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September 2022

Surv Ophthalmol. 1992 Mar-Apr; 36(5): 357-65.

Ophthalmology's botanical heritage.

Packer M, Brandt JD.

School of Medicine, University of California, Davis.

Many of today's important ophthalmic pharmaceuticals have a rich ethnobotanical history. Solanaceous plants, the source of atropine, have contributed to medical therapy since the beginning of Western civilization. The botanical source of physostigmine played a pivotal role as an ordeal poison in the culture of Old Calabar, West Africa. Native peoples of Amazonia treasured plants containing pilocarpine as panaceas because of their impressive diaphoretic effect. Nineteenth century scientists examining these plants because of their folkloric reputations discovered their active compounds and documented their physiological effects. Ophthalmologists such as Argyll Robertson, Laqueur, and Weber built upon this research to bring these pharmaceuticals into therapeutic use. The ongoing loss of the world's tropical rain forests threatens to destroy a vast storehouse of untested biological compounds.

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