The Domestic Herbal: Plants for the Home in the Seventeenth Century

£22.50
SKU: BK4086

BODLEIAN BOOK OF THE MONTH - 10% Off in January. Was £25.

'This fascinating book uncovers the way plants were used in the 17th century to feed, clean, decorate and cure us. … It includes a recipe that required the use of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, bone marrow, raisins, dates and candied peel, which makes that extra knob of butter seem less than extravagant. This is a fact-packed gem of a book that will appeal to the social historian as much as a gardener. It is hard to read without shouting out “Did you know?” to anyone sitting nearby.’ – The Sunday Times

‘Margaret Willes opens an intimate window on the domestic life of the period. Her sources range from the diaries of John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys and the herbals of Gerard and Culpeper to parish records and farm accounts. Most fascinating are the manuscript books kept by women, compiled over decades and passed from mother to daughter, packed with household tips and recipes for everything from ‘kissing comfits’, to sweeten the breath, to optimistic prophylactics against the plague.’ – Gardens Illustrated

In the seventeenth century, even the most elaborate and fashionable gardens had areas set aside for growing herbs, fruit, vegetables and flowers for domestic use, while those of more modest establishments were vital to the survival of the household. This was also a period of exciting introductions of plants from overseas.

Using manuscript household manuals, recipe books and printed herbals, this book takes the reader on a tour of the productive garden and of the various parts of the house – kitchens and service rooms, living rooms and bedrooms – to show how these plants were used for cooking and brewing, medicines and cosmetics, in the making and care of clothes, and finally to keep rooms fresh, fragrant and decorated. Recipes used by seventeenth-century households for preparations such as flower syrups, snail water and wormwood ale are also included.

A brief herbal gives descriptions of plants that are familiar today, others not so well known, such as the herbs used for dyeing and brewing, and those that held a particular cultural importance in the seventeenth century.

Featuring exquisite coloured illustrations from John Gerard’s herbal of 1597 as well as prints, archival material and manuscripts, this book provides an intriguing and original focus on the domestic history of Stuart England.


Margaret Willes is a former publisher and author of several books on social history, including A Shakespearean Botanical, Bodleian Library, 2016.

  • Hardback 
  • 256 pages, 210 x 161 mm
  • c.60 colour illustrations
  • ISBN: 9781851245130
  • Publication June 2020

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