Culpepper's Complete Herbal

My grandfather was a very eminent cardiothoracic surgeon. Indeed he was considered the best surgeon in Birmingham of his time (1906-1976). He did the first hole in the heart operation and was a key collaborator in the invention of the pace maker .My aunt recently discovered that his father, my great grandfather,was an Indian from Mangalore. He came over to Edinburgh to further his medical studies at the end of the 19th century .He married an Irish woman and was probably the first Mangalorean to marry a Westerner.
He kept his roots a secret - as did many medical students from India in those days - changing their family manes to a more European sounding name in order to blend in with society .We were bought up believing that he had Portuguese Goan roots .He was tall good-looking elegant and he looked exotic .He was also a kind, gentle man and my sisters and I loved him .
When I was about 9 years old I crept into my grandfathers’ s study when he was not there .It was lined with many medical books and other books, but what leapt out of the shelves for me was a bright red leather spine .I gingerly climbed up the library ladder and pulled it down off the shelf and to my delight I discovered it was an old edition of the 17th Century Culpeper’s Complete Herbal .A beautifully illustrated compendium of herbs and plants for medicinal purposes.
The plants had extraordinary onomatopoeic witchy names such as flea-wort; toad’s flax; dragons; ragwort ; herb truelove; viper’s bugloss .The nature of the onomatopoeia in these names has influenced the way I name my designs ,they must sound as they look .
Each plant was given a description of what it looked like, the place where it grew, a time when it flowered and seeded as well as a government – that is what planet it was governed by- and a virtue - that is the consequential healing properties attached to it –as well as instructions on how to administer and prepare it .I was fascinated by the engravings of these numerous British herbs and plants and the magnifying advantage of my myopic eyes meant that I could see every finely – etched line with great clarity.
This coincided with the current craze at school for Rotring Isograph technical drawing pens .I had been collecting the nips for this range of pens and had by now in my possession the very finest 0.05mm one and was perfect for replicating these fine engravings and kick started my perennial interest in plant forms .
My grandfather died in 1976 of Parkinson disease and I got to keep Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and now its bright red spine sits in my bookcase .

Neisha Crosland
Textile Designer