The enchanted herb: the work of early medical botanists in Australia

Med J Aust. 1987 Dec;147(11-12):568-72.


The surgeons of the First Fleet sought not only adventure, but new herbal remedies that were awaiting discovery in the Australian bush. Within days of the foundation of the Colony at Sydney Cove in 1788, therapeutic experiments with wild currants, Eucalyptus kino (Botany Bay kino), and local "greens" were being undertaken. Scurvy and dysentery--part of the nation's foundation--prompted both a hunter-gatherer approach to new herbal remedies, and an empiricism which has continued to the present day. At least four of the 10 doctors of the First Fleet were keen botanists, and their endeavours established a precedent for medical "botanizing" which has become a living tradition over the ensuing 200 years. Before the onset of the 20th century, some 50 doctors who had studied botany in Australia had had their names appended to the native flora of the new continent. The eponyms that are preserved in the taxonomy of the country's flora comprise one record of the living history of Australia.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Botany / history*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal*