Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut

In his essay on the horse chestnut, botanist Jacobo Zannichelli proclaims the good fortune and glory of having discovered a new febrifuge (a medicine for fever). In El hypocastano, ó castaño de Indias, verdadero sucedaneo de la quina, arbol del Oriente (1774), a Spanish translation of an Italian letter from 1733, Zannichelli details his observations and experiments, conducted over a period of more than three years, work that convinced him the horse chestnut was a suitable substitute for the cinchona plant in fighting fever in human beings.

Scientific news that the horse chestnut was successful in treating pulmonary illnesses in horses aroused Zannichelli’s curiosity about whether the plant would also be successful in treating illness in people. The tree was already an established ornamental and shade tree in European gardens, allowing Zannichelli ample occasion to study and work with it. He began by drying a cutting from the tree, distilling a powder through several processes, and observing the reaction of the powder when mixed with acids and bile. Convinced that the horse chestnut was similar to cinchona, he then tried it on human subjects suffering from fever and other ills, and, by his accounts, to happy outcomes of restored health.

Following the essay is an appendix (which may have been written by the translator) describing the various means that people falsify cinchona powder or adulterate pure cinchona powder with powders of cherry, almond, aloe, and other plant matter. These abominable and deceitful practices put public health at risk, and the author makes an effort to teach doctors how to distinguish pure cinchona from false or impure. The author notes that all cinchona is not equal, and the best species is the rarest, while the lesser quality abounds.

 


This text was generously prepared by Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies.

 
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