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Abstract Detail

Botanical History

Flannery, Maura [1].

Francis Peyre Porcher and Medical Botany in South Carolina.

Francis Peyre Porcher (1825-1895) is best known today as the author of Resources of the Southern Forests and Fields, published in 1863 as a manual to assist Southerners in dealing with shortages in food, medicines, and other materials caused by the Civil War. Porcher was in a unique position to write such a work. Born in the coastal area of St. Johns, South Carolina, he graduated from South Carolina College and then received his medical degree from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1847. His thesis, A Medico-Botanical Catalogue of the Plants and Ferns of St. Johns, Berkeley, South Carolina, was considered so well done that it was published by the College’s faculty. He then spent two years enhancing his medical education in France and Italy before settling in Charleston. There he helped establish the Charleston Preparatory Medical School as an adjunct to the Medical College, where he taught clinical medicine as well as materia medica and therapeutics. He also co-founded a hospital for slaves in Charleston. By 1849 he had produced a Sketch of the Medical Botany of South Carolina, and in 1854 a report to the American Medical Association on the medicinal, poisonous, and dietetic properties of US plants. When the Civil War began, Porcher became a surgeon with the Holcombe Legion of South Carolina, and then at the Naval Hospital in Fort Nelson, and finally at the South Carolina Hospital in Petersburg, VA. Early in the war, the South’s isolation and lack of access to medical supplies made it imperative to use what was available locally. The Confederate leadership enlisted Porcher to produce his Resources that listed 3500 plants, 410 of which he considered to have useful properties. The book is massive, and while it was to function as a reference work, it is very readable as Porcher covers the history of plant uses and describes how to make various preparations. From the text it’s apparent that major problems were malaria, dysentery, and other infections, and one of the greatest needs was for soap substitutes to improve hygiene. Food plants were given much attention since there were severe shortages of grain and vegetables for man and beast. Today, as medicinal plants are becoming more valued, it is interesting to look at the work of someone involved in this field under far less than ideal conditions.

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1 - 204 Bellewood Drive, Aiken, SC, 29803, United States

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Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: HIST1, Botanical History
Location: Tucson E/Starr Pass
Date: Tuesday, July 30th, 2019
Time: 2:45 PM
Number: HIST1002
Abstract ID:482
Candidate for Awards:None

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