Preface, Vol. 1.
In the catalogues of the Materia Medica, the productions of the animal and mineral kingdoms bear a small proportion to those of the vegetable. Though it must be acknowledged that for some time past the medicinal uses of vegetable simples have been less regarded by physicians than they were formerly, which probably may be ascribed to the successive discoveries and improvements in chemistry; it would however be difficult to shew that this preference is supported by any conclusive reasoning drawn from a comparative superiority of Chemicals over Galenicals, or that the more general use of the former has actually led to a more successful practice.
Although what may be called the herbaceous part of the Materia Medica, as now received in the British pharmacopoeias, comprises but a very inconsiderable portion of the vegetable world; yet limited as it now is, few medicinal practitioners have a distinct botanical knowledge of the individual plants of which it is composed, though generally well acquainted with their effects and pharmaceutical uses. But the practitioner, who is unable to distinguish those plants which he prescribes, is not only subjected to the impositions of the ignorant and fraudulent, but must feel a dissatisfaction which the inquisitive and philosophic mind will be anxious to remove, and to such it is presumed Medical Botany, by collecting and supplying the information necessary on this subject, will be found an acceptable and useful work; the professed design of which is not only to enable the reader to distinguish with precision all those plants which are directed for medicinal use by the Colleges of London and Edinburgh, but to furnish him at the same time with a circumstantial detail of their respective virtues, and of the diseases in which they have been most successfully employed by different writers.
A distinctive and characteristic knowledge of natural objects would certainly precede the consideration of their different properties and qualities; and with respect to plants, this knowledge is seldom to be adequately attained by a mere verbal description: accurate delineations therefore become necessary, and this department is committed to Mr. Sowerby, an artist of established reputation, whole talents are not less conspicuous in the correctness than in the beauty of his designs. It is justly a matter of surprise, that notwithstanding the universal adoption of the Linnaean system of Botany, and the great advances made in natural science, the works of Blackwell and Sheldrake should still be the only books in this country in which copper-plate figures of the medicinal plants are professedly given; while splendid foreign publications of them, by Regnault, Zorn, and Plenk, have appeared in the space of a very few years. These works however are far from superceding that now offered to the public; for without resorting to the invidious talk of pointing out their errors and imperfections, the author has the satisfaction of having exhibited Icons of several rare and valuable plants, which have never been completely figured in any preceding work whatever: and by subjoining some account of the botanical and medical history of each species, curiosity is more fully gratified, and a double interest is excited in the mind of the student.
Duplex est dos libelli.
Respecting the uses of Simples, the opinion of Oribasius will not be disputed, viz. "Simplicium medicamentorum, & facultatum quae in eis insunt, cognitio ita necessaria est, ut sine ca nemo rite medicari queat:" and it is a lamentable truth, that our experimental knowledge of many of the herbaceous simples is extremely defective; for as writers on the Materia Medica have usually done little more than copy the accounts given by their predecessors, the virtues now ascribed to several plants are wholly referrible to the authority of Dioscorides. It is however hoped that the medical reader will find what relates to this part of the work as complete as the flow progressive state of experience in physic will admit: with this intention, facts and opinions have been industriously collected from various authorities; and those adduced by Professor Murray, and the works of the late Dr. Cullen, have furnished the largest contribution.
The publication of this work in monthly numbers has afforded the author an opportunity of knowing already the sentiments entertained of it, by several Gentlemen of great medical and botanical authority; from whose unsolicited communications he has derived considerable assistance, and for whose friendly suggestions he desires to make his most grateful acknowledgments.