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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Is Now Free Online

1,000-Year-Old Illus­trat­ed Guide to the Med­i­c­i­nal Use of Plants Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

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

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