Plants, Minerals, and Molds Combat Disease Highlights in The History of Pharmacy

Plants were probably man's first source of medicine. The Chinese were said to have compiled a catalogue of medicinal herbs as early as 3000 B.c. Egyptian apothecaries, in 1500 B.C., knew how to compound herbs, mineral salts, and animal substances into salves, gargles, powders and purgatives.

Dioscorides, a 1st century Greek physician, compiled a herbal treatise that became a standard text on medicines for more than 1500 years. He described the narcotic effect of the mandrake root, which resembles the human body. Because it was believed that while being dug up the plant emitted screams that could cause madness, dogs were used to uproot it.

The first Dguggists were Arabs. By the 12th century, pharmacy had become a specialty with its own code of standards. arab druggists invented "sugar coating" by mixing bitter medicines with rose water and fruit syrups to make them palatable.

Paracelsus, an early 16th century doctor and alchemist, was the first to propose that chemical medicines could be used to combat specific diseases. About the same time, products from the New World and from the Indies, cinnamon bark, guaiac, and cinchona bark, became popular ingredients in Europe.

Poisoons, such as belladonna, have long been used for medicinal purposes. In the 1780's, William Withering developed digitalis from the foxglove plant for the treatment of heart diseases. In the early 19th century, experimental pharmacology was poineered by French physicians Francois Magendie and Claude Bernard, when they studied the action of curare and other arrow poisons.

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