Voynich plants – a biologist’s view

I have recently been contacted by a biologist from Finland who wants to remain anonymous. He has put a lot of work into looking at the Voynich plants, and has come up with some very interesting ideas and detailed discussion. He has agreed that I can post them here.

Many of them are informal and initial opinions, but I feel they are still extremely useful contributions. I’m most grateful to him for his extensive and considered analysis.

 

Note that he reached his decisions independently and on the basis of biology, not of the language side.

You can use the search box to find particular pages or suggestions quickly.

Voynich pagePrimary suggestionComments
1vAtropa belladonna or Scopolia carniolicaIf all that is painted would be correct: Upright to nodding plant,
leaves entire, hastate to adjoined to stem, fruit possibly dark, capsule
or berry, with prominent calyx. Flowers more or less singly. Not
Asteraceae or Cichoriaceae. Root/rhizome large, thick, horizontal. Two
colours of leaves could refer to different colours or hairiness on lower
and upper side. Leaf arrangment not clear, but not whorled.

Questions include:
- Is a certain species meant or is it a general model of plants (in
beginning)?
- Which parts are correct, which are not?
- Which part is significant to the author (pharmacy effects)?

First bids:
Atropa belladonna or Scopolia carniolica.
Scrophularia nodosa more far-fetched.
All are pharmacy plants with rhizomes.
2vNymphaeaThe figure supposed to be Nymphaea: I looked at the root (actually
rhizome) now. Also it fits well to Nymphaea but also other aquatic
plants. It seems to represent a horizontal rhizome (a modified,
subterranean stem). The round structures in the rhizome correspond well
with scars of earlier leaves etc. The image fits well in an aquatic
plant (The rhizome would grow in the bottom mud). The flower seems to
have at least some imagined features for any plant, however. E.g.
Hydrocharis has similar leaves but difterent roots.

It could be thought that the rhizome and perhaps a separate leaf would
have been at hand, during the painting session, the flower being
somewhat filled-in by imagination. Nymphaea has pharmacy uses.

What I suggest to look for, in 2v, is simply the word WATER (repetition
of same words as in bathing ladies?), perhaps also the combination of
BOTTOM and ROOT, since this is a water plant anyway. Of course "water"
might be avoided by words such as "lake" or "river", but worth checking
I think.
3rPolypodium vulgareFirst thoughts on 3r:

No flowers seen. Leaves or leaflets/lobes very tightly arranged. The
image could represent a lobed or imparipinnate leaf emerging directly
from thinnish roots. Strange dots on leaf margins might represent fern
spores, as might the brown colours.

First bid: Polypodium vulgare. Words to look for: (BITTER-)SWEET (taste
of root), ROOT, ROCK/CLIFF/BOULDER (habitat). WORM (many ferns have been
used as anti-worm drugs).

Secondary choice: other ferns.
4rLinum usitatissimum or Linum catharticumI have not made extensive comparisons with this, but am making direectly
a suggestion:

If the image is correct, it seems to represent a thin-stalked herb with
small narrow entire leaves opposite or in tight whorls, may grow a few
shoots per root, its flowers are quite few per shoot, it has a visible
calyx and a capsule fruit which splits in sectors and has some kind of
tip. The plant is shown in fruiting stage, implicating that the flowers
are not interesting for the book

First bid: Linum usitatissimum or Linum catharticum.

If this would be the case, words to look for: SEED (the useful part),
BLUE (flower of L. usitatissimum), SLIMY (seeds when moistened),
FIBER/THREAD/ROPE/CLOTH (products of stem fibers).
4vPolemonium sp.Making a direct guess of 4v without systematic searches:

If the combination of a slender upright plant with large blue radially
symmetric flowers and (im)paripinnate leaves is correct, there are only
few alternatives.

My first suggestion is Polemonium sp.

There are mystic star-like structures painted in both flowers and lower
in the shoot. But also these might make sense with Polemonium! In some
stages of flowering the style tips are protruding and form a star-shaped
structure (as do also some other plant genera, howerer). AND the capsule
splits in sectors ans also the calyx may leave star-shaped remains.

Secondary alternative: Delhinium/Consolida etc, but then the flowers
would not be well drawn.

Also the root with curvy contours fits with some Internet images labeled
as Polemonium.

Not a widespred drug but has been used for pharmacy purposes in the
past. Both the fruits/seeds and roots might have been of interest to the
painter.
5rParis quadrifoliaMy first guess of 5r: Paris quadrifolia (this has been suggested by
others in the net, as well)

If this plant is aimed, then the fruit would represent a single dark
berry (meaning of pale center unclear - shining?), the sharp-tipped
calyx leaves would fit, as would the general habitus of a straight stem
with a single flower/fruit in the top, and a radiating whorl of
broadish, entire, elliptic to lanceolate leaves with a tip in the middle
of the stem. The leaves curving down is not characteristic but is
possible of course e.g. in a withering plant or as an artistic decoration.

Although four is the general number of leaves in P. quadrifolia, whorls
of more leaves do occur, and the painter may mot have aimed to give an
exact number, just the general appearance. Also the nodulose rhizome in
the image has some resemblance to that of Paris.

Paris is poisonous and has been used as a pharmacy plant.
5vPotentilla argenteaIf this represents a small plant, the habitus and leaves fit quite well
to Potentilla, but then the flowers should be generallly yellow rather
than red. Eg. the pharmacy plant Potentilla erecta has a root which
stains red and this might be symbolised with red flowers as well? But it
has only four petals. Colour difference between upper/lower sides of
leaves would fit better in e.g. Potentilla argentea. A big genus.

Another candidate genus with smallish to middle-sized plants is Geranium.

A candidate family with middle-sized to large plants is Malvaceae,
including Malva, Lavatera and Althaea. E.g. Althaea officinalis is a
pharmacy plant.
6rDrosera sp.6r seems a mysterious image, but I have a very unsure hypothesis to make:

Drosera sp.???

If this is true, the image is zoomed, to represent plant height of about
5-15 cm. then the sharp lobes of the leaves would represent the
insect-catching sticky hairs. The odd "moss capsules" near the top would
represent capsules of Drosera. The artist surely has some meaning with
the odd bumps on the capsules' sides, looking like sunrises. The
position of these on sides would hint an irregular ("mirror-symmetric")
flower, and I do not get any sure meaning for them. However, the flowers
of Drosera being arranged in a spiral-like inflorescence may in some
stages show structures (remains of various flowerparts) on their upper
sides.
6vRicinus communisRicinus and some alternative candidates do not grow wild here in north,
so I have not so wide personal experience on their variation in nature,
and I may miss totally some potential alternatives. However:

[re. Ricinus communis] It is very natural to conceive image 6v as a representation of a rather stout plant with palmate leaves (i.e. lobes radiating from a single center) and with big, round, spiky fruits.

Please note the deceptive zooming problem, however: Compare this with the leaves of 16r which you (perhaps correctly) relate with a juniper (in this case, the flowers of 16 r would be male!). 16 r would then be a close-up, width of page being only about 5 cm, while the page of 6v, if Ricinus, would represent e.g. 1-2 metres in nature.

I looked if there is any difference in leaves of 16 r and 6v. With good will, you could see in the supposed Ricinus the central veins of leaf lobes outlined in 6v, and the "needles" of 16r may be a bit more overlapping, more suggestive of individual needles. But a really different meaning remains unsure.

Round, spiky fruits (or similar structures) also occur in:
- Datura (but leaves of datura show only large serration, not a palmate form),
- Castanea (a tree; single leaves are not palmate but might occur in tufts which may look like that)
- Arctium (the spiky things being a modified inflorescense), but in Arctium the leaves are large roundish, not palmate.

All the previous would fit into a stout plant about as large as ricinus.

- If we assume that the artist has zoomed very much, there are several plants which have very small (e.g. 3-5 mm wide) spiky fruits which may attach to furs of animals, e.g. Galium (paired fruits, narrow leaves radiating directly from stem), and several Apiaceae or Boraginaceae, but to me these seem a bit far-fetched. Members of Dipsacus also have structures like Arctium.

But with these comments, and perhaps overlooking some mediterranean plants, Ricinus really IS a very promising and natural candidate for 6v, and we do not need any imaginary additions for that assumption. Even the blue colour in fruits might refer to purple colours which may occur in any part of some Ricinus varieties. The drawing style might hint that the fruit is the emphasized part of the plant, and these (or the seeds inside) might have been stored/sold as a potent pharmacy product.

We can also put it this way: If this image would be presented as Ricinus (assuming it would get some support in the text) no one would notice anything special 🙂

I forgot at least Aesculus hippocastaneum. That should also be considered as a candidate. Palmate leaves (although 6v is more ricinus-like) and spiky fruits. But I would rank Ricinus higher, since the image looks more like a Ricinus.
7r?Some very preliminary speculation about 7r:

Although this might be taken as a flower, close inspection of the
structure would rather hint towards a tip of a vegetative shoot. Many
alternatives. It would be important to know the zooming level aimed.

Perhaps the shoot tip of some plant (Juniper? other gymnosperm tree?)
has been used as a pharmacy product. The root in the image seems to be
grafted by the artist to the tip.
7vErigeron acreEarly guesses on 7v, no systematic search made:

A hairy (annual?) herb with lanceolate entire leaves

Erigeron acre?

Other members of daisy family which are missing ray flowers? E.g.
Gnaphalium.

Hieracium pilosella?? Shoot fits well but then the "flowers" might be
badly drawn and represent e.g. rhizome tip leaves.

Boraginaceae such as Myosotis, Cynoglosssum etc.?? Leaves fit but then
the flowers would be badly drawn.
11rSalix herbacea and Salix
reticulata
11r is a difficult one. The first impression is that of some cushion- or
carpet-forming perennial plant of dry or alpine environments. The part
of(pharmaceutical?) intrest to the artist would seem to be the roots.
Bluish colours on such plants occur e.g. in Lamiaceae (such as Thymus),
Saxifraga (S. oppositifolia), Loiseleuria (Alpine/Northern), and Silene
acaulis (Alpine/Northern), but having these in combination with the
roundish and toothed leaves illustrated, is difficult with the plants
mentioned above. Maybe the painter has something wrong.

Two perhaps surprising candidates come from the willows (Salix): There
are (at least) two alpine creeping salixes, Salix herbacea and Salix
reticulata which have rounded leaves quite similar to the image. In this
case, the "flowers" illustrated would be female catkins which in these
species nave often various shades of red or purple.

I am not aware of medicinal use of specifically these two willows but
certainly these have similar pain-relieving substances than other
willows. If 11r would really illustrate these willows, the artist would
have got material from alpine environments.

There may be more southern Mediterranean plants which I no not know about.
11vRhododendron ferrugineum11v is a mysterious image, just very first thoughts of it, to inspire
further study:

The tight "bush" has been painted very schematically or symbolically, it
could represent nearly any tree or bush, "minishrub" (Ericaceae) or even
a smaller plant if zoomed. We do not know which character - if any - is
wrong or exaggerated, which is more right.

The blue "flower" in the top is quite a mystery too. What is the artist
trying to illustrate? If the plant is of the size of a bush, the flower
seems unproportionally big. On the other hand, if we assume that the
flower is of normal size, then the plant must be very small, e.g. type
of Saxifraga oppositifolia.

The coloring the leafs with alternating colors may just be an artistic
method to clarify the density. BUT if informative, it leads to my best
candidate thus far: Rhododendron ferrugineum, which is an alpine bush
AND has rusty undersides of leaves AND has showy (albeit more
purple-red) flowers.

One thing seems to differ from many other illustrations, and may convey
some information: The base and the higher branches: It seems that the
branch illustrated is just one branch of a larger bush which branches
near the ground, others cut away for clarity. This would also fit in
e.g. Salix with pain-relieving properties. Also the branches just below
leaves convey the same information of a branching bush. The "flower"
might also refer to some kind of a young shoot tip, or a dark color
reaction in a broken twig or anything else the artist may have observed
by chance.

So, my best guess at the moment is Rhododendron. I have not searched for
its potential uses. The poisonous plant Daphne mezereum is much more
far-fetched. (long leaves, paler purple flowers in spikes, not so dense).
14vUrtica dioica, U. urens and
U. pilulifera
14v looks strange if it is understood to represent the entire plant. My
first guess however is that it illustrates only a detail which the
artist has "grafted" directly with the root system.

The leaves are illustrated as strongly serrate and the flowers (if they
represent flowers) seem to be in clusters andto be very small and
modest, perhaps wind-pollinated. Also note triplets of small dots in
each cluster.

When searching for such combinations, one genus rises up as a strong
candidate, namely, nettles (Urtica). The habitus is different and this
alternative can really be only explained by taking the image as a detail
of the plant.

Three species at least should be considered, Urtica dioica, U. urens and
U. pilulifera with round flower clusters. U. urens (and according to an
Internet source also U. pilulifera) is annual and does not have the
illustrated branching rhizome. However the rhizome of the common nettle
U. dioica would fit very fell to the image and has been used for
pharmacy products.

The tree dots in each cluster do not find a clear interpretation in case
of Urtica, since its flower parts come in groups of four.
16vNigella
damascena or Nigella arvensis
16v shows another mystery plant with a large, star-like, "hypnotizing"
flower. The brown, circular, spiny structures in the middle are
seemingly fruits.

a) If we assume that BOTH the flower AND fruits are more or less
correct, the first guess might be Nigella species such as Nigella
damascena or Nigella arvensis. In this case, the fruits would be seen
from below, and the tiny venation may represent the veins of the fruit
as well as thread-like upper leaves.

This does not prevent keeping even some other folios of the VM
interpreted as Nigella (note also the cultured Nigella sativa). In this
case similar words could occur in both Nigella pictures.

b) If we put an emphasis on the special fruits and allow the flower to
be imagined by the Artist, there are naturally more alternatives. Spiny,
curved pods occur in e.g. Pea Family (e.g. Scorpiurus, Onobrychis,
Hymenocarpus, Medicago).

c) If we assume that only the star-like fruits were shipped to the
Artist as exotic spices or drugs from Far East, for instance, there are
still more alternatives such as star anise. According to a short
Internet source, however, this plant was first introduced to Europe as
late as in 1578.
17vRumex acetosella?

Smilax aspera (=common smilax) or
Smilax excelsa
[Compare with 99r,, possibly ] 17v represents the more slender, close relative Rumex acetosella. The difference between these plants' leaf base lobes (arrow-like or "spear-like" with protruding side tips) is still a valid diagnostic feature. This could act as a poorer substitute for 96v with about same effects.

Following a suggestion from Marco Ponzi, the Finnish biologist added the following:
"Yes, Smilax species are a good proposal, naturally! They are potent
candidates, too. ........

It is better to include two species, Smilax aspera (=common smilax) or
Smilax excelsa (=larger smilax), since both occur in S Europe, with
somewhat different distributions.

........Smilax species have been used both as food plants and especially on other continents for medicine, too."
18vPulsatilla vernalis, or Malvaceae??18v first choice: Pulsatilla vernalis or other Pulsatilla species?

Features favoring this choice include the general habitus, large,
beautiful, "hypnotizing" flower, multitude of stamens, protruding styles
and hairs on the edges of flowers. This plant has a thick root, and the
place of withered basal rosette leaves could correspond with the
"lantern". I am not aware of any finger-like appendages, however, the
leaves do not match fully, and the scales round the flower would be
wrongly illustrated. Pulsatilla spp. have some active substances and
have been used in pharmacy. Distribution e.g. Alps and northwards.

18v second choice: Malvaceae??
19rConsolida regalis??Such big blue flowers occur in
several unrelated groups including Polemonium, Campanula and Gentiana.
The combination of narrowly divided leaves AND a big bell flower would
be most promising in Polemonium. However, the "granade-like" structures
on top of upper side branches are enigmatic, especially as compared with
the flowers.

I glanced through some plant books looking for possible similar fruits in
blue-flowered plants. I looked for seed size comparable with the bumps
in figure's fruits and for longitudinal structures vaguely illustrated.
Here I jumped into a plant named Consolida regalis (Synonym: Delphinium
consolida), and found it to be an intresting candidate:

If 19 r aims to present Consolida regalis, the the flower would have a
totally wrong structure, could be explained if the artist had only
previously collected fruits/seeds at hand, as a pharmacy product, and he
is just told that it has big blue flowers, the form of which he would
have invented from other flowers he has seen.

Consolida is known for its very poisonous seeds (heart symptoms), but
the whole plant is toxic. Both the plant and the seeds have been known
for various pharmacy uses.
20rLavandula angustifoliaThe modest habitus of the plant in 20r seems rather credible, as if the
Artist would really have seen it, possibly as a dried specimen.
Considering the inaccurate drawing style, however (e.g. flowers painted
as dots), there are very few characters to solve the species.

Possible characters include small, entire leaves along lower parts of
the stem, relatively leafless inflorescens in the top, small bluish
flowers and opposite arrangement of leaves.

First guess: Lavandula angustifolia

Secondary guesses. Other member of lamiaceae such as Hyssopus
officinalis, Acinos arvensis (=Satureja acinos) or some Salvia species
21rHerniariaThe image 21r is a promising one in the sense that the artist has in my
opinion certainly seen the plant when painting the image. It is so
trustworthy and lively illustrated to represent a flat creeping plant,
seen from above, radiating from a central root to all directions, which
has been dug up - probably with a sharp tool - from a courtyard,
roadside or similar hard, dryish site.

The plant seems to have modest tongue-formed leaves and modest more
yellowish flowers in tight clusters. Unfortunately, the artist has not
looked at the flowers more closely.

The problem is that there are so many unrelated plants which inhabit
this niche and may have similar forms and rudimentary structures.

Without a systematic search, my first and best starting guess is some
Herniaria species, since it is very similar indeed. The flower clusters
are just like that, including te yellowish tone. It has been believed to
cure hernia.

Secondary choices include Polygonum aviculare, Suaeda species and
probably many mediterranean genera (Polycarpon, Parietaria etc.) which I
am not so familiar with.
22vPaeonia officinalisAs far as the image 22v illustrates a real species, It seems that the
artist has been impressed by the beauty of this stout, large-flowered
plant which seems to have numerous anthers in each flower. It has roots
or rhizomes (i.e. is a perennial plant). The leaves in the image may
represent compound leaves.

Several alternatives could be speculated. First bids, without any
systematic search:

Primary candidate: Paeonia officinalis, a pharmacy plant native to
Southern Europe

Secondary candidates: Pulsatilla species, Helleborus species, Ranunculus
species.
23rBorago officinalis? Veronica?The image 23 remains unsure to me. However I would like to suggest that
the identification clue may be in the leaves. The artist has painted
them in a different way than other plants, showing in them blunt
protuberances and perhaps a network of veins. I think the artist has
experienced the leaves as typical to this plant, maybe also had some
special feeling in his fingers when touching the leaves.

As to flowers, the artist has painted so many blue flowers in other
pages of the book, many of them partly imagined, that I am not convinced
that this flower is accurate either. Perhaps the leaves is the part used
and seen, and the flowers may be drawn based on a foggy memory.

My best but very vague guess thus far is Borago officinalis, a
traditional salad vegetable and also a medicinal herb. It has coarsely
hairy leaves and also a network of veins is easily visible. It would
have blue flowers, as well, albeit not fully similar to the painting.

Other plants with various kinds of specially nodulose leaves include
Cistus, Pinguicula and various plants with rigid hairs. These seem more
far-fetched than Borago, however.


[Later ideas]
23r, first choice: Some Veronica species, although number of petals
should be 4, not 5. This genus would allow the combination of small
bright blue, eye-cathing frowers, serrated-lobed up to nearly palmate
leaves and a creeping rhizome. Difficult to find a good match on
species-level, however. Candidates include:

Veronica chamaedrys: Perhaps the best compromise: Shining blue single
flowers, rather large indentations in the leaves, and has a rhizome
(although quite thin). Common in grasslands, meadows. Has been used in
pharmacy.

Veronica officinalis: A known pharmacy plant, rhizome OK, but leaves
more rounded, only small blunt teeth on leaf edges, and paler frowers in
spikes. Drier places than previous.

Veronica beccabunga and other water-inhabiting Veronicas: Rizome OK but
leaves longer and narrower and flowers usually in spikes. Have been used
in pharmacy

Veronica persica, V. hederifolia etc.: Good match with flowers and best
match in leaves, but these are annuals, the drug rhizome totally missing!

23r, second choices: Flowers also remind of members of Borage family
(e.g. Omphalodes verna) and Anagallis of Primulaceae, but these have
entire leaves.
24vVincetoxicum nigrumAn esoteric-looking plant. Odd circular leaves with a beak-like point
and blue flowers.

I make a first, vague guess, hypothetizing that the Artist has just made
the point that the leaves are rounded inth base and have a sharp point,
and the flowers are dark bluish. I allow the flowers be wrong in details:

Vincetoxicum nigrum.
25vPlantago25v seems to represent a tight, sterile (i.e. non-flowering) basal
rosette with lanceolate leaves. The artist may really have seen this
plant in front of his eyes when painting.

There are so many plants which may lok like this as young that perhaps
only the text will solve this image. Some observations, however:

The veins of the leaves, if meant to be informative, are shown as
running parallel, instead of having a strong central mid-vein with
thinner feather-like side branches.

The parallel venation is usually seen in monocotyledons such as lilies,
irises and orchids, Poaceae (grasses) and Luzula. So, these should be
kept as candidates.

However, more or less parallel venation is also seen in a few
exceptional dicotyledon genera, and some of these are pharmacy plants,
notably Plantago spp. used e.g. for wound healing and Arnica montana.

An odd warty creature seems to be gnagging one of the leaves. Also this
may be meant as informative. I tried to search for plant names such as
Devil's bite (Teufelbiss) and frogbite. There are really some names like
that, many used in variable meanings depending on the region. Nothing
very promising found thus far. E.g. Teufelbiss has been used for Succisa
pratensis which would have an abrupty "cut" root (the bulge in the image
root does not look convincing) and does have feather-like venation and
not such a tight rosette. Teufelbiss has also been used for biting-like
marks in leaves of Phragmites. Not very promising as to habitus.

To sum up, my primary guesses as to habitus would be Plantago, then
Arnica, then a number of others, but the image is not solved.
25rMercurialis annuaDifficult to be sure since may be sterile, but you could start searching
25r from Mercurialis annua, female plant . This has
had some pharmacy value. On the other hand, most plants have been used
those days, in a way or another!


If this guess would be true, the brown structures in leafbases would be
fruits.
30vMercurialis perennisFirst bid for 30v: Mercurialis perennis.
Note this plant has a horizontal rhizome in contrast to the related M.
annua (guessed in 25r).

Finding the word BLUE in this entry (same word as in some blue-flowered
plant?) could then refer to the the fact that the plant turns blue in
drying and a blue dye has been produced. This species is also poisonous,
with some old pharmacy uses.
31rTanacetum partheniumIf the flowers of folio 31r are near correct, I would start searching
from Tanacetum parthenium. It is an old pharmacy plant, sais to
originate from Asia Minor but cultivated elsewhere.

Secondarily, its many relatives such as other Tanacetum species,
Achillea millefolia or Chamomilla recutita.
32rPrunella vulgarisFirst bid on 32r: Prunella vulgaris. Has been an esteemed healing plant.
But there are several other members of Lamiaceae (Mint family) which
have somewhat similar flowering spikes.
33rPapaver somniferumThe flowers of folio 33r seem to have a radiating structure on top of a
bulbous part.

Primary candidate: Fruiting stage (capsules) of Papaver somniferum, the
opium poppy which is a long-cultivated pharmacy and food plant.

Secondary candidates:

- Other Papaver species.

- Flowering stage of a Silene species or a related genus with an
inflated calyx and divided petals. See, however, 24r which is easier to
explain as a flowering Silene.

Note the two human figures in the roots of 33r. Does the other smile and
other be sad? These could be associated with dual effects of the plant,
such as wakenness/sleep, drug use/food use, or pleasant effects/poisoning.

Compared with all the above candidates, the leaves would not be well
drawn. In case of Papaver, this could indicate that the Artist has
mainly had access to the capsules, instead of the whole plant.

Please note that the Artist may have a general tendency to exaggerate or
directly imagine inflated basal parts of flowers.
34vArctium sp, especially Arctium lappa.
A starting guess for 34v: Arctium sp, especially Arctium lappa.

Features supporting this candidate: The "flowers" with a large bulb of
"calyx" with many rows of "petals" is suggestive of flowerheads of Daisy
family (Asteraceae), in which case the "sepals" would actually be
scale-like leaves (bracts) on the underside of the flowerheads. A
secondary candidate family is the related Cichoriaceae, with slightly
different flowerheads.

The round, pancake-like structures on lower branches seem rather odd
(especially looking so thick). But if we take the simplest solution that
they represent leaves, then the image might just aim to tell the message
that the plant has flowerheads and has rounded leaves.

Such plants are not so many (in this family, a lobed or serrated leaf is
the rule), most widespread candidates being burdogs (Arctium). If the
artist has meant burdogs, he has failed to illustrate the typical
crooked bracts which attach to the furs of animals, and the general
habitus would be quite clumsily drawn.

The roots of burdogs, especially of Arctium lappa have been used for
traditional pharmacy, e.g. for skin disorders. The pharmacy name for the
root product is Radix bardanae.

Of course, if the flowers in the painting are result of the artist's
imagination, only, the the logics above cannot be relied on.
34rSanicula or Astrantia?A starting guess for 34r: Sanicula or Astrantia?

Arguments in favor of these:
The "flowers" in top with their many long "petals", are rather similar
to the tight inflorescences of these two umbelliferous genera,
especially Astrantia.

Also the "leaves" are drawn oddly, as if consisting of several
overlapping lobes. This could be an attempt to illustrate leaflets or
lobes of compund leaves.

At least Sanicula has been used in pharmacy, especially for healing wounds.
36vGalium?This looks a mysterious plant with palmate leaves and modest
inflorescences in the top.

But considering the atrist's clumsy style and poor ability to analyze
(and/or remember) plant structures, could this be an attempt to paint a
Galium species??
37rEupatorium cannabinunVery preliminary guesses for 37r:

Primary candidate: Eupatorium cannabinun

(best fitting habitus)

Secondary candidates:

Sedum telephium (sensu lato)?? Valeriana??
41vAchillea millefolium, or Apiaceae (=Umbelliferae, carrot
family).
The image 41v obviously presents a herb with a flat-topped inflorescense
and finely divided leaves.

There are AT LEAST two separate groups of candidate plants:

1. Achillea millefolium and its relatives in the Daisy family
(Asteraceae) such as Tanacetum vulgare (the latter if yellow flowerheads
are allowed). Both have had pharmacy uses.

2. One of numerous possible members of Apiaceae (=Umbelliferae, carrot
family). If the artist tries to communicate thet the leaves are
palmately lobed (lobes radiating from one point rather than
feather-like), a carrot relative is more likely than Achillea. Also in
this family there are many species with pharmaceutical activity, up to
poisonous ones such as Conium and Aethusa.
41rFerula assafoetida? Gnaphalium sp.?
Plantago afra (Plantago psyllium)
First bids for 41r: depends on zooming.

If this is a large plant (page width about 1 m) then suggestive of a
flower-dominated member of Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), eg. Ferula communis
although this should have yellowish flowers.

If the image is a close-up, page width representing about 10 cm, many
members of daisy family may be compared, e.g. flowering Petasites in
spring, Gnaphalium sp....

Addition: What I wrote about Ferula communis in 41r, would make more sense
pharmacologically if it refers to the smelly Ferula assafoetida, or
Devil's Dung.

In addition to Ferula assafoetida instead of Ferula communis,
I would like to add a new candidate which I overlooked in my previous mail:

Plantago afra (Plantago psyllium) is among the promising candidates, too. It produces seeds which produce a lot of mucus when moistened. Has been used in pharmacy.
42rA species of
Arum (secondarily, Calla or Sagittaria).
Folio 42r seems to illustrate two species of plants.

These might make sense e.g. if they both grow in the same environment or
are suggested to have similar pharmaceutical properties.

As a starting hypothesis I suggest that the bigger leaf is a species of
Arum (secondarily, Calla or Sagittaria).

I suggest that the smaller, three-lobed one would be Menyanthes.

Both have been used as pharmacy plants. Depending of species, they might
share common biotopes in some areas, e.g. moist and/or shadowed places.

If these would really be Arum and Menyanthes, then the root system would
be drawn atypically slender: Either the artist has not seen the plants
with rhizomes (odd, since he is otherwise interested in roots) and has
assumed these, or the pictures represent young (cultured?) seedlings.

Three-lobed leaves naturally occur in other plants as well, such as
Trifolium. But that is another story.
43rBellis perennis, Antennaria dioicaAssuming the flowers (=flowerheads?) of 43r are more or less correct, I
would start the searching from Bellis perennis, Antennaria dioica and
their relatives in daisy family (Asteraceae). At least Bellis has been
used as a healing plant.
43v43v, left: Bupleurum baldense

43v, right: Bupleurum rotundifolium
The folio 43v seems to illustrate two plant species. Especially the one
on the right looks rather mystical. As a first, vague guess, both might
represent Bupleurum species:

43v, left: Bupleurum baldense

43v, right: Bupleurum rotundifolium (or a related species such as B.
lancifolium). Here, the Artist would have tried to illustrate the leaves
being fused round the stem.

If this is true, then the Artist or his suppliers would have understood
that these plants are related.

Some Bupleurum species have been used as pharmacy plants in Asia, at least.
44rTaraxacumThe image 44r could represent numerous alternative plant species, but
you could start simply with:

Taraxacum.

In this case, the plants would be picked up, the rosette is actually
against soil surface but is seen from below because the prant has been
picked. With good will, the sharp lobes in leaves might be an attempt to
illustrate the sharp teeth along edges of the leaves. The flower
(actally a compound of many) would be simplified in the image.
45vScutellaria galericulataThe image 45v seems to show a slender plant arising from a thick
rhizome, the rhizome being the part of interest. If correctly drawn, the
plant has smallish leaves with rounded teeth and blue, paired flowers
which stand upright in the bud stage.

Primary candidate: Scutellaria galericulata. Not widely used in Europe
but rhizomes of other Scutellaria species have been important drugs in
Asia and Americas.

Secondary candidates: Other members of Lamiaceae (regrettably big
family) such as Salvia.

Tertiary candidates: Scrophulariaceae

Note: If the bud-like structures represent fruits, the logics needs to
be thought over.
47rSempervivum tectorumFirst guess for 47r:

Sempervivum tectorum (succulent rosettes connected with a surface
rhizome). This would be a pharmacy plant.

Jovibarba is a very similar genus.

As secondary choices, the image might in principle represent a wide
variety of plants. Eg. small shoots of Sedum.

They all grow on dry, sunny cliffs, mountainsides etc.
47vPulmonariaFirst guess for 47v: Pulmonaria?

Second choice: Other Boraginaceae (e.g. Anchusa)??

More far-fetched: Gentiana???
50vSoldanellaFirst guess for 50v: Soldanella?
65vA bunch of somewhat aged Matricaria (=Chamomilla)
recutita (the species aimed), with a flowerhead of Centaurea cyanus
interpreted erroneusly to belong in the same plant
In folio 65v, there are a few problems:

a) Does the big blue "flower" belong in the same plant as the small
white ones, or is the image a fusion (chimaira) of two species?

b) Are the smaller white-green "flowers" really flowers or are they
compact inflorescences (e.g of Daisy Family or Carrot Family)?

c) Is the whole plant leafless or looking so (due to thin leaves) or has
the image been painted of an aged plant or only a top of a plant?

First, vague guess: A bunch of somewhat aged Matricaria (=Chamomilla)
recutita (the species aimed), with a flowerhead of Centaurea cyanus
interpreted erroneusly to belong in the same plant. These species
commonly occur together in fields and may have been collected in the
same bunch.

Secondary guess: A member of Apiaceae (Carrot Family) with thread-like
leaflets and petals of different lengths such as Coriandrum sativum.
Also in this case, the blue flower would be a contaminant.
65rSanicula or Astrantia?65r is oddly drawn, but Sanicula or Astrantia might be possible starts.
93vBryonia
cretica ssp. dioica (female plant).
Also 93v looks mysterious. Looking just systematically for the
combination of:
- red berries and
- lobed or strongly serrated leaves and
- bulbous rhizomes,

There seems to be at least one possible candidate however: Bryonia
cretica ssp. dioica (female plant).

This has for long been known as a strong up to poisonous pharmaceutic
plant, causing e.g. bloody diarrhoea. As small doses it has been used
for e.g. alimentary channel disorders.
93rInula helenium??3r Would be suggestive of sunflowers (Helianthus), but then the
manuscript should be made after Columbus' journeys. But see the European
health plant Inula helenium which is rather similar in structure but
somewhat smaller. Missing of the yellow ray flowers might be explained
by assuming that the artist has seen dried flowerheads as pharmacy
specimens:

http://tcm.health-info.org/Herb%20Pictures/Xuan%20Fu%20Hua%20.jpg
94rHedera helixThe strange leaves of 94r look like e.g. Botrychium or some fern, being
however wrongly combined with "flowers" in that case. However, without
doing any wider search, I would like to point out that the umbel of dark
berries with a distal area of different colour is very reminiscent of
Hedera helix, i.e. ivy.

If this bunch of poisonous berries would have been the only part the
artist/pharmacist has had at hand when drawing, he might perhaps have
drawn the rest of the plant incorrectly from memory, perhaps trying to
communicate the climbing character of the plant.

Ivy is a pharmacy plant, used for at least respiratory disorders.
95vFumaria officinalisThis is a very vague suggestion without systematic searches, but the
leaves of 95v would fit well in Fumaria officinalis, a potent pharmacy
plant from antiquity (the whole shoot would be used). Also the
inflorescence would have some correct habitus. The fine structure of
flowers would be wrongly painted, however.
99rRumex acetosa? Dioscorea communis / Tamus communis?Finding matches between possible recipes and illustrations, you might start from the last entry of Folio 99r, illustrating only one plant, both the shoot and root, comprising the whole drug.

I propose as the first assumption that the plant is same as 96v, and represents Rumex acetosa.
It fits in this hypothesis that both the roots and the rest of the herb
of this species have been used against scurvy (=scorbutus, later understood to be caused by C-vitamin deficiency).

Disocorea/Tamus is a plausible hypothesis, too. Considering the
clumsy style, there are also other plants that are not excluded, as yet.

The meander-like/spiralling end of the plants indeed would suggest a
climbing plant such as Tamus. I tried to look beyond that feature. In
the Rumex hypothesis the curved end would be seen as artistic
decoration, or perhaps reflecting also a specimen withered somewhat
during transport, with a drooping top.

Having two quite similar plants in the book, with a difference in the
basal flaps of the leaves, would suggest these slender Rumex species (R.
acetosa is actually a species complex. I have not checked whether they
have even more close allies in South Europe). In case of Tamus, there is
in my handbooks at home only one relevant species in Europe, and its
leaves are generally more heart-shaped. But possible, yes.
99r - 102vGeneralFirst guess for 99r-102v: Recipes of drug mixtures?! The cylindrical
objects on the left (some named) would represent either some clinical
entities (such as cough or headache) for which the mixture can be used,
or labeled (idealised) cylindric drug vessels (such as "Witche's Blood"
or "Druid's Super Drops") which contain the plant parts shown.

If this the case, then the bathing ladies could, in addition to possible
water fairies, also mean some essences or good healing spirits of plants
which are extracted or distilled into drugs when cooked etc.

Showing only a given plant part (eg. root) in these figures would
support the assumption that also (some of) the big images earlier deal
with the usage of these plants.

It may be worth while to search for matches between the "species
illustrations" and these possible recipe details of same plants.

If the plant parts between 99-102 represent recipes of drugs, then also
the long star list in the end might be a practice-oriented list how a
given star can be interpreted in relation to human health, fortune and
future happenings. And the circular cosmological star images earlier
woud then give a larger view or theoretical basis for these practical
"star recipes".
Folio 101v, middle page, second entry from above.Armoracia rusticanaAlso here it seems that a single plant comprises the whole drug.
The product looks quite much like horseradish (Armoracia rusticana).
White roots and a bluntly serrated lower leaf. Keep that as a starting
hypothesis, although not diagnostic data.

With a rapid glance on small figures I did not find a good match in
large images, but it may be known by name, already.

Also this would be credible - and effective! as a single drug since it
contains C-vitamin. See for "scurvy" which matches the entries of
supposed Rumex acetosa. Naturally acts as spice, too.

In Wiki there are some older names, Sinapis Persica or alike.
101v, 3rd page, last entry in the bottomI studied a bit the drug
entry 101v, 3rd page, last entry in the bottom of page.

The illustration shows two types of roots or rhizomes. On the left
("Root A") there is a thick, pale rootstock with finger-like appendages
and a "lantern-like" structure on the left. On the right ("Root B")
there is probably a horizontal rhizome with "millipede appearance":
small thinner roots directed down. I made an attempt to link these to
the large plant entries.

Root A: I think this is practically certain: The author refers to folio
18v. This was the only one with such finger-like appendages. In
addition, also the lantern structure was illustrated! Good match.

However, word matches would be good to confirm this.

Root B: This is unsure at the moment. Main candidates found were 23r (I
rank this highest for the time being), 43r, 44r and perhaps 39r. The
root could also present some vegetable not described in the book. Word
matches would be valuable.

 

 

86 Comments

  1. Peter

    This is one of the lichens, but it was also applied in medicine.
    Therefore, it is the look with me the No.1 even if it is not a flower

  2. Peter

    I hope the place here is ok

  3. P.Hausammann

    Dear Dr. Bax,

    Please have a look at Folio 6v, can you read the first word? I attached it as a .jpg. In Latin Letters it looks like “MoaNaj2aR” doesn’t it? Ok, the 4th cipher in the VMS looks like a very bad drawn 2 or a laying “N”, so we should take the “N”, which makes much more sense. Now, “MoaNaj2aR” does not mean any thing, but think “around” the corner.
    As I mentionet in many other threads and posts, and the e-mail to you, the VMS is basically written in a “phonetical” Latin. As I’ve shown in my other examples, some ciphers can change their meaning, some ciphers have to be turned…
    To get back to “MoaNaj2aR”, please read it from the right to the left. Do you recognise something? You’ll read it as follow: ” RaCjaNaom”. Now turn the letter “a”, 180 degrees. You’ll get an “e”, so we get the letters ” ReCjeNeom” –> “Recineom” adapted to classical Latin ” Ricineum” or “Ricinae” which means “castor-oil-plant” in English or in German “Ricinus-Pflanze/-Baum” or “Wunderbaum” which means literally translated “wonder-tree”, funny, isn’t it? Think about the word “wonder”, and the above mentioned. This is not the hole solution, but one of it’s meanings. Also, think about the meaning of “wonder” and the “virulence” of the castor-oil-plant.

    • P.Hausammann

      Also, think about Ceanajbas –> Cannabis(Latin) –> “cannabis” (Engl.) –> Kannabis (Ger.) or also “heamphas” –> “hamfus” (Lat.) –> “hemp” (Engl.) –> “Hanf”(Ger.).
      What about Camphar? “Coamphar” –> “Caphuar” (Lat.) –> “Camphor” (Engl.) –> Campher/Kampfer (Ger.), can you see the parallels? Tag: “Barbianaorum” read from the left to the right. “Barbianaorum” –> “Barbiturat”(Lat.) –> “barbiturate” (Engl.) –> Barbiturat (Ger.). All three can be cathegorized as a barbiturate. But I think that the castor-oil-plant should only be used in really tiny amounts, because of its painful deadliness(bad for the liver!). I mean really only in homeopatic doses, like “strophantus” <– ^^, which is also a high toxic plant. Please think about my thesis.

      Have you ever thought about a genious combination, which combines related subjects, with each other, like I explained above?

      © by P. Hausammann

      • P.Hausammann

        “Maoriailios”-> “Maori Illos”–> “islands of Hawaii” ==> “castor-oil-plant” (it is not from India, it was exported to India, the Wikipedia article and many books are wrong, with their false pretences, about its origines. It actually comes from the island of “Rikitea”. Please, be respectful about my “discovery” and please, don’t for get the source citation, because it is a part of the book, on which I’m write at the moment.

        “Moria’afra-r/ -s” or “Moriaras”-> “regnum mora” –> “Africa” ==> “strophantus”

        “Spagnianeom” ->”Spagnianeum”–> “Spain” ==> “camphor”

        “Sasiataom””Asiatum”
        –> “Asia” ==> “cannabis”

        © by P. Hausammann

        • P.Hausammann

          This is still not the hole solution, and that only for this word! But I gave you many useful hinds, to understand the VMS, in a different way, isn’t it?

          © by P. Hausammann

          • P.Hausammann

            Addendum:

            “cannabis” –> “indinoraom” –>”indinorum” ==> “Cannabis Indica” (named after Linée in a “newer” Latin)

            “cannabis” –> “asiataom” –> “asiatum” ==> Cannabis Sativa” (named after Linée in a “newer” Latin)

            “cannabis” –> “ruscianaom” –> “russianum” ==> “Cannabis Ruderalis” (named after Linée in a “newer” Latin)

            my reference is “Strassburgers Lehrbuch der Botanik”, in my oppinion, one of the best books about botany.

            © by P. Hausammann

            • Peter

              Nice work, but there is not one Cannabis in VM.

              • P.Hausammann

                Dear Peter,
                First of all, thank you very much for your answer! I think you are right, about the Cannabis. After carefully revising the folio 6v I agree with your remark. So please ignore my suggestions about Cannabis! But I’m sure, that the picture in VM 6v, is a castor-oil-plant, the shape of the leaves, and the nuts are very similar. In my examples, I wanted to show, that a ciphered word may have more, than one meaning. That is because I recognised, that there are different “layers” of texts in other sections. I also think, that it is not about barbiturates, because the castor-oil-plant seems to be too poisonous for such applications. At the moment I have transcripted some phrases, of some pages, which make absolute sense in relation, but in the botany parts of the VM, I’m not as far, in transcription, as in the geological map sections. I think that the second layer of the mentioned word, is also about the castor-oil-plant, and it’s toxicity. –> “Mortem in 2 diem” (Lat.)==> “Die in two days”, what means that you will die within two days, if you eat castor-oil-plant nuts. Please have a look at the historical use of the castor-oil-plant nuts/seeds. The nuts/seeds were used as a “trial of ordeal” in some cultures, and if the accused survived these two days of massiv pain, he was released. I think that would make much more sense, in context of folio 6v. What do you think about my suggestion?

                © by P. Hausammann

                • Peter

                  I also think that this is to ricin, and 99% secure.
                  The next possible is Echinops since but agree not the leaves.
                  This is interesting, it was formerly used as oxytocic (parturifacient).

                  • Stephen Bax

                    See the page all about this folio and Ricin.

                  • P.Hausammann

                    Thanks for your answer Peter! I agree with your suggestion about the use as a oxytocic. My grandmother was a nurse, (before and while WWII), and she worked also as a delivery nurse, so she comfirmed, that it was used sometime ago as a parturifacient.

                    • Peter

                      @hausammann
                      Interestingly, the majority of plants have something to do with the problems of women. Whether that has something to do good to the many women in the book?

                      ? Do you speak in German ?

                    • P.Hausammann

                      Yes, I normally speak German, but I’m from a bilingual family, so my mom’s family speaks French and my father’s family speaks German. But actually I’m not German, I’m Swiss.

                    • Peter

                      @p.hausammann
                      Interessant, ich komme auch aus der Schweiz, nähe Winterthur.
                      Falls Du mal reinschauen willst, ist in deutsch.
                      https://www.facebook.com/groups/voynich.yahoogroups/

                    • P.Hausammann

                      Interessant, ich werde auf jeden Fall mal rein schauen.

  4. Caroline

    Hans,
    Two years later, I realize your comment is pretty interesting. I don’t believe the plant in the drawing is P. oleracea. The distinctive element is brownish dots along the stems. The habit is just like the actual plant, which I have a lot of in my yard.

    This is a screenshot that includes both plants, and the drawing. I know them both well.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/harborlit/29118700016/
    I also embedded it at the end of this comment.

    If it is a North American plant, that tells us something, or hints at a few things: the author had been to North America or corresponded with someone there, the plant was present in limited areas in Europe, arriving as seeds in the clothing or effects of travelers, or the book was made in North America. I think I’d wager my house on its being Euphorbia supine. I would sooner say it’s neither one (E. supine or P. oleracea) than go with P. oleracea.

    • Caroline,
      There’s reason to think that these drawings aren’t intended to be ‘portraits’ as our botanical drawings are. For example, in a manuscript in the British Library, MS Sloane 335 (which has been noticed by a number of people over the years), there’s another spotted-leafed plant on folio 81v
      http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMINBig.ASP?size=big&IllID=6557

      and others on that opening also resemble the Voynich plants – a bit more than most, anyway.

      I’m not sure what the spots signify in that case, but in the Voynich plant-drawings they seem to indicate that the leaf produces an oil – although definitions of an ‘oil’ when the drawings were first enunciated might have had a wider range.

  5. Folio 2v is manifestly no nymphaea: one can hardly miss the inclusion, by the draughtsman, of protruding and rather hibiscus-like pistil and stamens.
    For the non-biologists, here’s what I mean. The illustration shows an hibiscus, but that is no indication that the plant on f.2v is an hibiscus, too. Its kidney shaped leaves suggest a succulent, I think.
    http://files.uibisku.webnode.cz/200000062-9374e946ec/F3P011.GIF

    The habit of reading a Voynich image only for such bits as can be made to conform to a pre-existing “theory-narrative” for the manuscript, and of ignoring every other element in a drawing, or excusing its omission by supposing some incapacity in the draughtsman is very common, and has been around since the middle of the twentieth century. In the meantime, the art and science of analysing imagery has advanced somewhat. Perhaps its time that Voynich studies caught up?

  6. sarah

    Hello Steven. I have a masters in botany. I have watched your youtube film and I would like to suggest f3v as aconitum, monks hood. such interesting work. Good luck!
    Sarah N

  7. I think I’ve found f9r. Have these photographed in a garden. Unfortunately, I could tell the name until today nobody. Maybe yes someone knows of you the name.
    New Photos until next year possible.

    • Dacrycarpus

      Macleaya cordata (Chinese plume poppy)

  8. and one more

  9. or this one….and other

    • Derek Vogt

      This certainly looks very similar. The plant was previously identified as “aloe” on this site by someone else, but that person didn’t explain why or show pictures illustrating why, and I’ve never known what made him/her think that. The first word matches aloe’s Arabic name in my phonetic system (“alʔloät/ãkoatap), and I haven’t found a phonetic match yet for this identification instead, but I will look some more.

      • It is not just a name of a plant to find if you do not know in what area you should look for.
        Here’s some examples of Argentina vulgaris
        Scientific Name: Potentilla anserina, Argentina vulgaris, Fragaria anserina
        englischer Name: Silverweed
        german name: Anserine, Dreckkraut, Echtes Gänsekraut, Fingerkraut, Gänserich, Ganspratzen, Handblatt, Krampfkraut, Martinshand, Maukenkraut, Säukraut, Sauringel, Silberkraut, Stierlichrut, Wiederrick
        Verwendete Pflanzenteile: Blätter, Kraut, Wurzeln

    • Interesting.
      Whether the colours are original or were added later remains an open question, so one cannot be sure that they should be used in the tentative identification.
      It’s worth pointing out that this page also seems to have ‘faded yellow’ in the flowers.
      For that point, see here:
      http://www.voynich.nu/origin.html#hardware
      2-3 paragraphs below the illustration, and in particular footnote 6.

      • Also I think the color could be applied later, perhaps not at all. But also assume, if he has recognized the plant that he also has the right colors used.
        I mainly take into account the forms of flower, leaves and roots. At the same time they must occur in a specific region. They should be demonstrably also been used medically or mytisch.
        Only these factors give the plant a kind Indentification and viewed me as possible.
        Therefore, the fringe of the Alps is my first choice. Climatically all there: cold, hot, wet, dry, sunny, shady, high and deep areas and on small area.

    • Peter

      a new plant

      • Peter

        and a other

  10. Kyriakos Ioannou

    The plant in page f41v looks a lot like a wild carrot plant which is a root veggie, matching the one depicted in the illustration. Coriander is not a root veggie.

    In addition to that, in the video you have posted in YouTube you pronounce its title as “kourata” which is pretty close to the latin carota.

    • P.Hausammann

      Yes, I think you are right, good job!

  11. D.N. O'Donovan

    I my opinion, the imagery does not suggest an intention to produce photographic likenesses, or even ‘botanical drawings’ in the Dioscoridan style or as modern western ideas think pictures of plants should be made.

    It is important to remember that these are not “drawn photographs” but pictures, made for the purposes of the people who made them. To assume an intent at scientific realism is to mistake them, and their makers’ intention.

    The only parts of each plant which closely copy a plant-group’s defining plant are (i) the habit (ii) whether tree, shrub or vine – this is indicate by thickness of stem, and a vine by slight undulation. (iii) leaf formation (iiii) petioles.

    All other parts of the drawing are formed pretty much as mnemonic elements, and are not to be taken literally: they refer to the common commercial value of the plants in a given group (i.e. a given folio). Other cues are offered by the design of the roots, by whether or not there is what I’ve termed a circumscription line (others have supposed this to refer to grafting) – which tells whether or not the plant is cultivated. No line means it grows wild. A broad-looking surface from which plants shoot up signifies rapid regeneration.

    It is a mistake to approach these wholly non-European images with a presumption that they can be made to fit into the western herbal corpus. There is no reason, except entrenched presumption, to justify that habit. The imagery itself does not conform to that expectation and the style of drawing and placement of the image on the page all re-inforce the message that these pictures were *not* designed in Europe nor according to the European traditions. I have also – for the past five or six years – been urging people to consider the Nestorian Book of Medicines. Perhaps it will appeal more if I point out that Marsilio Ficino actually quotes some of those recipes, notably the one for Rhubarb pills.

    I do agree – and hope I am not failing to do anyone else justice but I think I was first to suggest – that when you see the ‘harlequin’ effect, it refers to plants having noticeably different colour on one side of the leaf than the other. The mangroves are the most obvious example of this in the manuscript, but a similar effect is produced, as the writer says, by having leaves hairier on one side than the other.

  12. The painters of the Voynich plants were relying on an extensive knowledge of folk art motifs in their region. This is why the plants look rather outlandish, stylized, and difficult to identify.

    • Julie

      11v could be Annona Reticulata or custard apple. Used for a whole host of remedies and for making blue and black dye.

      • I think he has drawn on the basis of his ability korekt

  13. D.N. O'Donovan

    Ellie (and others)
    Please understand that I’m very happy to have the results of my research taken up – obviously, it validates my conclusions and makes the effort worthwhile.
    The reason that I keep insisting that those who take the results and re-use them also acknowledge where they first read the information is that I am in the process of writing up my work for publication, and I do not wish to be put in a position of having to prove that I have not ‘plagiarised’ my own work and its original findings.

    I shall be publishing all the work which shows when, and how I arrived at my opinions about folio 86v, and first explained it as a map of the makers’ world – without reference to M. Ponzi. I shall also be claiming the ‘Centauria moschata’ identification as original, unless I can find clear evidence of precedence – about which I have always been eager to hear, and properly acknowledge whether or not I knew of it in advance.

  14. Maxim Burlakov

    The plant on page f2r: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/centaurea
    What is arabic about the VM author’s name of this plant? Nearly perfect match with Latin ‘centaurea’! Only don’t ask me why he (probably) heard a long ‘u’ in the word – I don’t know.
    The abugida rules of reading require that the inherent vowel ‘a’ be omited if the following character is a vowel but in this instance we have an exception from the rule – (we should read) ‘taūr(e)’ instead of ‘tūr(e)’. I mean the only one who had written this word, knew the accurate reading of it. But I’m uncertain about the final vowel since, in my opinion, there are three possible variants:
    1). there’s no final vowel at all => ‘kentaūr’;
    2). the final vowel is ‘e’ => ‘kentaūre’;
    3). the final vowel is ‘i’ => ‘kentaūri’.
    That’s why I’ve put ‘e’ in round brackets. Take your pick 🙂
    P.S. The correct parsing of any known word is the main prerequisite for successful decipherment of the script.

    • Maxim Burlakov

      Here’s the figure:

      • låsan – From Old Norse láss, from Proto-Germanic *lamsaz.

        to lock

      • P.Hausammann

        Couldn’t that word be “kardamom”?;-) It looks like “K”, “aj”, 8= (“R”, “d”), “a”, “m”, “o”, “m”. The squiggle in the “o” induces to go back in reading. What do you think about my suggestion? I’ve seen this word near a plant, which looks very similar to cardamom. Have a look at the blue blossoms and the form of the plant.

  15. Ellie
    • D.N. O'Donovan

      Yes, Ellie, I’m glad you agree with my reading for the flower within the figure – as you’ll remember, I first posted it in my blog ‘Findings’ and you were kind enough to comment then that, as a newcomer, you’d never have thought of it. My id was actually Centaurea moschata, used by the Persians to scent papers – and I expect to help preserve them. But this will be old news to you, having read it there three years ago.

      It is so nice to have others concur with one’s identifications, I agree.

  16. orun rubacı

    firstly sorry for may bad english
    in the plant pages we see this word commonly
    i tranlate it “tuur” according to Stephen’s video
    then i found an arabic word “Tuhur” and i found 2 meanings of it

    1) being clean ( a situation)
    2) harvest ( noun), product

    so i think this word could be Tuhur and it means product :))

  17. orun rubacı

    some plants for making medicine in witchcraft

    Diospyros ebenum
    laurus nobilis
    Ocimum basilicum
    Pinus succinifera for its rosin
    Lamiaceae Thymus, Thymbra, Origanum, Coridothymus, Satureja
    Lythraceae
    Fagaceae
    Hypericum perforatum
    Allium sativum
    Medicago sativa

  18. orun rubacı
  19. Paul Hicks

    f44r could this be Argan? The second word reads ARO(G?)N.

  20. Paul Hicks

    f49v is white turmeric, also known as Kachora, and the first word on the page is Kachor?

  21. Swiftslayer77

    Hey,
    I’m not gonna pretend I know much about this, actually I only just found out about the VM in the youtube video a few days ago, which is what got me interested in the first place. Anyway, I was going through the VM and decided to try the same sort of translation technique as seen in the video, just for the fun of it, on the first word in page 3r. I’m not sure if its since been translated or if you guys already know about it but I am pretty certain I have found the correct translation. I assumed the first letter was a k even though it had an extra loop on the top left of the letter that the k does not possess. since i was just stuffing around I assumed it was a variation of K and moved on. The rest of the letters had already been translated in the video I watched so after putting it all together i got “Kuooas” and after a bit of google searching I found a plant called the “Koova” plant http://jamesjomy.blogspot.in/2011/06/flower-of-koova-curcuma-angustifolia.html. It also looks very similar to the drawing in my opinion.

    Anyway like i said i could be completely incorrect, just thought I would share this in case it was correct. Thanks all

  22. Johannes Klein

    f21r: Polygonum aviculare as ided by Ellie Velinska. However, no good characters in the drawing (=> B-list).

  23. Johannes Klein

    Another one:
    I have to say foremost that I am currently working on plants of alpine nevironments, so my view on the drawings may be highly biased. I did, however, came up independently with the identification of f6r as belonging to the genus Petasites (as has been made by the Finish but is not in the list on this page). I sent the picture as .jpg to a colleague of mine, she was working on systematics and relationships within this genus. I sent the picture and just this question: “Which species is this?” (Agreed she may as well be highly biased.) She immediately replied Petasites albus. I have to mention that she studied several specimen of the genus for her dissertation and I will ask her for a list of characters that she thinks to see in the drawing.
    Interesting present distribution pattern: European high mountains and Caucasus:

    http://www2.biologie.uni-halle.de/bot/ag_chorologie/choro/img/maps/III/Choro492d.jpg

    Cheerio

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks again. I will make a page for it.

  24. Johannes Klein

    Couldn’t resist the VM today. f56r from my professional point of view (botanist) is most definitely from the genus Drosera. Astonishingly in contrast to some other drawings everything seems to be in proportion (leaf size, size of the glandular hairs, flower size). The artist even went so far to depict the basal parts of the old dead leaves at the stem base. The curly flowering stem is a natural depiction as is the order of flower opening from base to top. I would not go so far to precisely determine the species, my suggestion would be D. rotundifolia (as was suggested elsewhere), there are, however, more than 200 species in the genus distributed worldwide (so no help from plant distribution data, sadly). Following this argument I would not determine f6r as Drosera as it is in the list above (if the artist knew a Drosera so well, f6r as a different Drosera seems just not right).
    This species, if accepted, may be worthwile further linguistic studies because its medicinal properties were unknown to the ancient and first described in books of the Salerno school from the 12th century (Wikipedia).

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks. It is useful to get such a well-informed identification.

  25. Derek Vogt

    On f4r, identified above as either of two species of flax (genus Linum): the Voynich page starts with “katw–n”, and flax is “kattân” in Arabic and “keten” in Turkish.

  26. Derek Vogt

    A suggestion for f15r: hawthorn (genus Crataegus). The most likely species I know of are C ambigua…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crataegus_ambigua#mediaviewer/File:Crataegus-ambigua-2.jpg

    …C songarica…

    http://www.plantarium.ru/page/image/id/158433.html

    …and C monogyna.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crataegus_monogyna#mediaviewer/File:Eenstijlige_meidoorn_%28Crataegus_monogyna_branch%29.jpg

    My suspicion is that the yellowish bulbous things descending from the leaf tips are meant to represent drops of honeydew, a thick, sweet, sticky liquid found on some plants or the ground below them. Honeydew is associated with a bunch of different species of shrubs and trees (particularly those associated with sweet juicy fruits), but the leaves and/or flowers are wrong for all of them except Crataegus.

    Despite the genus name, hawthorns don’t always have thorns (and some that do have them have rather inconspicuous ones). The leaves of some hawthorn species aren’t deeply lobed like the ones in the drawing, but some are, and that, plus geography, is how I picked the three species I did. But it’s a big genus, so there could be others as good that I can’t name, and the plants the Voynich authors had in mind probably included multiple species.

    Something else about hawthorn leaves that isn’t easy to see in some hawthorn leaf pictures is that there are often substantial “stipules”: smaller leaves or leaf-like growths near the base of a fully grown leaf, which I believe are depicted in the drawing (and not most other Voynich plant drawings).

    http://pilladvised.com/herb-guide/hawthorn-know-what-herbs-do-what/
    http://www.ntptalk.com/articles/the-herbalist—hawthorne.php
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/british-natural-history/urban-tree-survey/identify-trees/tree-factsheets/f-to-j/hawthorn/index.html (click the “images” tab)
    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/senior/ornament/images/large/hawthorntwig.jpg

    Finally, about the flower: The Voynich drawing’s flower doesn’t look much like most pictures of hawthorn flowers. But most pictures are taken of either flowers at the peak of floweriness or fruits at the peak of fruitiness, not transitional stages. While the flower is transforming into a hawberry, the fruit starts at the flower’s base and grows out toward the end, leaving an opening at the end, through which some flower parts still protrude. As the berry gets bigger, the opening gets narrower.

    http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Rosaceae/crataegus-crus-galli-fr-ahaines-b.jpg
    http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Rosaceae/crataegus-crus-galli-fr-ahaines-a.jpg

    This page on one particular hawthorn species even shows flowers ONLY apparently in that stage, which could mean that some species only ever go that far and never open up all the way to the classic wide-open form normally associated with other hawthorn species. Either way, though, all hawthorn flowers/fruits do look like this at least at some stage. (I didn’t pick the species below because its leaves aren’t lobed like those on the three I did pick above.)

    http://www.flowersinisrael.com/Crataegusaronia_page.htm

    • Derek Vogt

      Since I posted that identification of plant f15r just from the picture, I’ve tried to find various languages’ words for “hawthorn”. Most languages, of course, gave me nothing I could connect to any of the page’s first few words. But I did find a few possibilities. “Hawthorn” is “khatmi” in Persian and Marathi, and “katili” in Urdu.

      Those languages are all Indo-European, like English and other Germanic languages where “hawthorn” shows up in forms such as “hegedorn”. The name is a compound word, coming from not one but two Proto-Indo-European roots: “khagh”, meaning “enclosure, boundary, edge” which gave English “hedge” as well as “haw”; and “trn” (in which the “r” would have acted as its own vowel), whose established derivatives mean “thorn” or “leaf” or “stalk”. Whether or not the Indo-Europeans ever used “khaghtrn” for hawthorn plants, there’s a tendency for the final consonant(s) of the root word “khagh” to disappear from compound words in daughter languages, leaving the “haw/kha/ka” in “hawthorn”, “khatmi”, and “katili”. So that’s all there would be in a language where that “gh” bit had been lost and the second word wasn’t included, both of which there are known precedents for. And the Voynich page’s first word is “_xar”. “xar” is a common string of letters, either on its own or combined with more letters, but it doesn’t normally follow just this one letter (EVA-T), and no other page except f53v starts with anything close to such a word.

      All we need is for that first letter not to get in the way. It wouldn’t if it’s either a separate prefix, a silent symbol like a punctuation mark, or a sound that is compatible with a “kha” origin. It looks like our established “k” with another loop added in the upper left corner, so it could be an error where “k” was intended, or some kind of alternative version of “k”, or another letter with a similar sound. One option fitting the bill is “g”, which I’ve previously connected to this letter for unrelated reasons. Under another separate theory that it represents “L”, it would probably be a prefix here, since a “kha” root becoming “Lkha” doesn’t seem to be a likely development.

      We could add the second word, “xon”, so the name would have a second root word involved like it does in various Indo-European languages. I can even imagine it as a derivation of PIE trn, particularly if the articulation of that “x” letter is either retroflex or fairly far forward like “ç”, which are also things I’ve suspected for unrelated reasons. But then we would need to explain why the same seven letters, without the space in the middle, appear at the beginning of f53v, which shows a different plant. (Maybe both species are found along edges of fields and can thus both be called “edge/hedge” plants.)

      • Derek Vogt

        An identification someone else made earlier for 15r was Carlina Vulgaris (carline thistle). I couldn’t look that name up because the source I’ve been using doesn’t include that genus. But I have found out that the common name, “thistle”, is translated as خار, “xar”, in Persian. The English word can refer to members of several genera, which makes it unclear exactly which kinds of plants its Persian translation might refer to because they might not always be the same ones. Several other Voynich plants have also been identified as different kinds of “thistles” in English, but this is the only one associated with a Voynich word similar to خار.

        Just like for the same picture’s identification as a hawthorn, the name match is based mainly on the second and later letters of the Voynich word “_xar”, so it still leaves the same options open for the first one (EVA-T). So whether it’s really a hawthorn or a thistle makes no difference for the phonetic situation.

        One thing the thistle identification has going for it is the generally upright form with flowers on top and leaves along the sides of the stem. But I still think it’s a hawthorn because all of the stuff I said above describing it as a hawthorn doesn’t apply to thistles. Also, the base looks grafted, which is routine treatment for various small tree species but not thistles, and the plant on the other Voynich page starting with the same seven letters is clearly no thistle.

      • Derek Vogt

        I must retract the suggested cognates for f15r as hawthorn, because of lack of any source I know of where they can now be looked up and confirmed. Although I am still certain that “Hegedorn” is a cognate of “hawthorn” and that “hedge” is another cognate for the first part, those aren’t really useful themselves, and my original source giving the ones I reported earlier in Urdu, Marathi, and Persian seems to have vanished. In fact, a web search to try to find it now gives me this webpage, making it look like I made it up!

        For the Marathi & Persian one, I can find nothing like the word I reported before (khatmi) at all. For the Urdu one, there is still a source that says “hawthorn” is named with a two-word phrase in which the first word is the one I reported alone before (کٹیلی جھاڑی “kʈyly ǧhaɽy”, katili jhari) , but the Voynich page definitely doesn’t have that phrase, and neither word is sufficient alone according to Google Translate; they just mean “thorn” and “bush”. (And the phonetic match for the first word alone was one of my looser ones anyway; even the second word of the same phrase, which I didn’t mention before, fits more closely just by coincidence.)

        Also, now that I use the voynichese.com search tool to see how common things are, I see that this folio’s first couple of words are too common to be this plant’s name anyway. If this plant’s name appears on this folio at all, it must be buried farther into the text.

        I do not see any implications from this for the rest of my list of names or the phonetic scheme they use.

        I am sticking with the plant identification as I explained above. I had no idea for the name then, so my assessment of the drawing from back then isn’t affected by anything new about the name now either. It just means this one goes back on the list of plants with plausible identifications but no recognizable names yet.

  27. renato

    f10v i qould propose that this could be one of galanthus maybe a gahanthus fosteri, there are even extintic versions of ths plant now days… due to over grassing.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galanthus

  28. renato

    f9v – i do propose that this plant could be Viola arvensis, or similar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_arvensis is used a medicinal for a long time…

    • MarcoP

      I think that Derek’s phonetics give something like “pahar abaratn” for the first two words of f9v (EVA:”fochor oporody”). For the following parallel, it is relevant that Derek reads EVA:ch as ‘h’ (sometimes correlating with ‘k’, if I remember correctly) rather than ‘y’ (as proposed by Stephen).

      The illustration has been often identified with members of the genus Viola. Indian names for “viola odorata” include baga-banosa, bagabanosa, bagabantsha (see Cinquefoil by C. F. Leyel, Indigenous Drugs Of India by Chopra R N, I.C. Chopra and Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants by T. K. Lim).
      I wonder if similar names exist for “viola tricolor”.

      • Darren Worley

        Some more terms for Viola Odorata:

        Sanskrit : Banaphsha
        Hindi : Banaphsha
        Bengali: Banosa
        Unani: Banafsha
        Arabian: Banafsaj
        Persian: Banafshah
        India(Ref.2) : bagabanosa, banafasha, banafsa, banafsha, banafshah, banaksha, banapsa, banfsha, banksha, banshafa, banspatti, bhulae banaphsha, bunaf sah

        Ref(1): Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants: Herbal Reference Library By L. D. Kapoor
        Ref(2):CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants By Umberto Quattrocch

        I think the Sanskrit and Hindi names are closest, possibly this word (Banaphsha) is comprised of 2 elements (bana-phsha) which have been reversed.

        phsha bana pahar abaratn

        • Derek Vogt

          I don’t think these fit. They just call for too many individual sound changes, some of which are unprecedented.

      • Please, note, that EVA:ch is a double letter. The first part of it is “c” with a long tail above, and the second part – a “c” without it. The first symbol can sounds like “h” and can provides the function of a soft sign. The second seems to be a vowel and carries sound “e” or “ee”. Also, the first part of EVA:sh (“c” with a long tail and a ‘ sign above) can be a hard sign.

        • Derek Vogt

          What words have you identified using either half without the other?

  29. Hi Stephen,

    Here’s another suggestion, this time for f49v: Cyclamen. To identify this plant, I was especially prompted by the root tuber. Its shape and the marks on the tuber (either remains of roots or bulbous irregularities) reminded me a lot of this botanical print by Munting. Several species of Cyclamen have round leaves with lighter markings. Sometimes the white markings are so extensive, that the leave appears to be white with green markings. I think that the Voynich artist tried to put that into the picture. Cyclamen flowers are peculiar, with petals bent backwards. Either the Voynich artist didn’t manage to draw that, or perhaps thought it wasn’t important.
    Cyclamen is an old medicinal plant. This site cites form Dioscorides.

  30. Hi Stephen,

    I see f49r doesn’t have a proposed identification yet. I feel pretty confident about my identification: Dodder (Cuscuta), possibly Cuscuta reflexa although other Cuscuta species would be possible also.
    It’s a parasitic plant that attaches itself to a host plant and taps its saps, so that it seems to be part of the host plant. The green parts of the picture would then depict the host plant. The snake that winds itself through the roots would also be a reference to this parasitism.
    Cuscuta reflexa has medicinal uses, especially in Indian traditional medicine.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks – I will soon make a separate page and put your suggestion on it.

  31. Marco

    Hello Stephen,
    I would like to propose an alternative for f17v (and f96v): Smilax aspera (“rough bindweed” or “sarsaparille”):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smilax_aspera
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/518265869591320795/
    http://opac.casanatense.it/Record.htm?idlist=1&record=19920840124917480229

    • Stephen Bax

      Interesting – thanks. I’ll set up a page for it and ask the Finnish biologist his opinion.

      Can anyone make out the different Latin names for it in the illustrations? Lots of minims!

      I can see ‘smilax’ but what are the alternatives?

      • Marco

        Thank you Stephen, I am looking forward to read the Finnish biologist’s opinion!

        Here is the little I could make out of the other names in the manuscript:
        “Smilax aut smilas” at the very beginnig.
        At the end:
        “corastrum et spina iuxa multi appellant eam”
        “Smirnica / alvearia”
        “cramen” (meaning “gramen”?)
        “bettonica”
        “snurnos”

        I am not sure that the above is correct.

        Castore Durante:
        http://books.google.it/books?id=M3xDAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA419#v=onepage&q&f=false
        Italian: Smilace, Rovo Cervino, Hedera spinosa
        German: scharpffe vuinden
        French: tan

        • Stephen Bax

          Marco – my Finnish contact has said the following:
          “Yes, Smilax species are a good proposal, naturally! They are potent
          candidates, too. ……..

          It is better to include two species, Smilax aspera (=common smilax) or
          Smilax excelsa (=larger smilax), since both occur in S Europe, with
          somewhat different distributions.

          ……..Smilax species have been used both as food plants and especially on other continents for medicine, too.”

          • Marco

            Thank you very much for the update, Stephen!

    • renato

      i’ve also looked and had reached the same conclusion as marc, also because this plant had been used in local medecine for a long period of time, so is somehow a more natural choice.

  32. f33v is a Fabaceae, because it has bacteria tubers on the roots. Perhaps Lupinus?

    The flowers are drawn so that they sit on the sides of the bellows, instead of sitting on the tip of the bellows.

  33. Dear Dr. Bax,

    I wonder if the plant on the page numbered 21 might be Euphorbia supine, known as prostate spurge. Here’s a link to a photo of the plant next to the illustration from the manuscript.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/harborlit/13207012973/

    Caroline C.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks Caroline. It certainly looks like it (f21r).

      I’ll make up a page with that plant soon and put your suggestion there as well.

      • Hans Adler

        It looks almost too good to be true. What troubles me, though, is that euphorbia supine is a North American plant. I could find no indication on the web that it has a close relative in the old world.

        Maybe it’s portulaca oleracea (pigweed, pursley)? This was widely grown as a salad (still is), and Wikipedia says: “In antiquity, its healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil (Natural History 20.120).”

        But the other proposals by your Finnish source also look good.

        • I also thought of portulaca oleracea when I saw this plant. It sometimes shows up in medieval cookbooks as “purslane”.

  34. Neticis

    Links from this table to pages with detailed plant description would be helpful.
    Can’t it be that these images are drawn from memory, without looking at real plant? Otherwise sometimes it is hard to believe these are real plants at all…

    • Stephen Bax

      Yes indeed – or else they are drawn from partial specimens perhaps?

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