Friday, May 10, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Wild Leek

Wild Leek is my favorite id so far for the plant on fol.55v of the Voynich Manuscript. It could be Allium tricoccum or Allium ursinum. They are very similar - the second one is favorite of the wild boar and a wild pig may be hidden in the roots of the drawing on this page.

UPDATE. Steve D suggested the Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) as possibility. So, the wild boar may be an elephant. Example from herbal manuscript of elephant drawing is the British Library Sloane 4016 (visit here). Nick Pelling saw the elephant root in 2003.


  1. 55v -- Probably one of the most problematic items in the Vms. Several weeks/months ago, I posted a tentative identification (based on the multiple references to this plant being aquatic) as an aquatic plant, but in the sub-specie of "legume": the "Sacred Bean" of Egypt: Water Lotus. Over many centuries the oa-tl-eus (water lily) has been confused with the oll-lax-itius (line 5 of this folio) ol-lo-tius.

    Not that I'm arguing with your meticulous (and probably lengthy) archival searches -- just thought you might like my thought, in case you haven't already "been there". Heh!

  2. I think you hit a "home run" here, Ellie. I would also be interested in when the boar was associated with allium ursinum, and also, the source of the newer drawing for that one. Rich SantaColoma

  3. Ellie - well done!
    I particularly like the way you've paid attention to every part of the image, and you are in the minority, I think, in having a clear understanding of the difference between a specimen and a picture.

    I'd say you're on the right track here - perhaps next you might see when the Latin term is first attested. If not till Linnaeus (or someone) it's worth a note.

    Have you found what uses the plant has - I'm guessing pig-food will be one :)


  4. Oh - I forgot to mention that there's another in the same family which might be of interest. It's Latin name is Allium ampeloprasum.

    Known as 'Levant garlic' it grows not only in Europe but in Africa and 'West Asia' having at some time or another been introduced to India as well.

    Popular name is 'Elephant garlic' - partly, I guess, because it grew in all the regions where elephants once roamed, including Syria, and partly because it has an enormous bulb.



  5. Just by the way - in chonological order, the people who suggested elephant garlic seem to have been me - almost simultaneously with Don of Talahassee, and then soon afterwards (if I've adjusted correctly for the date line) Steve Dwyer.

    So looks as if you got a flood of responses there!


  6. If it should be allium ampeloprasum, pigs and elephants weren't the only animals which enjoyed eating this large, juicy, relatively mild garlic. It can be cooked and eaten, fresh out of the garden, but also dries to a leathery consistency which can be finely chopped and added to whichever dish one desires.

    What! A recipe from me?


  7. Hi Diane and BD,

    I've never tasted the wild leek, but I saw few pictures of folks grilling it. It looks like it has a long history on the barbecue :)

    I am glad folks responded so the elephant is now on record.
    Sorry, I was late to respond - was out with the kids.
    All the best! Ellie

  8. Well, I've tried to give everyone a chance to post before I give my probably very opinonated translation. I have tried elsewhere (and Rich may have mentioned my visit with Elmar):

    I did a complete translation of Vms folio 55v (in March of this year). Take it or leave it, what I tell you now: The very last word of the last line of script (bottom-most 6 lines) translates to the latin word oll-a-tius : lotus

    All of the preceding lines of script are loaded with the usual multi-syllabilic and monotonous nomenclatural terminology which indicate that the plant was aquatic.

    Only after I did some more research to determine approximately when the aquatic LOTUS was first given its own scientific classification in the family of "Legume" was I able to validate my translation.

    This folio is my favorite. So please forgive me if I seem rather strident. Hope you and your children are up to date with swimming lessons? If not, I can describe a very simple "float on your back" that does not require you expend one bit of effort to stay afloat and breath normally. Just let me know. My answer will not involve more than two lines of script.

    Have a great summer!


  9. I agree that the plant looks like a species of Allium, and the root immediately reminded me of medieval elephant drawings when I first saw it. However, from what I've found on Google Books, the term "elephant garlic" was coined by Luther Burbank in about 1919, so it can't be relevant here. As for Allium ursinum, I haven't found any association with boars, but the name (which means "bear leek") goes back at least to Fuchs in 1542 (here, spread 386).

  10. Lars
    It is also possible that Burbank simply adopted it from an earlier name common in non-European languages. Linnaeus certainly did the same.

  11. Well, Ellie, I did some more online research in re nelumbo nucifera. Most important to me was the observation made by a current-day observer of the developing leaves and flowers when the plants first emerge from the depths: the very large, green leaves, on stems of their own, are tightly furled. The beautiful pink flower also unfurls on its own stem (and is also green for a short while after it emerges). Both the leaves and flowers close at nightfall.

    So it is likely that the Vms folio 55v was first illustrated by a "newbie" who had not understood this fact (if he even was given detailed instructions). Thusly, the scribes were only able to refer to the plant as "aquatic" and as an "ollotius" So, my point of view is that what you see (green) in folio 55v is the tightly furled (umbrella-style) darker green leaf of the aquatic lotus.

    More and more of what I see happening is that both scribes and illustrators were working under the "whip" of a deadline. In my pursuit of the various "leads" that appear in each and every folio of the Vms, I'm getting glimpses of where the "made-to-order" manuscript may have its origin: near Florence (Medici territory). I'll be asking ThomS if his relative (art historian) might be interested in giving us some tips/info.

    Hasta la manana!

  12. Hi Lars, until we read the author's intentions it is all guessing game. The plant looks like wild leek, but what exactly is it we may never know.

    Hi BD, I can imagine it being the fruit of nelumbo nucifera. The green leaves as the petals of the lotus - is this how you imagine it?

  13. I am going to do some more reading later today, and also check the "pharmacy" section to see if any part of the plant was used in a mixture. Like the Saffron Crocus, the Nelumbo (water Lotus) was valued for many uses, but mainly for the health and well being of humans. Even the dried seed pod (minus seeds) is today used in ornamental flower arrangements.