Among the varied holdings of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew are extensive collections of plant material used as medicines. The jewel of these materia medica is undoubtedly the collection given in 1983 by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
History of the Pharmaceutical Society
In 1841 the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (later the Royal Pharmaceutical Society or RPSGB) was founded to strengthen and standardise the developing field of pharmacy. In order to ensure high standards of drug preparation and dispensing, the Pharmaceutical Society relied heavily on its extensive collection of crude drugs as a teaching aid in training students and practitioners. Botanical knowledge and understanding of materia medica - materials used in medicines, were vital to this rapidly evolving profession.
A major donation
Since its inception, the Pharmaceutical Society has had a close relationship with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Because of the steady flow of information and specimens between the two institutions it only seemed fitting that in 1983 the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain should donate to Kew over 10,000 historic specimens of materia medica, including crude drugs, herbarium sheets and slides. This material is now housed in the Economic Botany Collection (EBC) at Kew. Some historic collections of materia medica were retained by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and form part of its Museum in central London.
This unique collection came to Kew via Bradford University, where it had been housed since 1968. It contains several distinct historical collections. The Pharmaceutical Society collections were added to steadily over the years by many well known botanists, physicians, and collectors. Some noteworthy collections contained in the Pharmaceutical Society's Museum collection here at Kew, include the Maton Collection, the Hanbury Herbarium and Collection and several student materia medica. Some other highlights include a large collection of microscope slides, a cabinet of essential oils, and an extensive collection of Cinchona (quinine) barks. These are complemented by 10,000 crude drug specimens representing medicines in use between 1800 and 1950 and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's Herbarium of British and Medicinal Plants. A few of these unique collections are described on the following web pages.
Selected specimens are on display at Kew’s Plants+People exhibit in Museum No. 1, and the Collection is available for study by research scholars.