Italian herbal manuscript – Vermont

I’ve started a new section on the website to list interesting mediaeval manuscripts.

This fascinating manuscript at the University of Vermont was brought to my attention by David Wiffler on this website, who said:

“There is a plant here: that has two human heads attached to the root system. There is a similar thing in an old Italian herbal here: (you will have to go to the page and, using the box in the top right hand corner, jump to page 70).”

This Italian herbal is the closest match I’ve seen for the Voynich m. If you put the two manuscripts side by side the similarity of the colours is quite remarkable, and the root systems look sometimes as if they are from the same artist. Though of course they are different in many ways as well.”

Regarding the plant on page 70, Marco Ponzi later commented:

“unluckily the writing of this Italian manuscript is so bad that I find it almost unreadable. But I think the first plant (pg. 70) is “Allium Sativum” (garlic). The first word could be “Alio”:
In Italian, the bulb is commonly called “testa d’aglio” (garlic’s head).

The bottom half of the page has been transcribed in a more readable hand: it presents a recipe for the cure of headaches similar in style to Albus’ translation of the last page of the Voynich manuscript.”

Any further comments on any pages?



  1. Darren

    Those manuscripts are a revelation. Thanks for posting the links.

    Here are some links to Turkish/Ottoman and Persian illustrated herbal manuscripts – only single pages I’m afraid.;sort:INITIALSORT_CRN%2COCS%2CAMICOID;lc:AMICO~1~1&mi=2&trs=9;sort:INITIALSORT_CRN%2COCS%2CAMICOID;lc:AMICO~1~1&mi=0&trs=9;sort:INITIALSORT_CRN%2COCS%2CAMICOID;lc:AMICO~1~1&mi=1&trs=9

    According to “Medieval Herbals: The Illustrative Traditions” by Minta Collins, only 2 illustrated Arabic herbals still exist. (obviously this doesn’t include the odd pages referenced above and the Ottoman book)

    Does anyone know why there are so few? Have they all been destroyed (why?), or are they still mostly in private ownership?

    Do you know of any others? Please upload URL if you know of any online Digital copies.

    Its a pity only a single photo of the Ottoman Herbal treatise is shown. Again, if anyone knows any more about it, please post .

    • Darren

      Sorry- just realised there is a now a new thread for this topic

    • Stephen Bax

      I am surprised at the idea that there are only two Arabic herbals – that is simply not true, and I’ll start posting links to some of the ones I know. I wonder what Minta Collins meant?

  2. Sergio

    The plant on page 70 is almost certainly ramson (Allium ursinum). I am also italian and have translated the text. First words are probably “(A)Glio horsis” (the initial A is missing) and the picture matches exactly the plant itself.
    Except for the faces, apparently there are no resemblances with the one depicted on the VM.

  3. Neticis

    For I see similarities to ru: мак, hy: կակաչ [kak’atS], ka: ყაყაჩოს [q’aqatSos]

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks – interesting

  4. Marco

    Hello Stephen,
    thank you for the new herbal page!
    Here is what I could make out of the text about the plant with faces on pg. 137:

    “Teneilla[?] la foglia di questa erba vale alla ferita morsa[morta?] e posta posta[twice?] sopra alla ferita sembra[?] meraviglia falla saldare[?] in quatro hora. Nasce in montagna petrosa e asptra. Fa il fiore rosso”.

    “Tenella[?]: the leaf of this grass is helpful for bite [or gangrenous?] wounds. Placed on the wound, it works[?] marvels and makes it heal[?] in four hours. It grows on stony and harsh mountains. It makes red flowers”.

    Also in this case, the name of the plant clearly is the first word of the paragraph. I think it could read “teneilla”, possibly meaning “tenella” (Latin for “tender”). “Anagallis tenella” makes reddish (actually pink) flowers, but the shape of the leaves seems different from the manuscript illustration.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks very much. It is useful to have an Italian speaker with good eyesight on the case!

      Have you seen the other interesting Italian manuscript I mention?

      I particularly like the female mandrake.

      • Stephen Bax

        Thanks also for your note about ‘the first word of the page’. I aim to look more closely at this element of these manuscripts.

      • Marco

        Yes Stephen, I have seen that other great manuscript. Many illustrations such as the mandrake you mention are not naturalistic at all and very fascinating.
        Another illustration that made me smile is Lucia Minore (68r p.139):

        It seems that a few plants in this herbal are called “lucia”. At f67v (p.138) four reasons for this name are given. I can only read the second: “reluce la nocte come stella” ([this plant] shines in the night like a star).

        I thought that a possible connection between the herbal and astrological sections of the Voynich ms could be the influence of the Moon on the growth of plants.

        For instance, the plant on pg. 157 is labeled “lucia da la nova lunna” (“lucia of the new moon”).

        The description of the Garlic(?) illustration we already discussed (Vermont p.70) ends with the sentence “a di 15 della luna di magio fa il fiore” (it flowers on the 15th day of the moon of May).

        I wonder if there are other manuscripts that include both a herbal and an astrological section.

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