, France.

His first major work, known as Plantarum historia succulentarum, consisted of 28 sections and was published in parts during the years from 1799 to 1803. Other notable works included Astragalogia, published in 1802, and Essai sur les proprietes medicales des plantes, first published in 1804.

In 1816 the Geneva Academy invited him to become the Chairman of Natural History. He accepted and returned back to Geneva, becoming a writer and professor of science. During this time he became actively involved with many projects including the creation of a museum of natural history, the Conservatoire Botanique, and significant work in the Geneva botanical gardens.

Augustin's written works while in Montpellier and Geneva covered many topics in botany. He covered taxonomy, plant biology, phytochemistry, medicinal botany, plant pathology, and was the first to cover phytogeography, and agronomy in depth.

He expanded the work of Jussieu by changing the arrangement of plants, listing the most highly organized plants first.

John Lindley was a British botanist who published his first book, Monographia Rosarum, at the age of 21. Within it were descriptions of new plant species and original drawings. From there he went on to publish several more botanical books in his lifetime. In 1829 he became the chair of botany in University College in London and remained there for over 30 years. Being a believer in the work of Jussieu and his "Natural System", Lindley furthered this idea with the publication of A Synopsis of British Flora, arranged according to the Natural Order in 1829 and An Introduction to the Natural System of Botany in 1831. Other major works include Flora Medica in 1838, Theory of Horticulture in 1840, and The Vegetable Kingdom in 1846. A common theme throughout Lindley's work is a strong desire for accuracy and attention to detail.

Lindley is well known for his work relating to the classification of orchids and his written works on the topic include The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants (1840) and Folia Orchidacea (1852).

By the time Linnaeus, Jussieu, Candolle, and Lindley had completed their studies of plants, their combined "scientific" work had transformed the subject, bleaching it from the colors of alchemy, mysticism, astrology, and folklore. God's mysteriously beautiful garden of plants had become measured and quantified, labeled, sorted, and indexed, boxed up and pedagogically packaged making it suitable to fit nicely into the stark white-man's hallways of academia next to its brothers of chemistry, biology, physics, and medicine. This textbook serves as an example of how "precise and pristine" the topic had become by 1890. I understand not this deep, intense, insatiable desire for us humans to "label and categorize" nature, people, places, and things. Right or wrong, this "method of science" had clearly become present within the scope of plants by 1900 and had most certainly obtained the label of Botany.

For further reading on this topic please see History of Botany (1530-1860) by Julius Von Sachs.

John Lindley

History - Part 2

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