Drugs according to Daniel Hanbury

By Karen Horn, RPS Librarian

In 1842, knowledge of the origin and identity of imported crude drugs was limited. Drug adulteration was a problem recognised by the Pharmaceutical Society, much as it still is today.

To build public trust in pharmacists the Society decided that would-be members should be able to identify crude drugs, detect adulteration and know a drug’s botanical and geographical sources.  This is how materia medica came to be included as a subject for study at the Society’s newly opened School of Pharmacy.It was in this environment that Daniel Hanbury began his research, which ended in the publication of his and Flückiger’s Pharmacographia: a history of the principal drugs of vegetable origin, met with in Great Britain and British India.

The Pharmacographia:

Daniel’s articles on liquid storax, written for the Pharmaceutical Journal, led to Friedrich Flückiger making contact with him.  Flückiger was a Professor of Pharmacy and Pharmacognosy at Bern (later Strasbourg) University.  The two met in 1867 and their association led to the publication of their Pharmacographia in 1874.

The drugs included in their book are those ‘commonly kept in store by pharmacists,’ or those ‘known in the drug and spice market of London,’ and the work ‘contains a comparatively small number which belong to the Pharmacopoeia of India.’  Entries include a drug’s botanical origin, when it was first used in medicine, its microscopic structure and chemical composition, with sections also on production, commerce and adulteration.  The Pharmacographia is said to have been a recommended textbook at the School of Pharmacy.  It remained a standard reference work for many years.

Malaria treatment across continents

Cinchona (or Peruvian) Bark is a particularly interesting entry in the Pharmacographia, because quinine, extracted from the bark, was the first successful drug in the treatment of malaria.  In fact, quinine continued to be used as a first-line treatment for the disease right up until the 1940s, when synthetic antimalarials, such as chloroquine, were produced.

These days, artemisinin-based combination therapies are ‘the mainstay of recommended treatment for P.falciparum malaria.’ Like quinine, artemisinin is a plant derivative; as with Cinchona Bark, the Qinghao plant has been used for centuries, but in Chinese rather than Western medicine.  Artemisinin was isolated from Qinghao, Artemisia annua L. (sweet wormwood) by a Chinese phytochemist by the name of Tu Youyou.  She is one of only a handful of women to have received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Qinghao is not included in the Pharmacographia, so was obviously not known in London’s drug market at the time that Hanbury and Flückiger were writing.

Last, but certainly not least …

Whilst on the subject of the Pharmacographia, now seems an opportune moment to thank our wonderful Hanbury Collection cataloguer, Elspeth.  She is to be found volunteering in the RPS Library two days a week, and we really appreciate the work she does for us.

Contact the RPS Library to visit and see its amazing collection.


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