More identifications

The next folio is f14r. I would like to suggest one of the Curcuma species for this one (Turmeric and other plants). It’s tempting to go for a water plant or marsh plant for this image, because of the shape of the roots. However, the only plant that resembles this image is Barclaya and there are no medicinal properties listed for this plant. That’s why I find it hard to identify the folio with Barclaya. The root is a good fit for Curcuma, though. The leaf shape and the way they sprout from the root are a rather good fit too. The flower head on the image matches the inflorescens of Curcuma, if one compares it to one of the varieties with pink or purple bracts. Some varieties even have red leaf stems.
Also, many Curcuma species have strong medicinal properties.

Posted in Identification | Tagged | 1 Comment

Diverse identifications

The previous posts I made where of a more thematical nature. But there also a number of folios that have enough clues to identify the plants directly.

The plant on folio 2v has a thick rhizome that is typical for a waterplant.  The leaf is smooth and roughly heart-shaped. The flower has a bell shape and shows a bit of frill on the edges of the petals.
Suggested identity: Water snowflake (Nymphoides indica). This plant is known in Dioscorides as “malabathron” and as ayurvedic medicinal plant.

For the next plant (folio 5r) has Paris (Herb Paris) already been suggested. I follow that suggestion. There are two species in the genus Paris: Paris quadrifolia and Paris polyphylla. Both are used in traditional medicine. I can’t find any reason to favour the one over the other for this folio.
Folio 5v shows a plant with small red flowers. However, I think we should be looking for a plant with yellow flowers, since a yellow pigment hasn’t been used in the manuscript. I would like to suggest Common Tormentil for this plant. The picture presents a little puzzle, since the plant actually looks more like Hoary Cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) including the silvery backside of the leaves and having five petals instead of four. However, the Hoary Cinquefoil has no known medicinal properties and the Common Tormentil does.

For folio 7r the white waterlily (Nymphea alba) has been suggested. I couldn’t agree more.

For the next folio I would like to suggest a plant that doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list yet: Mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata). The folio is actually quite a detailed depiction of this weed, even down to the little hook on the stem that the weed uses for climbing. The leaves of the plant are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Folio 9r shows a plant with weird leaves, very pronounced roots and a flowering stalk that doesn’t much look like flowers. For that reason I would like to suggest Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) for this plant. The flowering frond and the roots are a good match, though one has to use a bit of imagination to fit the leaves with the actual plant. The plant has been used in traditional eastern and western medicine.

Folio 9v: Everybody agrees that this folio represents Viola tricolor (heart’s ease). Not much more needs to be said about that!

Folio 13r is thought by some to represent a banana tree. I can’t agree with that. The banana was introduced ito Asia and Europa after the time the manuscript was produced. I’d rather go with the other suggestion for this plant: Common butterbur (Petasites hybridus). Especially the root has been used in traditional medicine. This fits very well with the pronounced roots in the image. Also the leaf scars are quite natural.

Posted in Identification | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another “oldar” – f33r

There is another page in the herbs section of the Voynich manuscript that has the EVA “oldar” word: f33r. It is a plant with spear-shaped leaves and a pronounced root.  There are two faces depicted in the roots (I’ll return to that feature later). The ‘flowers’ are peculiar and could also depict seedpods. On top of the bulbous pod are petal-like growths. Inside are many pillar-like structures. The bulbous growth has a few details: some ridges and  dots that might represent hairs. The ‘flower’ might be a construct, that shows both the flower and the fruit.

To identify this plant, I first took a look at plants that might be known as “nard”, like the ones on page f87v. However, this proved to be a dead end. Next I looked into plants that have a connection with ‘musk’, since that is another common features of the “nard”-plants. That is where I encountered the Musk mallow (musk okra, ambrette, formerly Ketmia aegyptiaca). The leaves of this plants are quite variable and are 3-7 lobed. The bulbous pods bear a good resembance to the unripe seed pods. The stamina and pistil of the Musk mallow flower form a tube, which resembles the pillar-like structures in the folio. Of course, there is only one of those tubes in each flower.

The seeds of the plant have a musky smell and have been used since the middle ages, among others as ingredient for spiced wine known as Hippocras.

If this identification is correct, it might indicate that the Voynich word “oldar” is equivalent with ‘musk’.

Posted in Identification | Tagged , | Leave a comment

f87v – more nards

Continuing my search of the EVA word “oldar”, I found that this word appears also on page f87v. I find this very interesting:

In an earlier post I commented on the confusion about which plant actually represents the ‘nard’ or ‘spikenard’ of old herbals. On this folio are two pictures of plants that actually bear a good resemblance to some of those plants: Valeriana celtica (or Spikenard itself) and Valeriana officinalis or Ferula sumbul. The confusion existed already in the time of Dioscorides.
It’s nothing strange in old herbals that more than one plant is depicted on a page as varieties of a ‘kind’. For example, this page of the Ms2 (University of Vermont) shows no less than 14 “Lunaria”-plants.

The arabic name ‘sumbul’ or ‘sunbul’ which I mentioned earlier also could apply to these plants.

The plants of f87v are depicted is a much more naturalistic way than the plant on folio f34v. This is something that can be seen in other old herbals too. I would like to point to Ms2 again for comparison. Multiple representations of a plant are show on one page are shown here; some are naturalistic and some more schematic or thematic. I think this shows support for the theory that the Voynich manuscript is indeed a herbal which was compiled using one or more existing examples.

Posted in Identification | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Folio 34v – musk root

The Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) is also known as ‘musk root’, because of its musky smell. This opens up more possiblities for a match of the animal shape of the roots: musk deer.
There are multiple tales of how the musk deer was able to produce musk by eating the Spikenard plant. A number of them are mentioned by Anya King in “The musk trade and the near east in the early medieval period”.
The references she uses are mostly from arabic and persian sources. In persian and arabic the Spikenard is called “sunbul” or “sumbul”, though this name is used for several other plants too. A more specific name is the arabic “sumbul-al-hindi” (sumbul from India), or “sunbul al-tib” (the medicinal sunbul).
An arabic connection for the Voynich manuscript wouldn’t be too bad. I have already been looking at the many names in the manuscript that start with ‘o’. This really brings to mind the arabic ‘al’ that is attached to many words and names.

The connection between the Spikenard and the musk deer is a strong one, I think. An extra spicy clue might be that only the male musk deer posess a musk gland; and the picture of the roots in f34v hints at male animals…

If I had to pick the image on the recipe pages that matches best the plant shown on f34v, I would go for the one on page f99v labelled “chor.olekor” (EVA). “chor” is a voynich word that can be found on many pages. There are two versions of the word, that EVA doesn’t really make a distinction between. They look like this:

the second one could be called the ‘accented’ version and might actually represent a totally different word. The “chor”of the recipe page (f99v) is unaccented. However, “olekor” seems to be a unique word in the document.

On page f34v, there is a word that appears multiple times: “(q)oldar” (EVA). This word also is the label of another plant in the recipe section, on page f88r. I didn’t spot this before, but since I last worked on these posts I found an integral text of the manuscript in EVA and this helped me a lot.

The “oldar” word is in the center of the image and it refers either to the plant on the left (which has more or less an animal shape) or on the right (which resembles the actual spikenard roots).

Posted in Animals | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Folio 34v – continued

So why this bother to find out about the animal shapes of the roots in the manuscript? Well, the idea is to find the plant’s name that the author used. Plants are known by many names in many languages, so an identification like “it’s a viola” doesn’t directly lead to clues to decipher the manuscript. Instead, it’s more useful to try to find the name that the author used to refer to the plant. That’s where the animal clues could be very important. If the author took the trouble to draw a plant with roots in the shape of an animal, it’s very likely he thought of the plant as ‘animal root’. Checking the known names for the plant could possible lead to the written name of the plant.

In the recipe section of the Voynich manuscript there are some pictures that could be labelled with the name of the plant as the author used it.

f89r2 - opchosam

I selected this one because of the hairy tufts at the top of the root,  and the shape of the leaves.

The label reads (EVA): opchosam

f99v chor.olekor

This root has a definite animal shape and also shows some hairs at the top of the root.

The label reads (EVA): chor.olekor

f89v2 oschol

The image is a bit vague. But still two animal shapes can be made out in the root. There is a trace of flakes at the top of the root. However, the representation of the rest of the plant isn’t like f34v. This seems to be the least likely candidate.

The label can be read as (EVA): sheol though I prefer to read it as (EVA): oschol

Posted in Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Animal roots – folio 34v

The Voynich illustrations contain a number of plants with roots that are drawn in animal form. This is very interesting, since it might yield a clue to the identity of the plant that’s being depicted and it’s possible that the name of the animal will show in the plant’s name. What would be more natural than to call a plant ‘Snakeroot’ if it’s root happens to look like a snake?

Folio 34v looks like this (click image for full size):

Folio 34vIt shows a plant that has single flowers or flower heads at the tops of the stems. The leaves are simple, alternate, petiolate and smooth-edged, possibly with hairs on the margins. The shape of the leaves is round and possibly spoon-like. The roots are extensive and tuberous. The most distinctive trait is the mass of hairy or fleecy scales at the top of the root. The plant is a herb or small shrub.

Identification of this plant was hard, since I wasn’t able to find a plant that exactly matched the shape of the leaves. However, I think a good candidate is Nardostachys jatamansi (Spikenard). The identification is mostly based on the root and especially the fibrous mass at the top of the root. The position and overall appearance of the flowers matches the image. Sir William Jones, who named the plant originally, had this picture made:

Sir William Jones

It shows the plant having heart-shaped leaves. It doesn’t shed a light on the shape of the leaves in the Voynich image. However, Sir William’s description of the roots is very striking: “resembling the tail of an ermine ; … has precisely that form, consisting of withered stalks and ribs of leaves, cohering in a bundle of yellowish brown capillary fibres..”.

The animal connection is there too: ‘jatamansi’ is reported to be sanskrit for ermine’s tail, although Sir William Jones mentions that ‘jatamansi’ translates as ‘lock of hair’ in sanskrit. He however also gives ‘ermine’s tail’ as the description that a persian writer gave of the plant. The root of the plant in the Voynich illustration looks somewhat like a pair of ermines: elongated bodies, a long tail, and relatively short legs. The heads then should be in the center, at the tops of the root. This is somewhat odd, because that part of the root is being referred to as ‘ermine’s tail’.

When trying to compare the Voynich image with images from medieval herbals, things get a bit complicated because a number of plants were being referred to as ‘nard’, ‘spica nardi’ or   ‘spikenard’ . ‘Spica celtica’ refers to a different plant (Valeriana celtica), so does ‘Nardus montana’ (Valeriana montana), and ‘Nardus’ is a genus of grasses, but ‘Spica indica’ and ‘Nardus indica’ probably refer to Spikenard.

Here are some images of ‘Spikenard’ from old herbals:

The British Library Egerton 747University of Vermont Library MS2

Of course there is no way to be sure that these have any relation with the Voynich image!

Next some thoughts on the ermine-theme. In a sanskrit-english dictionary, I found the word ‘nakuli’ which is both used for the Jatamansi and for a female mongoose or ichneumon (Egyptian moongoose). This isn’t a strong connection, because both might be described as ‘the one with the musky smell’. It will have to do for now, though I will keep looking for other clues.

Posted in Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment