Oct 16, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Killer Herbs

Killer Herbs

Portrait of Benjamin Rush (detail). By Charles Wilson Peale c. 1818

Courtesy Joseph G. Brin © 2013

(page 1 of 2)

Benjamin Rush was one crazy, 18th century, multi-tasking dude. A colonial-era physician, he was variously a professor, an abolitionist, an opponent of the death penalty, a civic leader, treasurer of the U.S. Mint, the “Father of American Psychiatry,” the father of 13 children, a friend of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, a member of the second Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and  founding member of The College of Physicians in Philadelphia.

Apparently, though Rush had a certain impulsive, abrasive reputation (he was not above taking pot-shots at General George Washington that he later regretted), his energetic devotion to patriotic ideals and public service was undeniable.

Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745?-1813) had a dream to create a medicinal garden for fellows of the College of Physicians to replenish their supply of medicines. In 1937, the College's “Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden” finally blossomed around the corner from noisy Chestnut Street.

On October 19th of this year, the College of Physicians in Philadelphia/Mutter Museum will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with “Civil War Hospital Day,” an outdoor re-enactment of a field hospital with soldiers and physicians of the day as well as war-time treatments compounded from the Garden's medicinal plant trove.

Versicolor (iris blue flag). Gerard's "General Historie of Plants", 1636

Courtesy The College of Physicians

The Garden, representative of local and East Coast medicinal plants contemporary of Dr. Rush's practice, is based on the recommendations of a professional herbalist and volumes from the historical medical library of the College. One of the most well known medicinal plants in the Garden is the foxglove plant (Digitalis purpurea) that has been used for the treatment of cardiac conditions since 1785. 



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