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Boils, Plague Sores and Embossed Carbunkles

Which Herbs to use on what Part of the Body

The Law of Similarities in Herbal Remedies


About the Item

Have you ever noticed that some flowers and herbs look a bit like parts of the human body?

Since the Ancient Greeks, scientists and doctors thought that the shape of things in the natural world indicated how they could be used in cures and medicines. This is called the ‘Law of Similarities’ (or sometimes the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’).

This book by herbalist William Coles, promises to provide ‘cheap, easie, and wholesome cures for any part of the body that is ill-affected’ using the Law of Similarities.

William Coles suggests eating walnuts to cure any troubles in the head (as walnuts look a bit like a brain) and that the bee-shaped orchid flowers can be used for stings.

We now know that the Law of Similarities isn’t very scientific and eating walnuts won’t cure a headache. However, you can still see the influence of the Law of Similarities in the names of lots of plants, such as the flowers ‘lungwort’ and ‘eyebright’.


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Illustrations copyright © Martin Brown

CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust