Photography BA (hons)

Rhea Mitchell

The Little, Long Book of Native Herbs

Risograph concertina book, plywood, cotton and muslin

The little book is a modern retelling of the large-scale British medical herbalist books the Playfair library once housed, specifically Botanicum Medicinale and Culpeper’s English Physician and Complete Herbal. A pocket-sized collection of thirty-two colourful risograph prints of British herbs and their traditional virtues, the work is intended as a companion for connecting and appreciating our natural landscape.

It has also been made consciously, utilising reclaimed and recycled materials.


Source material

Timothy Sheldrake Botanicum Medicinale: an Herbal of Medicinal Plants on the College of Physicians’ List…(London, 1759)
DiscoverEd URL

Shelf mark

Special Collections: K.15.33

Playfair location: K.15.33

Rhea Mitchell

Portrait & interview

1. What was it about this project and brief that originally appealed to you?

I really enjoy presenting my work in book form, so the context of the project appealed to me. As well as the opportunity to work outside of my normal practice (photography) and to experiment with different print-making techniques.

2. What was your approach in searching for material that you wanted to work with?

In the previous summer, I had decided to start learning about Herbalism. I was very keen to find a way to bring this into my work, so straight away I was drawn to all the lovely old Medical Herbalism Journals. 

3. Did you find anything about the project challenging?

I found figuring out the layout challenging, especially the selection process of choosing which herbs I wanted to include in the book.

4. What unexpected discoveries did you manage to make during your research?

I learned an awful lot about native herbs. I didn’t know it was still possible to forage such an abundance of herbs if you know where to look and how they were traditionally used. 

5. How has this project had impact on your art practice?

For my project all the pages are risograph prints, this was not a technique I’d tried before but really enjoyed. I now use this as the primary way to print my photographic work because of its unique and environmentally friendly nature.

6. Did your final output end up as you’d envisaged?

Yes, it exceeded how I thought it would turn out. Everything was digitally drawn and laid out, envisioning how it would print and then printing it was a little nerve wracking. So I was very relieved when everything worked out.

7. What advice would you give to someone doing this project next year?

To see the experience as an opportunity with which to experiment outside of your usual practice and play around with techniques you’ve been meaning to try.

Copyright & open licence

Copyright © Rhea Mitchell, The University of Edinburgh 2020 CC BY-SA

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

CC BY-SA license