The edition I have in front of me is the usual way we see Gerard's Herbal; a reprint of the 1927 edition edited by Marcus Woodward. Opening it, the illustrations and text look as if they have been lifted directly from the original printing in the early 17th century. In fact, some modernisations have been made to make it more legible, and in most paperback editions print and illustrations appear quite small.
Marcus Woodward's editing was simply a case of deciding what to include and what to leave out. However there is a short introductory section with a brief biography of Gerard, description of the original publication and Woodward's motes on the 1927 edition. Then we are into the Jacobean text. There are no footnotes, and the plants are given names in English. Gerard does mention Latin names in the text, but these are not necessarily the names as we use them now; Linnaeus' binomial system was devised later. Thus, reading it, we get a genuine flavour of what botanical and herbal knowledge was like at the time, but little that we can easily recognise today. There is no logical arrangement of the plants such as we would expect; because the modern idea of plant families hadn't been developed we find Nasturtium ("Indian Cresses") next to Watercress and Ground Ivy (a plant in the mint family) next to Ivy.
In Gerard's day the science of botany was subsumed almost entirely into herbal medicine, and there was a presumption that any plant would have some medical use. Native plants are mingled with exotic imports. The identifications, and directions for preparing them for medical use, are alarmingly vague. Reading of a very few entries makes it clear that whatever Gerard's status in his own day, modern herbalism owes him very little.
A section of notes follows the main text, in tiny print; Woodward identifies most of the plants described in a numbered list. Unfortunately this is far from extensive and several plants are not given Latin names; to add to the confusion, Gerard's use of Latin names is also indexed, but they do not necessarily match up with the modern usage. The index is organised by Gerard's nomenclature; Latin names are indexed but these entries refer to the notes mentioned above.
I got this book as a Birthday present and it is amazing. Originally written in 1636 John Gerard outlines each plant and gives its "vertues". It shows how people of that age thought, and what superstions they held. I also is very useful for identifying plants and herbs. One of my favourtie books