Pedanius Dioscorides - Great Botanists Series

Pedanius Dioscordes-herbalist

Pedanius Dioscordes C. AD 40-90

Pedanius Dioscordes was a native of Anazarbus, Cilicia, Asia Minor, a small city northeast of Tarsus (now we call it Turkey). He likely studied medicine at the school in Tarsus, which had a pharmacological emphasis, and he dedicated his medical books to Laecanius Arius, a medical practitioner there.

Around the times of Nero and Vespasin Pedanius was a surgeon in the Roman Army and traveled with them to Italy, Greece, Northern Africa, Gaul, Persia, Egypt and Armenia. His travels gave him the oportunity to study a great many medicinal plants, animals and minerals.

Between AD 50 and 70 Dioscorides wrote a five-volume book in his native Greek "De Materia Medica" which was a list of known medicinal plants of the Roman Empire.

Although his "De Materia Medica" is an incredibly famous work, not much is really known about the life of Dioscordes.

Dioscordes was one of the earliest writers we known of to observe and identify plants at all stages of their growth, and in all seasons. He also noted and offered practicle advice on collecting and storing drugs, as well as their preparation and dosage (he was also known to trial drugs clinically).

His original non-illustrated manuscripts (which no longer exist), contained over 600 plants, 90 minerals and 35 animal products. The manuscripts were divded into 5 volumes as listed below:

Volume 1 - Aromatics, oils, salves, treesm shrubs.

Volume 2 - Animals, animal products and parts, cereals and herbs.

Volume 3 - Roots, juices, herbs and seeds.

Volume 4 - Additional roots and herbs.

Volume 5 - Wines and minerals.

The "De Materia Medica" remained the leading herbal text for sixteen centuries and during the Middle Ages it was copied by hand, and translated into over 8 Languages.

The oldest surviving and of course most famous copy is called "Vienna Dioscordies" and was created for Princess Juliana Anicia a daughter of the Western Emporer Olybrius. It was completed in Constantinople in 512 and is currently held in the Austrian National Library.


Painkillers featured prominently in the work of Dioscordes and he wrote of many remedies, such as for Toothache including the resin of Commiphora (Myrrh); the bark of platanus (plane tress) soaked in vinegar; a decoction of tarmarisk leaves mixed with wine; oak galls; the resin of Rhus (sumac); a decoction of mulberry leaves and bark; latex taken from the fig tree and Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean spurge) mixed oil; and a decoction of asparagus roots and Plantago (plantain).

Why read Pedanius Dioscorides herbal today?

Historically, it was the predecessor of all modern pharmacopeias.  But beyond its historical importance, it also gives knowledge of the herbs and remedies used by the Greeks, Romans and other peoples of antiquity, remedies that can still be used today.

If you want t know more about Pedanius Dioscordes and other Famous Botanists then you may want to check out "The Secrets of Great Botanists: And What They Teach Us About Gardening" which you can buy from our online store here.


  • Thoth

    The Book “The Secrets of Great Botanists: And What They Teach Us About Gardening” was a great resource for this post but not the only one. We do however really recommend this book which can be purchased from our store or from Amazon.

  • Pedaplagarus

    You may wish to credit the original author, Mr Matthew Biggs, and his book, The Secrets of Great Botanists: And What They Teach Us About Gardening.

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