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Mysterious Bodies of the Plant Kingdom

Mysterious Bodies of the Plant Kingdom: an illustrated Dutch medicinal plant handbook from 1800.

Tinde van Andel, Mieke Beumer


Period & duration

Study & level
Biology, MSc

Background & context
The Artis library (University of Amsterdam Special Collections) owns a small booklet with miniature drawings of 271 Dutch medicinal plant products, accompanied with 136 drawings, which appear to be hand colored drawings, cut out from a copy of the famous book De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes, written by the German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs in 1542. The book is from ca. 1800, entitled “Ligchaamen uijt het Planten Rijk” (bodies from the plant kingdom) and the medicinal uses and properties are written in Dutch. The plants in this booklet have never been identified according to modern botanical standards, and the ethnobotanical information has never been analyzed. By using the digitized photographs of the booklet, herbarium vouchers from Dutch plants at Naturalis, historical and modern literature, this MSc project aims to identify the 271 plant products and trace the origin of the information of this 200-year old booklet. The outcome of this MSc project will be a manuscript written in English for publication in a scientific journal (e.g., Journal of Ethnopharmacology or Economic Botany). 

Research questions
1) Which plants are represented by the 271 descriptions?
2) What type of plant uses are written below the drawings?
3) To what extent is this information original or copied from contemporary sources?
4) Which exotic medicinal plants figure in the booklet?

Course Plant Families of the Tropics, Naturalis / Leiden University (January 2016).
Dutch language skills. 


Meyer, FG et al. 1999. De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press.

Brok, H. (2006). Stinkend juffertje en duivelskruid: volksnamen van planten. Amsterdam University Press.

Schmid, R. & Fuchs, L. 2000. Leonhart Fuchs's great herbal of 1542: A masterpiece of analysis and commentary.

Baljet, B., & Bouman, F. (2015). The Hortus Medicus in Amsterdam (1638–1665) and the catalogue of Johannes Snippendael. Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 35(3), 246-256.

Van Gelder, E. 2012. Bloeiende Kennis: Groene ontdekkingen in de Gouden Eeuw, Verloren, Hilversum


Description of Cannabis

Description of Cannabis in the booklet

hand-colored illustration of Fuchs

Hand-colored illustration of Fuchs.