Exotic Plants in Italian Pharmacopoeia (16th -17th Centuries)

Federica Rotelli

Abstract


In the 16th century the arrival of new exotic plants from the Americas and the Orient enriched the panorama of medicines that were sold by the Italian pharmacies. The increase of knowledge on the therapeutic virtues of new foreign plants suggested to the contemporaries great caution before adding them to the classical texts of Dioscorides, Pliny, Galen and the Arab medieval authors. In the 17th century we witnessed a further increase in the use of these plants and the pharmacopoeias, which contained many medicinal preparations based on exotic plants, absent in the classical texts. However, the scientific paradigm in which European medicine operated remained throughout this period linked to the classic environment, and thus, medicine was unable to face the causes of major epidemics that afflicted the populations in those two centuries. The plague, syphilis, pneumonia, smallpox and infections were to go on being the scourges that could not be fought other than in a marginal way. Only for malaria, a new plant arriving from South America had an important impact: the Cinchona tree. Too little for a period that was full of progress in science.

 

Key words: Exotic medicinal plants - Biodiversity - Italian pharmacopoeias - Pharmacology


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