Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: St. John's Wort

The Voynich manuscript f1v is a great example how old herbal manuscript can help identify plants drawn in the mysterious book. The very first plant is very likely St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) based on the British Library Sloane 4016 here and the Morgan Library Dioscorides MS M.652 here  and here.

For many of us the St. John's wort brings images of beautiful yellow flower. It looks like the old herbalists were more focused on its perforated leaves. According to the legend the little 'holes' were caused by the devil who was jealous of the healing power of the herb. This explains the coloring of the leaves in VMS f1v and the 'devil's foot'-like root of the plant.

UPDATE: Rene Zandbergen correctly pointed out that the Voynich manuscript f1v also has a fruit, which appear to be round dark berry, which inspired many to see Atropa Belladonna in it.
The Morgan Library Dioscorides drawing of St. John's wort is inscribed 'androsaimom'. Hypericum androsaemum's fruit is a black berry (it starts white, turns green, red and finally goes black). The fruit is known as Tutsan berry. Compared to the Belladonna we see St. John's wort is closer to the VMS f1v, because the surrounding cup leaves are round. Atropa's are star-like sharp.

UPDATE: Sarah Goslee noted that the earliest known drawing of Atropa Belladonna (Barsines) is found in  Les Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne illuminated between 1503 and 1508 (BNF Latin 9474 here )


  1. Thank you for the link, very informative

  2. bdid1dr, here:

    I tried yesterday to give you a link to some of the solanaceae plants which can be considered either benign/beneficial or extremely dangerous. Fascinating discussion and lots of pictures (I've lost the url ref but if you search for the Ambrosia Society and/or "Angels", you'll see some fascinating stories.

    cya around!

  3. Well, belladonna seems to be many VMS 'gardeners' darling, but St.John's wort is looking good too :)