The Doctrine of Signatures, Materia Medica of Orchids, and the Contributions of Doctor - Orchidologists.Vesalius. 2012 Dec; 18(2):99-106.V
The heritage of medicine is written in many forms. One repository is to be found in the history of orchids, the world's largest family of flowering plants. Orchids were so named by Theophrastus (c.372-288 BC) who recorded their medicinal use as an aphrodisiac and the promoter of virility, in the context of the Doctrine of Signatures. Such use endured for millennia, and was recorded both by Paracelsus (1493-1551) and Linnaeus (1707-1778). The history of orchidology and medicine are entwined in four domains: (a) orchids and their historical materia medica, within the paradigm of the Doctrine of Signatures; (b) the enduring and extensive contemporary medicinal and culinary use of orchids such as Vanilla and salep extracts of Orchis; (c) the scientific contributions of doctors as orchidologists; and (d) the heritage of more than a hundred doctors' names in the scientific etymology of the Orchidaceae family. Prominent orchidologists have included the Scottish doctor-soldier and botanist, Robert Brown (1773-1858); the Director of the State Herbarium at Leyden and the Rijks Museum, Carl Ludwig Blume (1796-1862); and Dr William Sterling MD (1888-1967). Among the more than 1250 genus names (and 33,000 species) of orchids are the names of more than a hundred doctors, their lives and works perpetuated in the scientific etymology of this family of exotic, beautiful, flamboyant, intriguing and often expensive flowers. Generic names record the lives and works of such as Aristotle (384-322BC) in Aristotelia Loureiro 1790; Cadet de Gassicourt (1769-1821) in Cadetia Gaudichaud 1826; Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) in Sirhookera O. Kuntze 1891; and Dr Theodore Daniel Vrydag Zynen (fl. 1820-1850) in Vrydagzynea Blume 1858. One of the principal horticultural genera of orchids, Brassavola, records the life and work of the Ferrara and Padua physician and botanist, Antonio Musa Brassavola (1500-1555). The first Slipper Orchid bred as a hybrid, Paphiopedilum harrisianum (by John Dominy [1816-1892], at Exeter in England) was named after his colleague, the Devon surgeon, Dr John Harris (1782-1855).