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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Robertson, Sara
  • Advisor(s): Dolan, Brian
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the transformative presence of plants in American allopathic medicine over the last two centuries. Within this span of time, plants have dominated the pharmacopeia, fallen out of therapeutic vogue, and now, it would appear, research interest in their therapeutic potential is on the uptick. Each chapter within this dissertation focuses on a different vantage point to analyze historical medical knowledge of plant-derived remedies. Chapter one scans the course catalogs of various American pharmaceutical colleges; pinpointing the moments when whole-plant remedies lost relevance and then lost a place within the American pharmaceutical curricula. Chapter two traces the evolving representation of plants in the United States Pharmacopoeia; utilizing Robert Proctor’s concept of agnotology to characterize the removal of knowledge from this canon of therapeutics. A third chapter examines the use of medicinal wine, a plant-derived remedy, in allopathic medicine within the context of cultural concern and regulatory limitations over alcoholism and alcohol consumption. And the final chapter discusses how the structure of science facilitated novel research pathways to reassert plants as potentially valuable for a modern pharmacopeia.

This dissertation offers a modern history of plants as medical objects. It traces a transformation of plant-derived therapies, from their whole-plant form as a cornerstone of pharmacy education and medical practice; to their gradual reductionism and multi-faceted displacement; to their modern resurgence from an entirely different industry. The histories in each chapter can stand alone, but their common thread makes them a cohesive representation of how significant pharmaceutical objects – drugs derived from plants – have been transformed over a span of two centuries to remain ever-present within the American medical compendium.

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