Thursday, 12 February 2009

Pharmacognosy Notables?

Today (and on several occasions in the past) I spent time helping Professor Terry Turner OBE, retired pharmacognosist/ pharmacist of Cardiff University, with the cataloguing of his pharmacognosy collection, some of which dates back to the 1920's. Prestigious such a project may sound (or at least it did to me when he first mentioned it last year), but it has actually involved spending whole days locked away in the bowels of the Great Glasshouse of the
National Botanic Garden of Wales armed with a bottomless supply of bin liners, latex gloves, paper towels and sometimes face masks (oh, and coffee!).

The job has involved going through nearly a hundred green plastic boxes full of medicinally valuable plant material from all over the world. Of this, we've been selecting reasonable quantities to be stoppered up in brand new glass jars to be archived or used in display and the rest have been slowly disposed of in whatever way was necessary.

Now the project is almost over and the volume of the collection has been more than halved. I can't say I'm entirely sorry since the quantity of dust produced by some of these ancient plants (many in powder or capsule form), and the extent of some of the 20 yr old infestations we occasionally uncovered meant the airless space under the Glasshouse was sometimes so thick I would be forced to go outside for 1/2 an hour while it settled.

Dirty and dusty though it has been, I have been fortunate enough to see some wonderful treasures come out of those boxes and to have Terry Turner share a lifetime of anecdotes about how medicines were discovered, harvested, prepared and tested. I thought it might be nice to celebrate this project, and attempt to cement and share some of the things I've learned with a regular 'Pharmagnosy Notables' post to highlight one or other of our finds.

So, tune in again soon and I may have even have taken some pictures to illustrate.

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