Invaluable recipes for today's health needs

22 April 2015

The School of Health Sciences is conducting ground-breaking research into a Renaissance medico-pharmaceutical text that could hold invaluable recipes for today's health needs.

Invaluable recipes for today's health needs

University of Canterbury doctoral student Sandra Clair

The School of Health Sciences at the University of Canterbury is conducting ground-breaking research into a Renaissance medico-pharmaceutical text that could hold invaluable recipes for today’s health needs.

In painstaking work PhD student Sandra Clair is unlocking a large, 400 year old Materia Medica, is a book of collected knowledge about medicinal plants that have influenced Western herbal medicine. Her research is being supervised by the School of Health Sciences Associate Professor Ray Kirk and Professor Dr Med Reinhard Saller from the University Hospital Zürich in Switzerland.

The book is the most comprehensive German language encyclopaedia on plant medicine in the early modern era and reflects a quantified approach to epidemiology and experimentally gained medical knowledge.

“The 16th century work was written over a period of 36 years at the peak of European plant-based medicine by German pharmacist, physician and botanist Theodorus Jacobus Tabernaemontanus, who systematically recorded the scholarship of physicians and local healers from antiquity to the early modern era,” Clair says.

“He describes more than 3000 medicinal plants and their preparations which represents a much larger therapeutic repertoire than in today’s official international list of medicinal drugs. The author’s scientific approach and systematic arrangement of plant monographs and its comprehensive register of herbal therapeutics and ailments in 10 languages, allows a logical way to navigate the complex information.

“The work’s enduring clinical information is still relevant for contemporary medical herbalism and inspired many modern drug developments such as pain relieving morphine and honey wound dressings.

“Despite the longevity of plant medicine since the dawn of mankind, high use by patients for self-care, and their importance affirmed by the current World Health Organisation’s Traditional Medicine Strategy inquiry into the effectiveness of traditional plant applications is a neglected area of medical research.

“Professionally trained herbal experts are necessary for an interdisciplinary investigation of pre-modern medical text books so that they can be understood for their clinical relevance. My research will contribute to new insights and a platform for testing old recipes. It will highlight historic indications of selected plants over several centuries and further compare them with the latest biomedical research in order to validate the rational of traditional practice.

“Using traditional medical knowledge for therapeutic use or a drug discovery is a fruitful approach. The compounding of the antibiotic substance Penicillin was first recorded by Benedictine monks in the eighth century and the recent recreation of a thousand-year-old medieval remedy for eye infections proved effective against the antibiotic resistant superbug staph infections.

“I have identified a promising Renaissance recipe to treat open injuries. It contains antimicrobial and nerve regenerating ingredients and warrants further investigation. We are not exactly sure yet why the ancient potion is so effective,” Clair says.

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University of Canterbury
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