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Pre-1960's tentative herb identifications


According to D'Imperio, early tentative herb identifications for the Voynich MS herbal section were made by the botanists O'Neill and Holm (1). Their work has not yet been seen in its entirety, but both are quoted by Theodore Petersen in his hand transcription of the MS (2), and O'Neill published a 3-page summary in 1944 (3). Furthermore, Ethel Voynich ("ELV") appears to have used Th.Petersen's lists and other sources to create her own list of tentative identifications.

O'Neill tentatively identified two American species (capsicum and sunflower), whereas Holm has identified only European species. Holm is called a Dutch botanist by D'Imperio (4), but by chance I found out that he was a Danish botanist and worked at the Catholic University, i.e. the same Unviersity as Th.Petersen. That would then also explain how Petersen could get a hold of a list of his identifications, as mentioned by D'Imperio. The archives of the University still hold material from Holm, and it is conceivable that his Voynich MS work is still preserved there (5).

The Petersen hand transcription is preserved in the Marshall Library (Friedman collection). Notebooks left by ELV are kept both in the Grolier Club Library in New York and in the Beinecke Rare Book and MS library of Yale Unviersity. From cross-references it is clear that Petersen and ELV discussed herb ID's with each other.

The first table only lists tentative ID's for all herbal pages. Some ID's have also been given for the pharmaceutical pages, but these are rare, and may be presented in a different form later.

Th.Petersen has made many other marginal notes of interest, and those related to the herbal illustrations are included in a second table below. Beside reference to Holm, he makes reference to a number of sources:

O'Neill MS This suggests a handwritten analysis, or even a work to be printed, but no printed work seems to exist (6). Pages referred to range from 116 to 464.
Megenberg Not yet identified. It is assumed to be work on Conrad Megenberg (1309 - 1374).
Fuchs Which edition is not yet clear.
Mattiolus Only one reference
Dodoens Only one reference
Diosc[urides] Only one reference
Fischer: Hildegard Only one reference
Graebner Not yet identified.

Table of tentative herb identifications

Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f1v Solanum, Solatrium, Belladonna Atropa Atropa Belladonna +
f2r Cyanus silvestris (O'Neill), Centauria (Holm) Cyanus?
f2v coliocasia, Egyptian lotus Colosia? Villarsia, Limnanthemum
f3r Crassulatea (Cretan dittany), [illeg.] Dictamnus?
f4r Hypericum, Centarium Erythaea (O'Neill) Hypericum? Hypericum ++
f4v Cobvulvula ipomea? Ipomea? Scammonia?
f5r Paris, Indian cucumber? Paris?
f5v Parietaria (O'Neill) Geranium
f6r Asclepiades Aristolochia?
f6v Black gum tree? Arctium? Bidenus hypnis (O'Neill)
castor oil, ricinus
Ricinus Castor oil plant
f7r Nymphaea alba, Nenufar Paeonia
f7v Polygonum persicarum (ELV), Bisangia?
Potentilla selvaticus?
f8r Praenanthes (O'Neill), Atriplex hastata (ELV) Atriplex, Orache
f8v Silene Oleander? Verbena?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f9r Chalidonium magna Delphinium?
f9v Viola tricoloris, herba trinitatis (O'Neill) Viola Pansy ++
f10r Scabiosa
f10v Hellebora? Orientalis Helleborus?
f11r Silene scambis
f11v Leonotus, Leonarus
f13r Tussilago petronites Tussilago
f13v Crassolatea Fetthenne
f14r Pfeilkraut - sagittaria
f14v Osmodei Botrychium
f15r [Some thistle]
f15v Herba Paris Lilium?
f16r Canabis (hemp) Aconitum?
f16v Eryngium?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f17v Smilax, Tamus communis Tamus?
f18r Ringelblume (O'Neill), Calendula officinaris Aster? Calendula
f20r Moss polytrichnum (O'Neill), cf. cranberry Arctostaphylis, Poterium?
f20v Fam. compositae (O'Neill), chicory?, salsify? Tragopogon, salsifica
f21r Polygonum, Eisenkraut, Tymium Herniaria?
f21v Salvia?, Steinbrech Crassula? Sedum?
f22v Sedum?
f23r Water Veronia, Helleborum, stinkende Mierwurz Veronica
f24r Libnis alba Behen Lychnis?
f24v Origophyllus (???) [illeg.] Lychnis?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f25r Menta hortensis, Herzkraut (O'Neill), Marrube…,
Mercurialis, Mentha arvensis, urtica,
Mentastrum (O'Neill), Mentha piperata
Parietaria, Urtica?
f25v Leontopodium, Edelweiss, Plantago Plantago Plantain +
f26r gnaphalium
f26v verbena foenica, Creutzwurz
f27r Asarium, Haselwurz [thesmaller one] Datura?
f28r Arum, Anisarum Rumex
f28v Arnica?
f29r lappa bur[... /illeg] Arctium? Xanthium? Burdoch or the nearly allied Burweed ++
f30r Schuppenwurz?, Menanthes trifolia Meryanthes
f30v Boragine Lithospermum
f31r Hyrciacum Aratum, henbane Hyasciamus Henbane
f31v Heracleum cervafolium
f32r Mentastrum (O'Neill), Rosenmüntz, brunella vulgaris Mentha Some kind of mint
f32v Campanula, Rapunculus, Convolvulus orectus? Malva?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f33r Mandragora?
f33v Scabiosa Knautia, Scabiosa
f34r [illeg.], scabiosa Scabiosa
f34v libanotis umbilifera Eryngium?
f35r Leonuris? orchid root?
f35v uva quercina, oak quercus gall apple?No!
Uva quercina The fabulous 'grapes of oak'
f36r Geranium
f36v [illeg] Cannabis Indian hemp
f37r bladrian, valerian Sambucus? Dwarf Elder (Dnewort)
f38r Aster luzei, asarum?
f38v (Cichrium?), Lactuca Cynarum?
f39r Colchicum (or Crocus)
f39v [illeg.] Primula?
f40r [illeg.] Primula?
f40v Thistle, Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f41r Thistle Carduas? (Cnicus?)
f41v [illeg.], Fern, Maidenham fern???, Tansy? Daucus
f42r Arum sagittarium Ranunculus?
f42v (ELV:) Ranuncularia [illeg.] Aquilegia?
f43r Antemum Gnaphalium Belledactrum
f43v polygonum?, Bistorta? Polygonum
f44r veratrum Veratrum?
f45r Glycyrrhiza?
f45v Contellaria, Veronica ? Camedris, Ehrenpreis?,
f46r asclepias roots Asclepias?
f46v boragine, anchusa
f47r indian cucumber?
f47v Doronicum, Pardalianchus (Holm), Gemswurz Anchusa?
f48r (cyanus?) no! Hyasciamus
f48v Geum?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f49r Tamus communis (Holm), Scam[m]onia, Convulvulus?
f49v lunaria, Holm: cyclamen. Alpenveilchen. Lunaria
f50r Artichoke, [illeg], species of sunflower?
f50v O'Neil: Umbellifera? (coxcomb?)
f51r Mandrake (Manley)
f51v Cow's tongue, Licopsis, (Sedum majus, Hauswurz)?
(Königskerze), Verbascum Thapsiforme, Mullein
Lycopsis, Symphytum Lycopsis or a nearly allied Boraginace* plant ++
f52r [illeg] Aristolochia?
f52v Acanthus?
f53r Elecampane Inula
f53v hieracium (hawk weed)
f54r thistle, leaves of boneset Carduas?
f55v Elephants ear?
f56r Boragine, echium, Dianthus flower (convulvulus?) Borago Borage or a near relative
f56v Aristolochia?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f57r Geranium
f65r Rue, dropwort,spiraea filipendula Geranium
f65v Chamomile. St.Jacobskraut Anthemis Some kind of Chamomila ++
f66v primula? Asistolochia?
Fol. Th.Petersen ELV, Grolier Club ELV, Beinecke
f87v Left: primula (dianthus);
Right: Tansy, Wegrain (Tanacetum vulga[re]).
Schafgarbe (Achilleia millefolium)
f90r1 Holm (Poppy) Papaver somniferum Papaver
f90r2 [illeg] [illeg] Wermuth, Absinthium, Artemisium
f90v2 Xeranthium? Leaves of Osmu[n]da regalis
f90v1 not Löwenklau? Sp[h]ondylium ?
f93r O'Neill Sunflower (helianthus), (like coxcomb?)
f94r Botriculum, (Lunaria? Mondfarn?)
f95r1 [illeg]
f95v2 Ban[e]berry? Actaea Waxberry Actaea?
f95v1 Wermut, Artemisium, Absinthium
f96r O'N (dipsacus calendula)
f96v Smilax tracheia or Chenopodium (bonus atruplex) good king Henry, atruplex or hastata

Table of marginal annotations by Th.Petersen

Fol. Th.Petersen comment Other comment
f1v Fuchs p.398, O'Neill MS p.395 The similarity of the page numbers is a bit suspicious
f2r O'Neill MS p.241
f7r cf. Megenberg p.352
f9v MS. O'Neill p.464, Megenberg p.364
f18r O'Neil MS p.216, Fuchs p.263,
f25r See O'Neill MS. P.166
f25v Fisher: Hildegard, p.58
f32r O'Neill p.167
f38r Graebner p.24
f49r (flower similar to some used in Persian illuminations)
f49v Megenberg p.336
f53r cf fol. 102 no 217 in the pharma section
f53v Flower like Hieracium but not the leaves
f55r For root compare fol.99 rot 113 in the pharma section
f56v flower see fol. 96r another herbal drawing
f65r Mattiolus p.571, see Dodoens p.40, see Fuchs p.323 Oenanthe
f65v O'Neill MS p.432
f87r cf. root 40 fol 89r p2 in the pharma section
f87v there seems to be old faded writing here the parchment is translucent and the writing is
from the page below
f90r1 conjugate with fol 87v
f90r2 cf. fol. 95v another herbal drawing (f95v1)
f90v1 cf. fol. 99v. Nr. 110 in the pharma section
f95v1 cf. fol. 90r another herbal drawing (f90r2)
f96r flower see fol 56v another herbal drawing
f96v Diosc. fol. 125r


Note: this page is not fully completed. My copy of the hand transcription of Theodore Petersen is occasionally very hard to read.


See D'Imperio, section 3.3.1
For Th.Petersen, see also here.
See O'Neill (1944)
D'Imperio, p.14
See >>description of Holm materials at CUA.
This is to be verified


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Copyright René Zandbergen, 2016
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Latest update: 03/12/2016