The Very Curious Herbal

The Very Curious Herbal

The Very Curious Herbal is a multidimensional herbal storytelling project with nearly as many elements as the book it was inspired by! 

Inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell’s book: ‘A Curious Herbal’; the first herbal created by a woman to be published.

It works in several ways: as an online project, with episodic podcasts and short films which are linked together with interactive prompts within Amanda's facebook group Botanica fabulousness which you can join here: 

With a corresponding connecting journey with bespoke original performance pieces and accompanying workshops leading participants on an enchanted journey into the extraordinary, verdant world of the 18th century. These will be delivered at incredible venues which have connections to Blackwell's own story or where copies of her incredible work can be found.

This interactive, multisensory work by Amanda Edmiston of Botanica Fabula, layers pages from the book, traditional remedies and flavours revealed by the plant collectors, recipe creators and apothecaries of the day with legends, history and folklore adding vivid dimensions to the plants revealed in the pages of this beautiful book, using traditional storytelling techniques.

Each piece is a unique experience specially curated by Amanda to connect with the plants or themes which are significant for your venue or event, relating the often darkly humorous stories of herbs: some delicious, some to be afraid of and some we all know and love, that were drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell.

Bringing hidden historic books, collections and gardens to life for new and treasured audiences.

The Very Curious Herbal follows the footsteps of Elizabeth from Aberdeen to London, working exclusively with venues which have treasured copies of the beautiful herbal, gardens which have the plants she studied and museums and collections which have connections to her incredible work.

The project aims to highlight the work of this remarkable woman whilst making the magical world of her herbal and collections that connect to it come to life for new and treasured audiences.

Amanda says: “ I’ve loved old herbals since I was a child, I would spend hours in museums peeking into glass cases trying to decipher the fading words on lignin soft pages, vanishing into gardens trying to find the plants I’d seen in the books, experimenting with the remedies they suggested.

As an adult I discovered I was not alone, herbals gave people the sense they stood on the edge of a magical garden and I discovered that the way I connected stories and lore, recipes and remedies to the plants in the pages could bring that enchanted world to life, bringing a new relevance and connection to old collections which engaged and excited people of all ages…”

The Very Curious Herbal is also gaining momentum as Amanda shares her adventures and insights into her research on social media, you can connect with that by joining in the conversation in her facebookgroup or following the hashtag  #CuriousHerbal.

"Thank you for bringing your event to the Ashmolean.

Your being there meant a lot to us and there has been very positive feedback from people who were there...

Many thanks Amanda it was so wonderful to have you there"

Dr Sarah K. Doherty, The Ashmolean Museum 2018.

Amanda can also be commissioned to create a bespoke package of events suited to bring a little extra enchantment to your collection and gardens connecting to The Very Curious Herbal project.

To speak to Amanda about your very own Curious Herbal event email her at [email protected]

The Very Curious Herbal Blog

A glimpse into the creation of a Botanica Fabula project by Amanda

The Story Begins

May 2019

I first became entranced with the work of Elizabeth Blackwell when I discovered a copy of her book A Curious Herbal in the stunning gothic environs of the library of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, the pictures were particularly elegant and lightly captured the true image of the plants, her story captivated me, I felt drawn into a conversation with this woman despite the 270 years separating our lives.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Aberdeen around 270 years before my birth in the Forester Hill hospital in the late 20th century. Aberdeen had prospered towards the end of the 17th century so Elizabeth was born into a city which had grown in wealth and obtained many modern improvements despite the war and plague of the century. Street sweeping had been introduced and oil lamps started to light up the twilight city when Elizabeth would have been around 20 years of age.

Sources are skewed I have read she herself had studied medicine and this may have been the case in some capacity, but certainly not in the way we currently understand it…the first female medical graduate from a University didn’t happen until 1879. That said Elizabeth clearly had medical knowledge as her book illustrates although she is said to have had help with that from her husband, although he is believed by many to have falsified his own medical credentials and forced their flee from the silver city.

So under a cloud of the family travel South, a year or two down the line finding herself and her child in London, her husband in a debtors prison for yet another bad decision Elizabeth took to studying the plants of Chelsea Physic Garden, under the watchful eye of Sir Hans Sloane.

The Garden at the time was the leased by Sir Hans, noted plant collector and naturalist to Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. Sir Hans’ travels to the Americas and his plant collecting inspired Elizabeth, the garden offered her the chance to use her skills as a botanical illustrator to depict these plants which were so new to the British eye.

Her herbal was initially released in weekly instalments, providing an income for her to look after her family and ultimately providing the finance to release her husband from the debtor’s jail and was granted the seal of approval from Royal College of Physicians in London.

Meanwhile, Mr Elizabeth Blackwell went off again apparently this time to build up diplomatic relations with Denmark and Sweden, but once again became entrenched in some kind of desperate mire. He was implicated as having connections to the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and did not return…Elizabeth was about to embark on a journey to join him when she received news of his death.

The years then become lost…we know she died alone in 1758 and is buried at Old Chelsea All Saints church so she did not return to Scotland permanently, if at all…but I like to imagine what happened to those lost years…

How did the book go on to have so many adventures of its own?

How did it become quite so well respected for many years…but is now overlooked when we refer to the herbals of times past?

We hear of Culpeper, Gerard, even of her near contemporary: controversial creator of the 1754 Family Herbal Sir John Hill, but Elizabeth is entirely overshadowed.

I started to seek out copies of the beautiful book and trace her journey and the travels of the book after its creation. It found its way into the hands of respected and incredible botanists who must have appreciated it’s elegant lines and careful notes.

I started to find stories told by the plants themselves, words uttered from within time-worn pages, about cures and uses, stories of spices and succulent sweet fruits, alongside the thistles whose words she would have heard almost daily from childhood.

The stories started to sway from the pages, growing closer together into a walled garden, with pathways leading from dandelion graced, granite gateways of Aberdeen to the mesmerising enchantment of Jamaican Cocoa, seeds sheltering in exotic pods, travelling from islands she might never see.

I opened the book and the plants twined round my ankles and drew me in…

If you fancy following me on a magical journey, take a sip and join me as we open the covers and allow the garden to tell its story.

The Very Curious Herbal, Amanda’s journey following the path taken by Elizabeth Blackwell and telling the stories revealed by the plants illustrated within her book is being delivered online here:

from June 2019 with special live experiential performances at magical venues which we will share with you as the project starts to blossom.

If you'd like to find out how I can create a bespoke storytelling experience for your project then email me at [email protected] and we can chat over how my work could make your venue just a little bit more magical...