box moving

There and back again! A Materia Medica Tale by Jemma Houghton

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By Jemma

 

For the past few weeks I have been back at the herbarium returning the materia medica collection to their cupboards following work undertaken by estates.

materia medica boxes
Boxes of materia medica jars to be organised back into the cupboards.

 

half done cupboards
First cupboards filled with specimens.

 

This project is somewhat reminiscent of my placement year over two years ago at the herbarium when I photographed, databased and organised the collection into their current system.

materia medica jars
Completed organisation of the materia medica collection two years ago.

 

The materia medica collection at the Manchester Museum contains over 800 specimens of plants, animals and minerals that were used for medicinal purposes. It dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century and was originally used as a teaching tool for medical and pharmacy students at Owens College.

 

Following the 1858 Medical Act, anyone wishing to be a practicing physician first had to be included on the medical register. This required them to pass at least one of the qualifications recognised by the General Medical Council – such as those by the Royal College of Physicians – and the majority of these involved some form of examination into materia medica. As such, materia medica was an essential subject for any medical student during the nineteenth century.

 

The role of the materia medica collection as a teaching resource, therefore, meant that it was a vital part of medical education at Owens College. This was particularly evident given that the collection at the time had its own dedicated museum at the medical school!

 

The building that housed this museum no longer exists so the collection no longer has its own museum, but instead resides in the tower of the Manchester Museum as part of the herbarium.

Boxes and the Materia Medica

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Hello! My name is Jemma and I am the new placement student in the herbarium. I have had a fantastic and busy few weeks so far with Rachel and Lindsey. We have moved many, many, many boxes ready for the building work that is to happen in the herbarium. This has also meant that, for the time being, we have taken over archery with our herbarium sheets!

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I have also had a chance to research some of the items in my favourite room in the herbarium: the Materia Medica! Here are some of the weird and wonderful ones I’ve found.

rose petals
rosae gallica petala
colocynthidis pulpa
colocynthidis pulpa
belae fructus
belae fructus

lupulus

tung oil neatsfoot oil adeps lame hydrosus