Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Ground Oak

I am adding a new plant id on the list. Proposed originally by Ethel Voynich in 1930s. The drawing on fol. 45v may represent Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys). The word 'germander (chamaedrys)' means 'ground oak' and the herb got its common name likely because of the shape of its leaves. The 'oak name' maybe the base of symbolism in the drawing that seems to be related to the House of Burgundy which experienced its Golden Age during the 15th century (Burgundy's influence spanned all the way from Portugal to the Netherlands).

Oak is among the symbols of Burgundy with the proper Cross of Burgundy being formed by two pruned oak branches.

The root on fol. 45v may represent pruned branch forming a necklace (maybe reference to the famous collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece). The top part of the flowers seems to form quicunx - another symbol of Burgundy.

All this (as always) is just speculation and all the similarities maybe just coincidental.

UPDATE: Diane reminded me to include example of germander from the old herbals, so I chose the one from the British library, MS Egerton 747 (14th century)


  1. I like the match between this plant and the image. Teucrium chamaedrys is native to Europe and the near east, I see. Also an ingedient in something called "Venice treacle".
    According to a wiki article (ahem - sounds of reservation about this), Venice treacle was considered 'theriac' - probably not the original theriac, but in the sense the term later gained of being a perfect panacea. This from the same wiki article:
    Theriac, the most expensive of medicaments, was called Venice treacle by the English apothecaries. At the time of the Black Death in the mid 14th century, Gentile da Foligno, who died of the plague in June 1348, recommended in his plague treatise that the theriac should have been aged at least a year.

    yes, well.. perhaps his wasn't.

    Here's an interesting thing, from another article - but this one from Pub.Med. so of course you can trust it.

    "Mithridatium and the related product Theriac were both regarded from the time of their original formulations in the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD respectively, until the mid 18th Century as universal panaceas. Any failure of these products to achieve the desired therapeutic result was attributed to defective composition or manufacture".
    from J P Griffin, 'Venetian treacle and the foundation of medicines regulation', Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Sep; 58(3): 317–325. (online)

    (Hope you find this as interesting as I do).

    in the same article
    In the 12th century, theriac was being manufactured in Venice and widely exported. In England it became known as Venetian treacle (‘treacle’ is a corruption of theriac). Theriac became an article of commerce, with Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Bologna, Constantinople and Cairo all competing. The manufacture of these theriacs took place in public, with much pomp and ceremony.

    Details of various theriacs, including Mithridatium and Galene, were given in Galen's Antidotes 1 and Antidotes 11. According to Galen, Mithridatium contained 41 ingredients and the Galene of Andromachus 55 components.

    Sounds good.

    But without checking Galen, I see that in the seventeenth century - rather too late for us - wall germander is certainly included in one recipe for 'Venetian Treacle' that published in 1686, in the d'Amsterdammer Apotheek.

    - it would be a nice plant to have, if your identification is right.


  2. question then, I suppose, is why the roots have been drawn so, and so emphasised.

  3. maybe the roots have been drawn like this because this plant makes really long roots underground, plus the stem spring up out of its roots, like it is drawn too.