Once a week, between 1737 and 1739, Elizabeth Blackwell released a new section of her beautifully-illustrated book, A Curious Herbal containing five hundred cuts of the most useful plants, which are now used in the practice of physick, to which is added a short description of ye plants and their common uses in physick. The herbal was eventually published in two volumes, and it contains a section on “the female hemp, cannabis foemina.”
Elizabeth Blackwell’s story is a fascinating one. She had already fled her hometown of Aberdeen to London, after her husband (and cousin), Alexander, was accused of practising medicine without any training… Now he was in debtors’ prison after setting up a London publishing company while bypassing the mandatory 4-year apprenticeship requirement.
Elizabeth spent time at the Chelsea Physic Garden, examining the plants and illustrating them. She then brought the drawings to her husband, who identified the plants from his cell and added notes on what they were used for. Each week, four coloured plates and a page of text were released; the section on cannabis appears below. Sales of A Curious Herbal brought in enough funds to secure Elizabeth’s husband from prison, though his shenanigans continued – he sailed for Sweden in 1742, and was executed there for treason in 1747. Elizabeth sent him his share of the royalty fees until his death, and she died alone in 1758.
Plate 322. The Female Hemp. Cannabis foemina.
1. The stalks grow about five foot high, the leaves are a deep green above and a light green underneath.
2. It is planted in fields and gardens yearly, & produces its seed in August; for this species of hemp never bears any visible flower.
3. The seed being boil’d in milk, till it cracks, is accounted good for old coughs, and a specific to cure the jaundice.
4. Greek, Kavvaβis. Latin, Cannabis. Spanish, Canamho. Italian, Canapo. French, Chanvre. German, Hanff. Dutch, Henniss.