The first German edition of the "Kreuterbuch" by Leonhart Fuchs contains 512 woodcuts. They illustrate known medicinal herbs in a way that is very close to nature. Over 400 of the pictures illustrate local plants. Others come from the "new" continent of America. About a hundred plants were presented for the first time in a written document.

The precision of the illustrations, which was new at this level of quality, was intended to rule out erroneous medical applications. In addition to two directories of plant names in German and Latin, an index of known diseases facilitates the finding of each presented remedy.

The book is divided into 346 chapters, each introducing a specific genus of plants with multiple "genders". The descriptions follow a strict pattern. First, the name is listed in German with its Latin and Greek equivalents. The term "gender" is used to describe different species within a superordinate family of plants. This is followed by the "Gstalt", the places where the plant usually grows, the flowering period and their characteristics and use in the medicine of the time.


The German "Kreuterbuch" achieved great success, which is evident in the numerous editions and translations. The woodcuts were copied by other authors and adopted. The lifelike appearance of the plants with flowers, fruit, leaves, from trunk to roots, has prevailed in European herbal books.

As a physician and herbalist, Fuchs gave applied medicine a central position. At that time, pharmaceutical teaching followed the ancient humororism or the Doctrine of the Four Juices, which interpreted illness as an imbalance of the four humours – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Some uses are also in keeping with the signature doctrine. One had to search for external similarities in order to find the correct remedy. The shape of a leaf or the colour of a plant's juices were supposed to provide hints to people about the right herbal remedy for a particular illness. Thus, celandine with its yellow juice was considered an effective remedy for banishing jaundice.

Two hundred years later, Linnaeus also classified flora according to kinship and similarities. At the suggestion of a Franciscan priest, Linneaus named a plant, "Fuchsia triphylla", after Leonhart Fuchs, which forms the genus of Fuchsias along with other flowering plants.


Leonhart Fuchs was born in the Bavarian town of Wemding in 1501. He studied medicine at Ingolstadt and practiced in Munich. In 1525 he married the daughter of a patrician, Anna Friedberg, with whom he had a large family of six girls and four boys.

in 1526, he was appointed Professor of Medicine at the University of Ingolstadt. Fuchs was an early follower of the reformer Martin Luther, who had held his first reformed mass just a year earlier. He therefore felt himself in enemy territory at the Catholic University of Ingolstadt, and two years later he accepted a position as personal physician to the Margrave of Brandenburg in Ansbach. In 1535 he became a Professor of Medicine in Tübingen, where he established a medicinal herb garden.

In Tübingen he was under the supervision of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, who wanted to reform Tübingen University as the first institution modelled on Martin Luther's model. Fuchs fulfilled this expectation and served as Dean and Rector.

The plant illustrations which made the herbal famous were drawn by Albert Meyer under the supervision of Fuchs. Heinrich Füllmaurer transferred the drawings to wood blocks, and the Strasbourg wood engraver Veyt Rudolf Speckle made the printing plates.


In 1543, the work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" by Nicolas Copernicus, which places the sun in the centre of the orbits of the planets, was printed. In the same year, the anatomical image work "De humani corporis fabrica" by Andreas Vesalius appeared, which altered the image of the body. And then the "Kreuterbuch" by Leonhart Fuchs was also printed in 1543. It is commonly held that the "Fabrica" and the "Kreuterbuch" contributed to the transformation of medical fundamentals with their own observations.

The "Kreuterbuch" turns its back on the strictly dogmatic scholasticism and Arabian medicine of the Middle Ages. However, the plant descriptions do not spring from pure experiential knowledge.

As a humanist, Fuchs wanted to revive classical Greek medicine. He had to rely on copies of ancient pharmacopoeias which had hardly any illustrations. Therefore, it was especially difficult to match the medicinal herbs of antiquity with the native plants.

It is not just in Leonhart Fuchs' work that plants are depicted in a lifelike manner. Hieronymus Bock and Otto Brunfels as well, two contemporaries of Fuchs, strove to achieve illustrations of medicinal herbs that were as true to life as possible. There are also parallels in the texts. Thus, we speak today of the "three fathers of botany".

Leonhart Fuchs
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