ArticlePDF Available

Doctrine of Signatures: An Explanation of Medicinal Plant Discovery or Dissemination of Knowledge?

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

The Doctrine of Signatures (DOS) is found throughout the world. Most scholars dismiss it as a “primitive” or “prescientific” idea. Despite its long history, the doctrine has had little critical review. A careful evaluation of signatures suggests four things. (1) There is no evidence that morphological plant signatures ever led to the discovery of medicinal properties. Considering DOS in this manner is unproductive and largely untestable. (2) Signatures are post hoc attributions rather than a priori clues to the utility of medicinal plants. (3) It is productive to redefine signatures to include organoleptic properties associated with therapeutic value. Plants with strong odors or bitter tastes, for example, commonly are found in pharmacopoeias. (4) DOS should be considered for what it primarily is—a way of disseminating information. DOS fundamentally is a mnemonic and, therefore, is exceedingly valuable in traditional cultures.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Advertisement

Full-text (1)

A preview of the PDF is not available
... He further argues that considering the DoS from the classical morphological perspective has rarely led to the discovery of medicinal plants and the approach is therefore unproductive and largely untestable. The DoS cannot therefore be considered scientific [36,37], although parts of its utility lie in facilitating the process of understanding the subjective, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of nature [38]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: There are high mortality and morbidity rates due to poisonous snakebites globally with sub-Saharan Africa having some of the highest cases. However, traditional medicine practitioners (TMP) have been treating snakebites in Uganda for long despite the fact that few studies have been conducted to document such vital and rich indigenous traditional knowledge before it is lost. This study aimed to document the medicinal plant species used by experienced TMP in treating snakebite envenomation in selected post-conflict parts of Uganda. An ethnopharmacological survey was conducted in Kitgum, Serere, Kaberamaido and Kaabong districts in Uganda. Twenty-seven TMP with expertise in treating snakebites were purposively identified using the snowball technique and interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires. Data were analysed using simple descriptive statistics. Results: Sixty plant species from 28 families were documented with high consensus among the isolated indigenous Ik tribe of Kaabong district. Most of the plant species used were from the Asteraceae and Fabaceae families with eight species each. The genus Echinops was the most well-represented with three species. The most commonly used plant species were of citation were Steganotaenia araliaceae (16), Microglossa pyrifolia (Lam.), Gladiolus dalenii Van Geel (13), Aframomum mildbraedii Loes. (11), Jasminum schimperi Vatke and Cyathula uncinulata (Schrad) Schinz (10) and Crinum macowanii Baker and Cyphostemma cyphopetalum (Fresen.) Desc. ex Wild & R.B. Drumm (10). S. araliaceae which was mentioned by all the TMP in the Ik community was used for first aid. Most of the plant species were harvested from the wild (68.75%) and were herbs (65.0%) followed by trees (23.3%). The most commonly used plant parts were roots (42.6%) and leaves (25.0%). Thirteen different methods of preparation and administration were used. Most of the medicines were administered orally (61.2%) and topically (37.6%). The commonest methods of oral application were cold water infusions (32.5%) and decoctions (21.7%). Conclusions: TMP widely use several medicinal plant species for treating snakebite envenomation in the selected post-conflict regions of Uganda
... This is the first report on the doctrine of signatures with O. amentacea with reference to snakebite. According to Bennett, [42], the Doctrine of Signatures is found throughout the world and has had a long history of use. He further argues that considering the DoS from the classical morphological perspective has rarely led to the discovery of medicinal plants and the approach is therefore unproductive and largely untestable. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Background There is high mortality and morbidity due to poisonous snakebites globally, with Sub Saharan African having one of the highest rates. However, Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMP) have been treating snakebites in Uganda for long. However, few studies have been conducted to document such vital traditional indigenous knowledge before its lost. The aim of this study was to document the medicinal plant species used by experienced TMP in treating snake envenomation in selected post-conflict parts of northern Uganda. Methods An ethnopharmacological survey was conducted in Serere, Kaberamaido and Kaabong districts in Uganda. Twenty-five TMP with expertise in treating snakebites were purposively identified using the snowball technique, and interviewed using semi structured questionnaires. Data were analysed using simple descriptive statistics. Results Sixty plant species from 28 families were documented with high consensus among the isolated Ik community in Kaabong district. Most of the plant species used belonged to the Asteraceae and Fabaceae families with eight species each. Additionally, the genus Echinops was the most well represented with three species. The most commonly used plant species by frequency of citation were: Steganotaenia araliaceae (16), Microglossa pyrifolia (Lam.) and Gladiolus dalenii Van Geel (13), Aframomum mildbraedii Loes. (11), Jasminum schimperi Vatke, Cyathula uncinulata (Schrad) Schinz (10), Crinum macowanii Baker and Cyphostemma cyphopetalum (Fresen.) Desc. ex Wild & R.B.Drumm (10). S. araliaceae which was mentioned by all the TMP in the Ik community was used as first aid. Most of the plant species were harvested from the wild (68.75%) and were herbs (65.0%) and trees (23.3%). The most commonly used plant parts were roots (42.6%) and leaves (25.0%). Thirteen different methods of preparation and administration were used. Most of herbs were administered orally (61.2%), and topically (37.6%). The commonest methods of oral application were cold water infusions (32.5%) and decoctions (21.7%). Conclusions TMP widely use several medicinal plant species for treating snakebites envenomation in the selected post-conflict sub-regions of Acholi, Teso and Karamoja in Uganda
... La dosis diferencia a un veneno de una medicina". 22,23 Aunque algunas propiedades físicas se correlacionan con atributos fitoquímicos -por ejemplo: los olores fuertes con la existencia de monoterpenos, el sabor amargo con la de alcaloides-, ellas pudieron llevar al descubrimiento de algunas plantas con propiedades curativas. En las medicinas tradicionales china y en la ayurvédica el sabor se usa como una guía para el potencial terapéutico de un compuesto. ...
Article
Full-text available
202 www.otorrino.org.mx www.nietoeditores.com.mx revisión sistemáticA An Orl Mex 2019 octubre-diciembre;64(4):202-228. Resumen ANTECEDENTES: El sentido del gusto es un componente fisiológico que desempeña un papel esencial en la salud, el comportamiento y la supervivencia del hombre. Sus receptores químicos son las papilas gustativas que detectan cinco sabores, aunque los humanos somos capaces de detectar miles de diferentes compuestos amargos. MÉTODO: Se realizó una búsqueda preferentemente en los idiomas inglés y cas-tellano (español), que abarcó artículos publicados hasta la fecha. La información obtenida se extrajo de distintas bases de datos, entre otras: Bing, PubMed, RefSeek, Scholar Google (Google Académico) y Science Direct; además de libros y revistas médicas utilizando la técnica de la revisión bibliográfica por palabra clave (key word): "amarga, amargosa", "hierba amarga", "metabolitos secundarios amargos", "planta amarga, planta amargosa" o la combinación de esos términos (en español e inglés, como bitter taste, bitter plant). RESULTADOS: Se presenta un listado resumido de 42 especies que elaboran dichos principios y que a la fecha se usan en la medicina. CONCLUSIÓN: Algunas plantas elaboran diferentes compuestos-principalmente acei-tes esenciales (mono y sesquiterpenos), alcaloides, cumarinas, flavonoides, glucósidos, heterósidos, saponinas-, etc., con la característica común de tener sabor amargo. Desde tiempo inmemorial tienen muy variado uso medicinal, algunas son tóxicas, por lo que deben usarse con precaución. PALABRAS CLAVE: Plantas medicinales amargas; etnofarmacología; etnomedicina; sentido del gusto; medicina tradicional. Abstract BACKGROUND: The taste sense is a physiological component that plays a vital role in the health, behaviour and survival of human being. Their chemical receptors are the taste buds that detect five tastes, although humans are able to detect thousands of different bitter compounds.
... Bennett (2007). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
One important finding about nature in Vietnam is there are only little studies about the ideas-conceptions of nature and about the relations between human and non-human in Vietnam. My main objective is to describe and to understand what are the conceptions and practices of nature in Vietnam today. To attempt to reconstruct the conceptions of the world and the relationships humans / nature (or “non human” (Latour 2004) in Vietnam, I will proceed in two ways. First, I will give an overview of historical landmarks of the conceptions of relations human/nature and human/human (politics), because Vietnam is one important place where traditional Chinese mode of identification and worldview (“analogism” Descola 2005) and modern Western mode of identification and worldview meet (“naturalism”) and build a new synthetic and hybrid way of thought and action. Second, some examples of what nature means in Sino-Vietnamese conceptions and practices will show the diversity of ways of thinking and acting nature. Historical process that built the current conceptions and practices of nature in Vietnam is deeply syncretic and hybrid. Three examples selected will help us to understand what are the diversity of Vietnamese conceptions of nature: a) Taoist conceptions of Nature where man can learn and experience to reach nature through practice. b) Man can integrate some powers of nature by eating them. c) In Vietnamese conceptions and actions nature can be built by and around the human in “nature garden”, similar in many points to Japanese notion and landscape calls “Satoyama” where biodiversity is built and maintained by human. These examples of contextualized conceptions and actions with nature can show how the analogical tradition can articulate, integrate, and oppose with different forms of naturalism in certain specific situations to build the current conceptions and practices of nature in Vietnam.
... Ubos colorado for "colorful grape" from Spondias mombin tree. These examples illustrated the important influence of the organoleptic properties on plant identifications or uses as previously described (Geck et al., 2017;Bennett, 2007), as well as their mnemonic functions: "Plants that are both empirically effective and easy to remember are more likely to be retained in oral traditions" (Shepard, 2004). ...
Article
Ethnopharmacological relevance: The plant species reported here are used in contemporary phytotherapies by native and neo-urban societies from the Iquitenian surroundings (district of Loreto, Peruvian Amazon) for ailments related to microbial infections. Inhabitants of various ethnic origins were interviewed and 81 selected extracts were evaluated for their antimicrobial properties against a panel of 36 sensitive and multi-resistant bacteria or yeast. Medicinal plant researches in the Peruvian Amazon are now significant, but none of them has focused on an exhaustive listing of identified species tested on so many microbes with standardized experiments (to obtain MIC value). Aim of the study: The aim of the study was to inventory the plants used against infections in the Loreto, an Amazonian region of Peru. It led to the new identification of secondary metabolites in two plant species. Materials and methods: Ethnographic survey was carried out using "participant-observation" methodology and focus on bioprospecting of antimicrobial remedies. Selected plant extracts and antimicrobial drugs were tested in vitro with agar dilution method on 35 bacteria strains and 1 yeast to evaluate their Minimal Inhibitory Concentration (MIC). Microdilution methods using 96-well microtiter plates were used for the determination of MIC from isolated compounds, and cytotoxicity in HepG2 cells from some selected extracts were also evaluated. Activity-guided isolation and identification of compounds were performed by various chromatographic methods and structural elucidations were established using HRMS and NMR spectroscopy. Results: This study outlined antimicrobial activities of 59 plant species from 33 families (72 single plant extracts and 2 fermented preparations), 7 mixtures, and one insect nest extract against 36 microorganisms. Of the 59 species analysed, 12 plants showed relevant antibacterial activity with MIC ≤0.15 mg/mL for one or several of the 36 micro-organisms (Aspidosperma excelsum, Brosimum acutifolium, Copaifera paupera, Erythrina amazonica, Hura crepitans, Myrciaria dubia, Ocotea aciphylla, Persea americana, Spondias mombin, Swartzia polyphylla, Virola pavonis, Vismia macrophylla). Examination by bioautography of E. amazonica, M. dubia and O. aciphylla extracts allowed the phytochemical characterization of antimicrobial fractions and compounds. Conclusion: This study suggested an a posteriori correlation of the plant extract antimicrobial activity with the chemosensory cues of the drugs and attested that those chemosensory cues may be correlated with the presence of antimicrobial compounds (alkaloids, tannins, saponosids, essential oil, oleoresin …). It also led to the first isolation and identification of three secondary metabolites from E. amazonica and M. dubia.
... Women's healthcare is crucial to human life in most cultures, including the Hmong in Thailand who use a large diversity of herbs as remedies for such purposes [47]. Plants with reddish color are believed to be efficient in the treatment of blood-related ailments; therefore, red plants are often used to treat health problems connected to menstruation [48]. Nguanchoo (2014) found that the Hmong used many exotic species to treat common medical problems, for instance, nutritional and gastrointestinal disorders. ...
Article
Full-text available
Exotic species are an integral part of the plants used by many ethnic groups, but they usually receive little attention and have been considered alien to the ethnobotanical data. Here, we analyze the plants used by Thai Hmong refugees that are not native to their current habitats in Thailand. We attempt to understand the sources of this knowledge. Do people maintain the original traditional knowledge related to exotic species when they migrate to a new region, or does new knowledge originate from acculturation? We interviewed 16 specialist Hmong informants in Nan province, Thailand, about their traditional knowledge of 69 exotic species used. Acquisition of this knowledge has a long history; several species are the same as plants used by the Hmong in China and other countries, others are globally useful species which have become part of the pool of species that the Hmong have developed local knowledge about. However, migration also involves the integration of local knowledge from other cultures, and also adapts them to function in urban settings. This includes using closely related exotic taxa that replace some of the species they used in their original homelands. The migrants’ traditional knowledge in their new habitats is more complicated and also involves the development of local knowledge that is entirely new.
... La dosis diferencia a un veneno de una medicina". 22,23 Aunque algunas propiedades físicas se correlacionan con atributos fitoquímicos -por ejemplo: los olores fuertes con la existencia de monoterpenos, el sabor amargo con la de alcaloides-, ellas pudieron llevar al descubrimiento de algunas plantas con propiedades curativas. En las medicinas tradicionales china y en la ayurvédica el sabor se usa como una guía para el potencial terapéutico de un compuesto. ...
Article
Full-text available
Resumen ANTECEDENTES: El sentido del gusto es un componente fisiológico que desempeña un papel esencial en la salud, el comportamiento y la supervivencia del hombre. Sus receptores químicos son las papilas gustativas que detectan cinco sabores, aunque los humanos somos capaces de detectar miles de diferentes compuestos amargos. MÉTODO: Se realizó una búsqueda preferentemente en los idiomas inglés y cas-tellano (español), que abarcó artículos publicados hasta la fecha. La información obtenida se extrajo de distintas bases de datos, entre otras: Bing, PubMed, RefSeek, Scholar Google (Google Académico) y Science Direct; además de libros y revistas médicas utilizando la técnica de la revisión bibliográfica por palabra clave (key word): "amarga, amargosa", "hierba amarga", "metabolitos secundarios amargos", "planta amarga, planta amargosa" o la combinación de esos términos (en español e inglés, como bitter taste, bitter plant). RESULTADOS: Se presenta un listado resumido de 42 especies que elaboran dichos principios y que a la fecha se usan en la medicina. CONCLUSIÓN: Algunas plantas elaboran diferentes compuestos-principalmente acei-tes esenciales (mono y sesquiterpenos), alcaloides, cumarinas, flavonoides, glucósidos, heterósidos, saponinas-, etc., con la característica común de tener sabor amargo. Desde tiempo inmemorial tienen muy variado uso medicinal, algunas son tóxicas, por lo que deben usarse con precaución. PALABRAS CLAVE: Plantas medicinales amargas; etnofarmacología; etnomedicina; sentido del gusto; medicina tradicional. Abstract BACKGROUND: The taste sense is a physiological component that plays a vital role in the health, behaviour and survival of human being. Their chemical receptors are the taste buds that detect five tastes, although humans are able to detect thousands of different bitter compounds.
Article
What kinds of relationships enable plants to become medicines? Can humans communicate with plants – and if so, how? In this article, the author engages with Western herbalists in the rural northeast of the United States as they transmit knowledge about medicinal plants. She focuses on herbalist teachings which use ‘the doctrine of signatures’ as a framework for the learning process of attuning bodily attention to plants. Herbalist modes of learning how to attend to, and thereby enable, communicative relationships of different sorts with plants have implications for the ways that humans understand the interconnectedness between human life and other kinds of life. Cross‐disciplinary multispecies studies may learn from herbalist practices as well, opening up a more vibrant set of possibilities for thinking about the connection, communication and relationship between humans and other‐than‐humans. The broader context of this cross‐species attention lies in the question of how humans and other beings can learn to attend to one another and mutually thrive in a time of environmental disruption.
Article
Full-text available
The justification for the use of herbal supplements with Pulmonaria officinalis L. extract (POE) in the case of staphylococcal lung colonization/infections characteristic for cystic fibrosis (CF), was examined in vitro. The impact of POE phenolic-rich fraction on the virulence attributes of CF-associated Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) clinical strains has been assessed, including pathogen adhesion, biofilm formation on native and protein-conditioned surfaces (mucin, elastin), mature biofilm eradication, staphylococcal protein A expression, α-toxin release, and S. a. adhesion to A549 cells. Cytotoxicity of the extract to lung epithelial cells was also investigated. It was found that POE has bacteriostatic effects at MIC 1⁻2 mg/mL, recognized as of limited efficacy, but at MIC/subMICs it targeted virulence not viability. It usually decreased S. aureus adhesion and less frequently inhibited biofilm formation on native and protein-conditioned surfaces. Observed effect seems to be related to significant reduction by POE of sortase A activity. However, in some cases POE favored the creation of biofilm by staphylococci and S. aureus adhesion to the lung epithelium was not limited. On the other side POE caused significant decrease of S. a. α-toxin synthesis and slightly weakened the expression of SpA. When used at supraMICs POE eradicated mature biofilm, but in some cases with unsatisfying outcomes. Promisingly, POE has been recognized as a safe product, with no cytotoxicity up to 4 mg/mL. These results reflect the positive, negative or neutral anti-staphylococcal properties of POE. It seems that POE may be beneficial as a prophylactic, but not as a therapeutic or supportive agent in the area of CF-integrative medicine. However, introduction the official recommendations needs further in vivo studies.
Article
Full-text available
Pre-Linnaean herbaria have a growing value for botanists and historians of science. A unique example is a four volume herbarium from the early 18 th century preserved in the archives of the Herbarium of the Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw. They consist of one, originally five volume set. We proved that the plants had been gathered by the famous naturalist Georg Andreas Helwing (1666-1748), and his son-in-law, Matthias Ernst Boretius (1694-1738), and they annotated and classified the exhibits. Boretius was born in Prussia, in Lec (now: Giżycko). He acquired his academic training in Königsberg and Leiden, and deepened it by scientific travels. He was the first in Masuria to promote vaccination against smallpox. Earning the reputation of a distinguished scholar, he was appointed Royal Physician and Crown Councilor of the Prussian court. He died in 1738 at the age of just 44, leaving the herbarium vivum-a magnificent remnant of his times. There are over 900 cards with glued specimen, signed in three languages: Latin, German and Polish. It includes vascular plants, liverworts, true mosses, clubmosses, algae and macrofungi. Boretius implemented the system made known by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708). His system divided the plant world into 22 classes, based on flower morphology but also retaining the traditional split into trees, shrubs and forbs. The choice of this arrangement by Boretius was an innovation; the earlier plant collections of his tutor Helwing lacked any attempt to classify plant species.
Book
Although Renaissance scholars generally agree that Della Porta was the finest comic playwright of his generation in Italy, no detailed analysis of these plays and of their considerable influence outside Italy has previously appeared. One of the most famous men of his time in the field of scientific investigation, Della Porta wrote plays for relaxation and, on occasion, to camouflage controversial aspects of his scientific research from the Inquisitions. Today his works in science are largely forgotten and his right to fame rests on the plays. This book brings together the available facts of Della Porta's rich and often mysterious life and closely examines his dramatic works as part of the Italian literary scene in late Renaissance.
Article
This book proposes a theory of human cognitive evolution, drawing from paleontology, linguistics, anthropology, cognitive science, and especially neuropsychology. The properties of humankind's brain, culture, and cognition have coevolved in a tight iterative loop; the main event in human evolution has occurred at the cognitive level, however, mediating change at the anatomical and cultural levels. During the past two million years humans have passed through three major cognitive transitions, each of which has left the human mind with a new way of representing reality and a new form of culture. Modern humans consequently have three systems of memory representation that were not available to our closest primate relatives: mimetic skill, language, and external symbols. These three systems are supported by new types of ''hard'' storage devices, two of which (mimetic and linguistic) are biological, one technological. Full symbolic literacy consists of a complex of skills for interacting with the external memory system. The independence of these three uniquely human ways of representing knowledge is suggested in the way the mind breaks down after brain injury and confirmed by various other lines of evidence. Each of the three systems is based on an inventive capacity, and the products of those capacities - such as languages, symbols, gestures, social rituals, and images - continue to be invented and vetted in the social arena. Cognitive evolution is not yet complete: the externalization of memory has altered the actual memory architecture within which humans think. This is changing the role of biological memory and the way in which the human brain deploys its resources; it is also changing the form of modern culture.
Article
Humans have borrowed plants' chemical 'recipes' for evolutionary survival for use in cuisine to combat foodborne microorganisms and to reduce food poisoning.
Book
Full-text available
Daniel E. Moerman presents an innovative and enlightening discussion of human reaction to the meaning of medical treatment. Many things happen in medicine that cannot be attributed to specific elements, such as drugs or surgical procedures. The same drug can workdifferently when presented in different colors; inert drugs (placebos, dummies) often have dramatic effects on people (the “placebo effect”); and effects can vary hugely among different European countries where the “same” medical condition is understood differently, or has different meanings, yielding different meaning responses. This lively bookreviews and analyzes these matters in lucid, straightforward prose, guiding the reader through a very complex body of literature, leaving nothing unexplained but avoiding any oversimplification.        .        is William E. Stirton Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and Secretary of the International Society for Ethnopharmacology. His recent book Native American Ethnobotany (1998) received the “Annual Literature Award” of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries for 2000.