Seventeenth century home made remedies

Every human being has to deal with the flu, nose bleeding or another ailment from time to time. When we complain about this, there is always a wise grandma, neighbour or other acquaintance nearby who gives advice on how to treat similar complaints with plants, herbs or other remedies. Centuries ago these wisdoms were commonplace as well. Books like the seventeenth-century work Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken, whereof an edition is part of the Utrecht University Library collection, testify to this.

Unknown author?

The title page mentions that Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken (‘The little herbal or herbal booklet’) is written by one H.I. With two initials like this, the author does not immediately give away his identity. Luckily the book starts with a poem, which offers more information about the name of the author:

            'Comt dan en wilt met luste door wandelen,
            Dit Cruyt-hofken dat ons hier wort opghedaen,
            Van Heyman Jacobsz die ons leert Handelen,
            De cruyden en bloemkens (om ‘tperyckel te ontgaen)
            Wiens natuerlycke crachten hier beschreven staen' (p. 2)

From this poem we learn the actual name of the author: Heyman Jacobs. Unfortunately we know (very) little about him. Jacobs probably lived in the north of Holland around 1600, where he spent his time writing several books. He was a devout catholic, as demonstrated by the moralizing character of his work. It is plausible that he was working in education, wanting to write down his knowledge of medicine and pedagogy (Viaene 1969, 87).

Bundled medical reference book

This edition of Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken is bound together with two other printed texts: Het schat der armen oft een medecijn boecxken (‘The treasure of the poor or medicine booklet’), also a work by Herman Jacobs that gained popularity in the seventeenth century; and Vorstelijck gheschenck: dat is een medecynboeck (‘Royal gift: that is a medicine book’), a work by an unknown author, translated from German. All these texts have a medical subject, making this book as a whole a very convenient medical reference book.

Printed in Amsterdam

This edition of Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken was printed by Frans Pels (c. 1602-1662) from Haarlem. Pels married in 1625 to the daughter of printer Broer Jansz, who employed Pels around that time in Amsterdam. From 1629 onwards Pels owned his own printing shop in the Amsterdam Jordaan at the Goudsbloemgracht (currently Willemsstraat). At a later stage the printing shop moved to another location, evidenced by many books printed around 1632. This edition of Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken was also printed at this new location and addresses to it as: “in de Colcx-Bruch steech”. This probably refers to an alley or street across the former Kolksbrug, which must have been close to the Nieuwezijds Kolk.

The healing power of nature

In Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken many trees, herbs and flowers and their medical effect are described. It also contains several remedies for diseases and some Christian consolations for patients that won’t survive their sickness.

This book is divided into the following subjects:

  • The medical effect of trees and tree fruits (page 5 – 34)
  • The medical effect of spices (page 35 – 49)
  • The medical effect of corns and grains (page 49 – 55)
  • The medical effect of carrots (page 56 – 70)
  • The medical effect of flowers (page 70 – 86)
  • The medical effect of aromatic herbs (page 86 – 95)
  • The medical effect of medicinal court herbs (page 95 – 103)
  • The medical effect of herbs growing in the wild (page 104 – 122)
  • The medical effect of ‘kitchen’ medicine (page 122 – 126)
  • The medical effect of ‘new’ foreign herbs (page 126 – 127)
  • Explanation about degrees and herbarisation (collecting herbs) (page 128)
  • Various remedies for all kinds of complaints (page 129 – 160)
  • Consolations for the ill (page 161 – 185)
  • Various remedies for all kinds of complaints (page 185 – 192)

The chapters on various trees, herbs and flowers are always preceded by an introduction dedicated to the professional group that deals with the subject, like gardeners, florists and vegetable growers.

Kitchen wisdoms

Notable is the chapter on ‘kitchen remedies’, where resources can be found that would nowadays not be considered as medical resources. For example the effect of cheese, milk and meat are treated. Milk seems to be good for diarrhea (p. 123) and vinegar helps to regain your appetite (p. 126). Some passages contain wisdoms given in rhyme:

            'Op een Ey een dronc, schaet den Meester een pondt?
            Maer ist wyn, soo ist medecyn.' (p. 125)

               (‘On an egg a drink, harms the master (for) a pound?
               But if it’s wine, it’s medicine’)

With wisdoms like this, knowledge about plants and trees from the (herb) garden and kitchen remedies, Den cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken offers us an interesting glimpse into the seventeenth century kitchen, to literally and figuratively see what was cooking.

Further reading

  • Lane, J. Printers in Amsterdam's Jordaan to ca. 1655 (Boekwetenschap en handschriftkunde – UvA)
  • http://www.boekwetenschap.eu/printers-in-amsterdams-jordaan-to-ca-1655 (consulted 12 June 2017).
  • Velde, A.J.J. van de, 'Zuid- en Noordnederlandse kruid- en tuinboeken vóór 1800: I. Van Jacob van Maerlant tot Franciscus van Sterbeeck', in: Verslagen en mededelingen van de Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal- en Letterkunde (1931), p. 640-644.
  • Viaene, A., 'De geneeskundige volksboeken van Heyman Jacobi 1603-1796', in: Biekorf 70 (1969), p. 87-89.
Femke van Hilten, August 2017
page 2 poem with name of the author
p. 35 tot den Cruydeniers
p 88 Different herbs
p 125 about Eggs
p 131 to get rid of lice

Heyman Jacobs, De cleynen herbarius ofte cruyt-boecxken (THO: WRT 155-218 dl 1)

  • Bound together with Heyman Jacobs, Het schat der armen oft een medecijn boecxken (THO: WRT 155-218 dl. 2) en Vorstelijck gheschenck: dat is een medecynboeck (THO: WRT 155-218 dl. 3).
  • Amsterdam: Frans Pels, 1632.
  • Paper, 192 pp., 150 x 100 mm.
  • Early modern Dutch.