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Introduction.

  • 1. THE Science of Botany was at all times intimately connected with medical knowledge.
  • 2. Several ancient nations, such as the Grecians, Romans, Hindoos, Chinese, &c. considered Medical Botany as equivalent to both botanical and medical knowledge.
  • 3. Medicine was then, and is still among rude nations, nothing more than the application of an empirical knowledge of vegetable substances.
  • 4. Thence the usual vulgar division of Plants, into the five great Classes of ALIMENTS, SIMPLES, POISONS, FLOWERS and WEEDS, or alimentary, medical, poisonous, ornamental and useless plants.
  • 5. At the revival of learning in Europe, this notion being general, the first works on Botany, were of course mere sketches of Medical Botany, and comments on Grecian or Roman writers.
  • 6. When Tournefort and Linnaeus, about a century ago, became botanical reformers, and made Botany a separate Science, their efforts and improvements were resisted by those who at all times contend against useful innovations.
  • 7. Linnaeus in his Materia Medica, gave a model of systematical Medical Botany, equally concise, perspicuous and accurate; but destitute of the help of figures.
  • 8. This model was followed by Schoepf in his Materia Medica of North America, the first general work on our medical plants, published in Germany and in Latin towards 1787. This small work of Schoepf has never been translated nor republished in America, although highly deserving of it.
  • 9. When America was settled, the native tribes were in possession of many valuable vegetable remedies, discovered by long experience, the knowledge of which they gradually imparted to their neighbours.
  • 10. This knowledge partly adopted even as far as Europe, and partly rejected by medical skepticks, became scattered through our country in the hands of country practitioners, Herbalists, Empirics and Botanists.
  • 11. Schoepf collected his materials from them, and noticed about three hundred and sixty plants as medical; but he did not go every where, nor exhaust the subject, since nearly double that number are actually in common use in different States of the Union.
  • 12. Since the United States have become an independent and flourishing nation, much has been done to teach and spread correct medical knowledge.
  • 13. The establishment of Medical Schools, Chairs of Materia Medina, of Medical and Systematical Botany, Medical and Botanic Gardens, Infirmaries, Hospitals, have largely contributed to impart Medical and Botanical knowledge, through the professional class.
  • 14. This purpose has been aided by numerous publications of learned Physicians and Botanists, Medical Works, Pamphlets and Journals, Pharmacopeias, Dispensatories, Inaugural Theses, &c.
  • 15. Notwithstanding all these means, it is a positive and deplorable fact, that but few medical practitioners, apply themselves to the Study of Botany, and therefore are deprived of the aid of comparative Medical Botany.
  • 16. It is not less certain, but still more deplorable that beyond the immediate sphere of medical knowledge, the majority of the people are yet in prey to medical credulity, superstition and delusions, in which they are confirmed by the repeated failures of Theorists, and the occasional success of Empirical Rivals.
  • 17. Even in large cities and in the centre of medical light, Empirics are thriving, because they avail themselves of the resources afforded by active plants, often neglected or unknown to the regular practitioners.
  • 18. It is not perhaps so wrell known that there are in this Age and in the United States, American Marabouts who like the Marabouts of the wilds of Africa, attempt in some remote places, to cure diseases by charms, prayers, blowing, spitting, &e.
  • 19. It is therefore needful to spread still further correct medical knowledge; and the state of medical science is such in the United States, as to require a greater diffusion of the acquired knowledge, aided by freedom of enquiry, liberal views, and mutual forbearance.
  • 20. The practice of medicine is now exercised in the United States by three sets of men or Classes of Practitioners. 1. The RATIONALS, the THEORISTS, and 3. the EMPIRICS.
  • 21. The RATIONAL medical men are liberal and modest, learned or well informed, neither intolerant nor deceitful, and ready to learn or impart information. They omprise the Improvers, Eclectics, and Experimentalists.
  • 22. The Improvers study nature and the human frame, write their observations, and improve medical knowledge.
  • 23. The Eclectics are those who select and adopt in practice, whatever is found most beneficial, and who change their prescriptions according to emergencies, circumstances and acquired knowledge.
  • 24. While the Experimentalists are those who are directed by experience and experiments, observations, dissections and facts.
  • 25. But the THEORISTS are often illiberal, intolerant, proud and conceited; they follow a peculiar theory and mode of practice, with little deviation, employing but few vegetable remedies, and enlisting under the banner of a teacher or sect.
  • 26. They are divided into many Sects, always at war among themselves and their rivals: such are the Brownists, Galenists, Mesmerians, Skepticks, Chemicalists, Calomelists, Entomists, &c.
  • 27. The EMPIRICS are commonly illiterate, ignorant, deceitful and reserved: they follow a secret or absurd mode of practice, or deal in patent remedies.
  • 28. They include the Herbalists, vulgarly called Indian or Root Doctors, and the Steam Doctors, who follow the old practice of the natives, the Quacks or dealers in Nostrums, the Patent Doctors, the Prescribers of receipts, the Marabouts, &c.
  • 29. All these classes need instruction on the natural knowledge of medical substances, and it ought to be afforded to them, that they may become properly acquainted with those which they employ or may avail themselves of.
  • 30. Medical Sciences have lately been widely enlarged, by borrowing the help of all the Natural Sciences; and the enlightened physicians begin to avail themselves of all the materials they can command, rendering all the Sciences subservient or auxiliaries to their pursuits.
  • 31. By Botany, the great majority of medical Substances are ascertained and become available: while the study of natural affinities enables to detect and compare botanical and medical Equivalents.
  • 32. Medical Botany teaching to know and appreciate the greatest number of articles employed in Materia Medica, is become indispensable to the enlightened physician.
  • 33. Vegetable Chemistry analyses vegetable substances, discovers their active principles, relative medical value, and ascertains the equivalent or incompatible substances.
  • 34. Even Pharmacy is become a science, by the aid of Botany and Chemistry. Druggists and Pharmaeians who sell vegetable Articles or Drugs ought to be botanically acquainted with them, so as to distinguish the genuine kinds, and detect the frauds or blunders of the collectors and herbalists.
  • 35. Works on Medical Botany are of two kinds, with or without figures. This last kind includes all the Materia Medicas, Dispensatories, Pharmacologies, Pharmacopeias, &c. which try to convey the knowledge of medical substances by mere descriptions.
  • 36. The other kind, and the most useful, employ, Iconography or figures, besides descriptive references, to give a complete knowledge of the officinal plants: such are the Herbals, Medical Botanies, Medical Floras, &c.
  • 37. A Critical List shall be given of such Works or Essays relating to our Plants, which have been consulted: but the three principal works with figures, deserve perhaps a separate notice.
  • 38. Bigelow and W. Barton published some years ago, and towards the same time, two voluminous and expensive Works on Medical Botany. Barton's Work in two volumes quarto, contains only fifty plants and figures, and Bigelow's sixty in three volumes quarto.
  • 39. Several plants are described and figured in both works, reducing the total number of medical plants given to about eighty, for which the price is about forty dollars or half a dollar for every plant.
  • 40. These imperfect and costly works have each their merit, and although not free from errors and omissions, are useful assistants to those who can afford to buy them. Bigelow's is the most learned, accurate and useful, while Barton's has often the best figures.
  • 41. It is to be regretted that these authors by following the expensive plan of Woodville's Medical Botany have lessened their utility and public circulation.
  • 43. Some years before the above publications, a herbalist or spurious Botanist, Samuel Henry, printed in New York, 1814, a Medical Herbal, comprising in one octavo volume of five dollars, about one hundred sixty medical plants, with small fictitious figures.
  • 43. This Work is merely mentioned here to warn against it. It is a worthless book, with incorrect names, wrong descriptions, erroneous indications, and figures mostly fictitious or misapplied. It is of no medical nor botanical account; yet it contains some of the Empirical concealed knowledge, available in a few instances.
  • 44. Works of general utility ought to be accurate, complete, portable and cheap. Such alone can spread the required correct knowledge, and suit every class of readers.
  • 45. The popular knowledge of the natural sciences has been prevented in the United States, by the first works published on them, having followed the model of the splendid European publications intended for the wealthy or public libraries.
  • 46. It is time that we should return to the pristine Linnean simplicity, and by the addition of cheap but correct figures of objects, engraved on copper, zinc, pewter, stone or wood, speak to the eyes as well as the mind.
  • 47. Such is the aim of the actual work, which is intended as a portable manual of Medical Botany, for the daily use of medical Students, Physicians, Druggists, Pharmacians, Chemists, Botanists, Florists, Herbalists, Collectors of herbs, heads of families, Infirmaries, &c.
  • 48. It was many years in contemplation, and publicly proposed ever since 1816. It is now offered to the public, as a humble attempt to render one of the popular branches of medical and natural science, attainable and available by all.
  • 49. The author has been collecting his materials for many years, while travelling through fourteen states of the Union, and lecturing on medical plants in Transylvania University.
  • 50. His qualifications for the task result from fifteen years of botanical and medical observations and researches, and 8000 miles of botanical travels, wherein he diligently enquired and elicited from the learned and the illiterate, the result of their practical experience.
  • 51. He has never despised knowledge because imparted by an uncouth mouth, and has often made experiments on himself and others to test peculiar facts.
  • 52. Several Physicians and Botanists in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington City, Wilmington, Winchester, Alexandria, Bethlehem, Pittsburg, Wheeling, Lexington, Bowlinggreen, Sandusky, &c. have at different times communicated to him additional facts, or confirmed the properties of some plants.
  • 53. He feels particularly indebted to the obliging kindness of several friends for many important facts or valuable communications, for which he feels happy to tender this public testimony of gratitude.
  • 54. They are Dr. Mease, and Z. Collins of Philadelphia.
    Drs. Short and Brown of Lexington.
    Dr. Eoff of Wheeling.
    Dr. Muller of New Harmony.
    Dr. Drake of Cincinnati.
    Dr. Crockett of Frankfort.
    Dr. Graham of Harrodsburg.
    Dr. Mac Williams of Washington City.
    Dr. Hales of Troy.
    Dr. Lawrence of New Lebanon.
    Drs. L. Beck and Tully of Albany.
    Drs. Mitchell and Torrey of New York.
  • 55. It has been ascertained that there are nearly six hundred medical plants actually known and used as such in the United States: many of which are merely medical equivalents.
  • 56. This number being too great for the purpose of a manual, one hundred and five of the most active and efficient medical TYPES have been selected, figured and described.
  • 57. The others have been referred to these as substitutes or succedanea, when they possess nearly the same ostensible qualities and properties. In fact they are mostly used for each other throughout the country.
  • 58. Those selected include all the species of Bigelow and W. Barton, with twenty-five additional species. It had been advised to reduce the whole number to fifty active plants; but guch a reduction would have left out many valuable plants and not offered a sufficient quantity of generic TYPES or typical Equivalents.
  • 59. When a Genus contains several medical species, only one is figured, unless their properties are quite different, and the others are mentioned with some remarks as equivalent substitutes. The plants of genera not figured are inserted in the general table or appendix.
  • 60. The Botanical alphabetic order has been adopted, as the most easy, obvious and serviceable, since no scientific arrangement could hare been equally available.
  • 61. The medical arrangements are as numerous as the writers on Materia Medica. Every plant having commonly many properties, cannot be classed into any definite medical order, but should belong to several at the same time.
  • 62. The defective and indelicate sexual system of Linnaeus is now too obsolete for the state of the science.
  • 63. The natural method would have been preferred, if the novelty of the attempt had not been anticipated as an obstacle to practical use.
  • 64. Most of the figures have been drawn by the author, and a few reduced from Bigelow or Barton; they have been engraved and printed in a style suited to the assumed purpose.
  • 65. For the sake of perspicuity and convenience every article is divided into sections. The names are at the head, and the Botanical name is the first.
  • 66. The English, French and German names are given, next the officinal names used in Pharmacopeias, and last the vulgar or common names of the country, which are variable in almost every section or state. When a plant had received several botanical names, the obsolete are given as synonyms.
  • 67. After the names follow the botanical and medical authorities connected, the generic and specific characters, the complete botanical descriptions, the locality or native places of growth, with the general history of the genus and species, forming the botanical sections of each article.
  • 68. The medical division contains the sensible and chemical qualities of the plant, with the medical properties, including uses, doses and preparations.
  • 69. Equivalent substitutes, and various remarks conclude the article. The plan of adding medical substitutes is borrowed from the excellent French work of Peyrilhe on Medical Natural History.
  • 70. The knowledge of those medical Equivalents will be found very useful, when the required plants are not obtainable, while some substitute may perhaps be procured. It follows of course that each Equivalent is viceversa a mutual substitute in most cases: although the plants are seldom identical in power and activity.
  • 71. Botanical accuracy has been strictly attended to throughout, and all the descriptions are original. To avoid other novelties, but few improvements have been attempted or suggested in nomenclature or criticism. The localities are however greatly extended.
  • 72. In the medical part, brevity has been adopted, without impairing accuracy. All the matter of Schoepf and subsequent writers has been incorporated. Nothing essential has been omitted, but discussions are avoided, and experiments merely stated in result.
  • 73. This order and plan has enabled to give a complete knowledge of the objects in all their botanical, medical, chemical and historical points of view: while the general principles of the science are prefixed as preliminary guides.
  • 74. If this labour may suit all the classes of readers and all those who employ medical plants, the wishes and object of the author will be fulfilled.

Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.



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