The Hortus Sanitatis (also written Ortus, Latin for The Garden of Health), was the first natural history encyclopedia, published by Jacob Meydenbach in Mainz, Germany in 1491. It describes species in the natural world together with their medicinal uses and modes of preparation. It is in part an extended Latin translation of the German Herbarius, the Gart der Gesundheit of Peter Schöffer, published in 1485, but unlike that earlier work also deals with animals, birds, fish and stones. The author does not restrict himself to dealing only with real creatures, but also includes accounts of mythical animals such as the dragon, harpy, hydra, myrmecoleonUsually considered to be a mythical creature of legend, it has also been identified as a rock hyrax. , phoenix, and zitironA mythological creature with an upper body in the form of an armed knight, fused with the tail of a fish. .
A second edition of the Hortus Sanitatis was published in 1491 and a third in 1497. A French edition by Antoine Vérard was printed in Paris in about 1500, under the title Ortus sanitatis translate de latin en francois. The last complete copy of Hortus Sanitatis appeared in about 1539, printed by Phillipe le Noir and sold in Paris under the title of Le jardin de sante.
An English version of extracts from the Hortus, the Noble lyfe & natures of man, of bestes, serpentys, fowles & fisshes, was produced in 1491 by Laurence Andrew (fl. 1510–1537). A facsimile edition was published in London in 1954 by B. Quaritch.
The book is divided up into sections as follows:
- Tractatus De Herbis (“Treatise on Herbs”)
- Tractatus De Animalibus (“Treatise on Animals”)
- Tractatus De Avibus (“Treatise on Birds”)
- Tractatus De Piscibus (“Treatise on Fish”)
- Tractatus De Lapidibus (“Treatise on Stones”)
- Tractatus De Urinis (“Treatise on Urine”)
- Tabula super tractatu (an alphabetic index of medicinal uses for the species in each section)
- Tabula Generis (an alphabetic list of the included species)