Season’s Greetings!

We’ve no shortage of stunning, interesting, and unique images in our collections. The task of choosing an image to feature on the library’s holiday card brought up a wealth of options. The winner? The lovely Magnolia below.

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Magnolica Glauca, Plate XXVII

The Magnolia glauca, or small magnolia, comes to us from Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, 1817-1820. According to Bigelow, Magnolias “are distinguished by their rich, smooth foliage, large fragrant flowers, and aromatic bark… They begin to flower in different parts of the United States in May, June and July. The flowers are highly fragrant, and may be perceived by their perfume at a considerable distance.” The text goes on to classify Magnolia as an aromatic tonic that is most effective in treating chronic rheumatism.

Published as a three volume set in Boston, American Medical Botany is a compendium of plants and their medicinal uses. Each plant is illustrated and described in detail. American Medical Botany was one of the first botanical books printed with color. (The other, also in our collection, is Benjamin Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States of the same year.) To avoid the time-consuming process of hand-coloring each of the sixty plates in each printing, Bigelow invented a mechanical method of printing the engraved plates and tinting them simultaneously. Read on to see more beautiful prints!

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Juniperus Communis, Plate XLIV

You’re probably familiar with Juniperus communis (and may encounter it at a holiday party or two), also known as common juniper, as its “berries yield, in distillation, a large quantity of pungent, volatile oil of a peculiar flavour, the same which it communicates to gin.” Aside from its libational uses, it is also stated to have long been used as a diuretic.

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Rhododendron Maximum, Plate LI

Interestingly, Bigelow includes the above Rhododendrom maximum, or American rose bay, in his tome not because its medicinal properties warrant it, but that he may negate other accounts of the plant’s qualities. He offers anecdotal evidence in support:

“The result of my own attention to this shrub does not give reason for attaching to it suspicions of possessing a very deleterious nature… I know not what quantity might prove injurious, but under the conviction that the plant was not particularly dangerous, I have swallowed a green leaf of the middle size, so large that it required some resolution to masticate so unpalatable a morsel, but have found no ill effect whatsoever.”

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Gentiana Catesbaei, Plate XXXIV

Finally, if the myriad of holiday food and drink start to spar with your digestive system, you may want to fortify your system with Gentiana catesbaei, or blue gentian. “It is said to increase the appetite, prevent the acidification of the food, and to enable the stomach to bear and digest articles of diet, which before produced oppression and dejection of spirits.”

Wishing you all a warm and restful holiday season!

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