Illustration by Mark Greco
Just over 400 years ago, in 1616, a legend was born: a rebel who partnered up with Mother Nature to revolutionise British medicine. The herbal hero, the botanical bad boy, the father of alternative medicine, ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Nicholas Culpeper.
Culpeper did his growing up in Isfield, near Lewes, where the country lanes and the starry Sussex skies were his classroom and the hedges and the heavens taught him botany, astronomy and astrology. And he learnt about love, too. In 1634, Culpeper and his secret Sussex sweetheart planned a clandestine Lewes wedding followed by a hasty elopement to the Netherlands. But tragedy struck when his love-struck lady’s carriage was struck by a lightning bolt en route to Lewes. She died instantly.
There’s no cure, herbal or otherwise, for a broken heart and Culpeper left Sussex and started a new life in London. He threw himself into his work as a lowly apothecary’s assistant, cataloguing medicinal herbs on Threadneedle Street. At this time medicine was only practiced by elite physicians. They would charge exorbitant prices for their secret remedies and would not even demean themselves to talk to patients, instead requesting a sample of urine to make their diagnosis. Culpeper agreed with them on one thing: they were certainly extracting the urine. He believed medical treatment should be available to all - not just the privileged... [read more]