Medicinal plant lecture: A Chinese triumph and an American awakening

When and where

19 September 2016
Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regents Park, London, NW1 4LE

Past event

Medicinal plant lecture: A Chinese triumph and an American awakening

Qinghao (Artemisia annua L.) in China's medical history by Professor Elisabeth Hsu, Professor in Anthropology, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford
American plants in Bobart's Oxford medicinal garden in the seventeenth century by Dr Stephen Harris, Druce curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, University of Oxford.

13.30 Registration

14.00 Qinghao (Artemisia annua L.) in China's medical history
Professor Elisabeth Hsu

Qinghao is first mentioned in a manuscript text unearthed from a grave closed in 168 BCE, and it is the only known plant (apart from two other species, A. apiacea and A. lancea) that contains the antimalarial substance Artemisinin (a chemical substance purified and identified in structure by 2015 Nobel prize winner Professor Tu Youyou and her team).

This presentation will outline the history of the herb known through an anthropological analysis of primary sources, namely the Chinese Materia Medica and recipe literature. It will also present results of a suprisingly successful ethnoarchaeological pilot study on a recipe from 340 CE, and the problems associated with putting ancient texts into contemporary practice.

15.00 Tea and garden tour of relevant plants: the garden fellows

16.00 American plants in Bobart's Oxford medicinal garden in the seventeenth century
Dr Stephen Harris

Since the third-century BCE the study of plants has been justified because of their uses as food and medicine. During the seventeenth century European academic institutions were concerned knowledge of indigenous medicinal plants was being eroded but at the same time many new, apparently medicinal, plants were being introduced from Asia and the Americas. This situation stimulated the emergence of physic gardens in places such as Padua, Leiden and Oxford.

The historical record of the plants growing in the Oxford Physic Garden during the seventeenth century is particularly rich, being based on printed and manuscript plant lists, herbarium specimens and drawings made by the first Keeper (Jacob Bobart) and his son. During this talk, this record will be explored to investigate how potential medicinal plants were identified in their home countries, how they were introduced to Europe and whether they became established in Oxford and Europe more widely. The focus will be on plants collected from eastern North America.

17.00 Refreshments