The Illustrated Medicinal Plant Map of the United States of America (1932): Download It in High Resolution

Two years ago, we highlighted collector David Rumsey’s huge map archive, which he donated to Stanford University in April of 2016 and which now resides at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center. The opening of this physical collection was a pretty big deal, but the digital collection has been on the web, in some part, and available to the online public since 1996. Twenty years ago, however, though the internet was decidedly becoming an everyday feature of modern life, it was difficult for the average person to imagine the degree to which digital technology would completely overtake our lives, not to mention the almost unbelievable wealth and power tech companies would amass in such short time.

Similarly, when the above 1932 Medicinal Plant Map of the United States (see in a larger format here) first appeared—one of the tens of thousands of maps available in the digital Rumsey collection—few people other than Aldous Huxley could have foreseen the exponential advances, and the rise of wealth and power, to come in the pharmaceutical industry.




But the pharmacists had a clue. The map, produced by the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association, “was intended to boost the image of the profession,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “at a time when companies were increasingly compounding new pharmaceuticals in labs,” thereby rendering much of the drug-making knowledge and skill of old-time druggists obsolete.

Although the commercial pharmaceutical industry began taking shape in the late 19th century, it didn’t fully come into its own until the so-called “golden era” of 1930-1960, when, says Onion, researchers developed “a flood of new antibiotics, psychotropics, antihistamines, and vaccines, increasingly relying on synthetic chemistry to do so.” Over-the-counter medications proliferated, and pharmacists became alarmed. They sought to persuade the public of their continued relevance by pointing out, as a short blurb at the bottom left corner of the map notes, that “few people realize the extent to which plants and minerals enter into the practice of pharmacy.”

The map appeared during "Pharmacy Week" in October, when "pharmacists in Anglo-Saxon countries" promote their services. Losing sight of those important services, the Druggists’ Association writes, will lead to suffering, should the traditional pharmacist's function “be impaired or destroyed by commercial trends.” Thus we have this visual demonstration of competence. The map identifies important species—native or cultivated—in each region of the country. In Kentucky, we see Nicotina tabacum, whose cured leaves, you guessed it, “constitute tobacco.” Across the country in Nevada, we are introduced to Apocynum cannabinum, “native of U.S. and Southern Canada—the dried rhizome and roots constitute the drug apocynum or Canadian hemp.”

The better-known Cannibus sativa also appears, in one of the boxes around the map’s border that introduce plants from outside North America, including Erythroxylon coca, from Bolivia and Peru, and Papaver somniferum, from which opium derives. Many of the other medications will be less familiar to us—and belong to what we now call naturopathy, herbalism, or, more generally, "traditional medicine." Though these medicinal practices are many thousands of years old, the druggists try to project a cutting-edge image, assuring the map’s readers that “intense scientific study, expert knowledge, extreme care and accuracy are applied by the pharmacist to medicinal plants.”

While pharmacists today are highly-trained professionals, the part of their jobs that involved the making of drugs from scratch has been ceded to massive corporations and their research laboratories. The druggists of 1932 saw this coming, and no amount of colorful public relations could stem the tide. But it may be the case, given changing laws, changing attitudes, the backlash against overmedication, and the devastating opioid epidemic, that their craft is more relevant than it has been in decades, though today's "druggists" work in marijuana dispensaries and health food stores instead of national pharmacy chains.

View and download the map in a high resolution scan at the David Rumsey Map Collection, where you can zoom in to every plant on the map and read its description.

via Slate

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“Every Concussion in the NFL This Year” Documented in a Chilling Five Minute Video

Over at  The Intercept, Josh Begley, a data visualization artist, has posted a video entitled "Field of Vision - Concussion Protocol." By way of introduction, he writes:

Since the season started, there have been more than 280 concussions in the NFL. That is an average of 12 concussions per week. Though it claims to take head injuries very seriously, the National Football League holds this data relatively close. It releases yearly statistics, but those numbers are published in aggregate, making it difficult to glean specific insights.

I have been tracking these injuries all season. Using a variety of methods, including reviewing daily injury reports from NFL.com, I have created what I believe is the most complete dataset of individual concussions sustained during the 2017-2018 season.

The resulting film, “Concussion Protocol,” is a visual record of every concussion in the NFL this year.

He goes on to add: "This film does not make an argument for ending football. Rather, it invites a set of questions... When we watch American football, what are we seeing?" Or, really, what are we missing? It's only by "cutting together these scenes of injury — moments of impact, of intimacy, of trauma — and reversing them," that we "see some of this violence anew" and underscore the sheer brutality of the game.

It's worth reading Begley's article in full here.

via Kottke

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The Health Benefits of Drumming: Less Stress, Lower Blood Pressure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Consciousness

Drumming—from tablas to tympani to djembes—is universal, so much so, says author Sayer Ji, that it seems “hard-wired into our biological, social and spiritual DNA.” Drumming may well be “an inborn capacity and archetypal social activity.” But many modern people have become alienated from the drum. We outsource drumming to professionals, and machines. Neuroscientists theorize that drummers may have different brains than “non-drummers”—findings that suggest the activity is confined to specially-designed people. Not so, say many scientists who believe that “drumming has some profound and holistic uses,” as Luke Sumpter writes at Reset.me, “to enhance physical, mental and emotional health.”

In addition to anthropological evidence noting the centrality of drumming to human culture, abundant research has demonstrated its potential for personal healing. While drum therapy may be nothing new for cultures who have retained the practice, those who haven’t can learn group drumming easily enough with teachers like Peter Marino in the short clip above. The benefits, as studies have shown, include reduced stress and increased immunity. Group drumming may reduce anxiety and blood pressure, it may work as pain relief and boost positive emotions, and may even lead to “improved executive function” and a growth in white matter in the brains of patients with Huntington’s disease and other neurological conditions.




The evidence-based approach to group drumming’s socio-physical benefits should sway skeptics, even those likely to see drum circle therapy as some kind of hippy-dippy woo. Science-minded people without such hangups may also take an interest in studies of drumming as a “shamanic” activity that “induces specific subjective experiences.” As Michael Drake reports, one recent study “demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity,” which is “associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness.” Drumming with others “produces greater self-awareness” as well as a sense of interconnectedness, and can strengthen social bonds among adults as well as children.

While much of the writing about group drumming as therapy stresses more intangible, mystical benefits, no small amount of data suggests that the physical effects are measurable and significant. This is not to minimize the musical prowess of your favorite drummers, or to belittle the musical value of machine-made beats. But the research strongly suggests that not only is most everyone able to pick up a drum and get into a groove, but also that most everyone who does so will be happier, healthier, and more peaceful and tuned-in.

via Reset

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

“Inemuri,” the Japanese Art of Taking Power Naps at Work, on the Subway, and Other Public Places

If you've visited any big city in Japan, you've no doubt seen a fair few commuters sleeping on the subway. The more time you spend there, the more places in which you'll see normal, everyday-looking folks fast asleep: parks, coffee shops, bookstores, even the workplace during office hours. People in Korea, where I live, have also been known to fall asleep in places not normally associated with sleeping, but the Japanese take it to such a level that they've actually got a word for it: inemuri (居眠り, a mash-up of the verb for being present and the one for sleeping.

"I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s," writes University of Cambridge lecturer Brigitte Steger. "At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep." Amid it all, she heard many a boastful complaint that "We Japanese are crazy to work so much!" Yet "at the same time, I observed countless people dozing on underground trains during my daily commute. Some even slept while standing up, and no one appeared to be at all surprised by this."




Steger, who researches the social and cultural aspects of sleep in Japan, has found a rich subject in inemuri, which on a certain level "is not considered sleep at all," and in fact works more like "a subordinate involvement which can be indulged in as long as it does not disturb the social situation at hand – similar to daydreaming. Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when active contribution is required. They also have to maintain the impression of fitting in with the dominant involvement by means of body posture, body language, dress code and the like."

Inemuri, a phenomenon whose documentation goes back a millennium, also offers an unconventionally angled window onto several aspects of Japanese culture, such as the belief that "co-sleeping with children until they are at least at school age will reassure them and help them develop into independent and socially stable adults." That surely gets people more comfortable, in every sense, with the idea of falling asleep in a public or quasi-public space, as does Japan's famously high level of public safety. (Nobody who has somewhere else to sleep does so on, say, the New York subway.)

In recent years, as you can see in the TRT World report above, Japanese companies have actually made provisions for proper workday napping on the theory that a better-rested worker is the more productive worker. (And they couldn't be much worse-rested there: "according to the US National Sleep Foundation's poll of sleeping habits around the world," reports the Guardian, "Japanese workers sleep, on average, for just six hours 22 minutes on work nights – less than those in any other country.") That sounds forward-thinking enough, and the most intense days of the Bubble Economy have indeed long gone, but do bear in mind that in Japan, one still does occasionally hear the word karōshi (過労死) — death by overwork.

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“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How the Japanese Practice of “Forest Bathing”—Or Just Hanging Out in the Woods—Can Lower Stress Levels and Fight Disease

When the U.S. media began reporting on the phenomenon of “forest bathing” as a therapy for mental and physical health, the online commentariat—as it will—mocked the concept relentlessly as yet another pretentious, bourgeois repackaging of something thoroughly mundane. Didn’t we just used to call it “going outside”?

Well, yes, if all “forest bathing” means is “going outside,” then it does sound like a grandiose and unnecessary phrase. The term, however, is not an American marketing invention but a translation of the Japanese shinrin-yoku. “Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982,” writes Meeri Kim at The Washington Post, “the word literally translates to ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’ and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health.”




So what? We already have the examples of thousands years of Buddhist monks (and Thich Nat Hanh), of Henry David Thoreau, and the saints of the Sierra Club. But the oldest and most useful ideas and practices can get carelessly discarded in the frantic pursuit of innovation at all costs. The pushing of hi-tech outdoor gear, wearable activity trackers, and health apps that ask us to log every movement can make going outside feel like a daunting, expensive chore or a competitive event.

Forest bathing involves none of those things. “Just be with the trees,” as Ephrat Livni describes the practice, “no hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything.” You don't have to hug the trees if you don't want to, but at least sit under one for a spell. Even if you don't attain enlightenment, you very well may reduce stress and boost immune function, according to several Japanese studies conducted between 2004 and 2012.

The Japanese government spent around four million dollars on studies conducted with hundreds of people "bathing" on 48 designated therapy trails. In his work, Qing Li, associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, found “significant increases in NK [natural killer] cell activity in the week after a forest visit… positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.” Natural killer cells fight viruses and cancers, and are apparently stimulated by the oils that trees themselves secrete to ward off germs and pests. See the professor explain in the video above (he translates shinrin-yoku as taking a "forest shower," and also claims to have bottled some of the effects).

Additionally, experiments conducted by Japan’s Chiba University found that forest bathing lowered heart rate and blood pressure and brought down levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can wreak havoc on every system when large amounts circulate through the body. Then there are the less tangible psychological benefits of taking in the trees. Subjects in one study “showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores” after a walk in the woods. These findings underscore that spending time in the forest is a medical intervention as well as an aesthetic and spiritual one, something scientists have long observed but haven’t been able to quantify.

In their review of a book called Your Brain on Nature, Mother Earth News quotes Franklin Hough, first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, who remarked in a 19th century medical journal that forests have “a cheerful and tranquilizing influence which they exert upon the mind, more especially when worn down by mental labor.” Hough’s hypothesis has been confirmed, and despite what might sound to English speakers like a slightly ridiculous name, forest bathing is serious therapy, especially for the ever-increasing number of urbanites and those who spend their days in strip malls, office complexes, and other overbuilt environments.

What is a guided forest bathing experience like? You can listen to NPR's Alison Aubrey describe one above. She quotes Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, the certifying organization, as saying that a guide "helps you be here, not there," sort of like a meditation instructor. Clifford has been pushing health care providers to "incorporate forest therapy as a stress-reduction strategy" in the U.S., and there's no question that more stress reduction tools are sorely needed.

But, you may wonder, do you have to call it “forest bathing,” or pay for a certified guide, join a group, and buy some fancy outerwear to get the benefits hanging out with trees? I say, consider the words of John Muir, the indefatigable 19th naturalist, "father of the National Park System," and founding saint of the Sierra Club: In the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. The quote may underestimate the amount of risk or overstate the benefits, but you get the idea. Muir was not one to get tangled up in semantics or overly detailed analysis. Nonetheless, his work inspired Americans to step in and preserve so much of the country's forest in the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe the preventative medicine of "forest bathing" can help do the same in the 21st.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Coffee Naps Will Perk You Up More Than Either Coffee, or Naps, Alone

We've all had a cup of coffee after a nap. But maybe we've been doing it all wrong. Maybe we should put the cup of coffee before the nap. It sounds counterintuitive. But apparently the coffee nap--a cup of joe followed immediately by a quick nap--has some scientific merits and unexpected health benefits.

Over at Vox, they've summarized the findings of researchers at Loughborough University in the UK, who found that "when tired participants took a 15-minute coffee nap, they went on to commit fewer errors in a driving simulator than when they were given only coffee, or only took a nap."




Or "a Japanese study found that people who took a caffeine nap before taking a series of memory tests performed significantly better on them compared with people who solely took a nap, or took a nap and then washed their faces or had a bright light shone in their eyes."

The accompanying Vox video above explains how the coffee nap works its magic. The biology and chemistry all get discussed in a quick two-minute clip.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

brain exercise

In the United States and the UK, we've seen the emergence of a multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises. You've likely seen software companies and web sites that market games designed to increase your cognitive abilities. And if you're part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you've perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Whether these programs can deliver on their promises remains an open question--especially seeing that a 2010 scientific study from Cambridge University and the BBC concluded that there's "no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants..."




And yet we shouldn't lose hope. A number of other scientific studies suggest that physical exercise--as opposed to mental exercise--can meaningfully improve our cognitive abilities, from childhood through old age. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, writes The New York Times:

displayed substantial improvements in ... executive function. They were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand ... and had heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks. Tellingly, the children who had attended the most exercise sessions showed the greatest improvements in their cognitive scores.

And, hearteningly, exercise seems to confer benefits on adults too. A study focusing on older adults already experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved their spatial memory and verbal memory. Another study found that weight training can decrease brain shrinkage, a process that occurs naturally with age.

If you're looking to get the gist of how exercise promotes brain health, it comes down to this:

Exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.

That's how The Chicago Tribune summarized the findings of a 1995 study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. You can get more of the nuts and bolts by reading The Tribune's recent article, The Best Brain Exercise May Be Physical. (Also see Can You Get Smarter?)

You're perhaps left wondering what's the right dose of exercise for the brain? And guess what, Gretchen Reynolds, the phys ed columnist for The Times' Well blog, wrote a column on this a few years back. Although the science is still far from conclusive, a study conducted by The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that small doses of exercise could lead to cognitive improvements. Writes Reynolds, "the encouraging takeaway from the new study ... is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass."

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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