NESBA Exhibit, Shaker Gifts: Seeds, Herbs and Medicinal Plants opens at Fruitlands Museum

This group exhibition by the New England Society of Botanical Artists came together from a thematic call for work celebrating the strong heritage of Shaker seeds, herbs, and medicinal plants in Harvard and the surrounding region. Inspired by Fruitlands Museum’s important collection of Shaker artifacts, including an Herbarium by Elisha Myrick, an early seed broadside from Shirley by Oliver Burt, and some of the earliest seed packets themselves, a packaging and selling system created by Shakers. Select paintings will be exhibited in the historic Shaker Office, with the main group on display in the Wayside Community Gallery.

The Shakers are credited with developing the idea of putting seeds in small paper envelope-style packets to sell to the general public.

Shakers sold hundreds of kinds of dried herbs, herb extracts, herb oils and herbal patent medicines, earning an income that rivaled or exceeded that of their horticultural specialty, vegetable seeds. 

During the 19th century, however, the Shakers were probably best known for the herbal and medicinal preparations. The the American public moved toward the practice of “vegetable medicine.” Herbs were ingested or applied in dry form, or via fluid extracts and compounded medicines. The Shaker physicians and herbalists were known throughout the United States, and even in Europe, for their expertise in growing, drying, pressing, and extracting botanical medicines. 

On April 13, Galen Beale met with NESBA members.  

The Shaker Medicinal Herb Business is fascinating.  Harvard, as you know, had a huge herb business. Originally the Shakers made Herbariums [I think Fruitlands has one] to identify plants, but the Shakers never got into full scale botanical drawings with the exception Helena Sarle.
I would talk about primarily the New England Shaker Villages, their herbs, catalogs, ephemera and medicines and the men and women who produced them. When I was herbalist at Canterbury Shaker Village years ago I became fascinated with their medicinal business and compiled my research into a book entitled "The Earth Shall Blossom, Shaker Herbs and Gardens".  So I love the topic!
Galen Beale


 The exhibit opened with a reception on May 23.
The Fruitlands Museum
102 Prospect Hill Rd
Harvard, MA 01451
May 15 - September 8, 2019
Closed Tues