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Mountain Laurel
In full bloom during mid-June, the mountain laurel is the Pennsylvania state flower as enacted by the General Assembly on 5 May 1933.

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American Medical Botany (1817-1821), by Jacob Bigelow

Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879) practiced as a physician for 60 years in Boston and served as professor of Materia Medica at Harvard from 1815-1855. A distinguished botanist, Bigelow studied under Benjamin Smith Barton of Philadelphia. When Barton suggested Bigelow describe the flora of Virginia and Pennsylvania, Bigelow went one better and published his three-volume set titled American Medical Botany. This work contains 6,000 colored engravings as well as sixty colored plates produced using a special process invented by Bigelow. As one of the first two books published in America containing colored plant illustrations, Bigelow’s American Medical Botany quickly became an important reference work for physicians, botanists, and pharmacists.

In his preface, Bigelow stated he wrote American Medical Botany with the intent of offering to the public

... a series of coloured engravings of those native plants, which possess properties deserving the attention of medical practitioners. The plan will likewise include vegetables of particular utility in diet and the arts; also poisonous plants which must be known, that they may be avoided.
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For each plant included in his work, Bigelow listed its botanical history, results of his chemical examinations of the plant, and its medical uses. Each of the engravings also contains dissections of the flower and fruit from the highlighted plant. Many of the plants listed may not be familiar to us today (Fever Root or Henbane) but others have become very much a part of our culture.

Bigelow’s entry for the tobacco plant gives a particularly interesting history of the plant and attempts over time to control its use and growth. At one point he states that "there is no plant which has less to recommend it than the common Tobacco." Yet he also states that anyone "who had courage and patience enough to persevere in its use, until habit had overcome his original disgust...found in it a pleasing sedative, a soother of care, and a material addition to the pleasure of life." So it seems a tossup whether or not Bigelow partook of the weed himself.

While today Ginseng has become a "hot" herbal, in Bigelow’s time it was not considered medically valuable outside of China. For medicinal purposes it was decocted and used to treat chronic coughs or formed into a lotion for the skin. But mainly it was sold as chewing gum since people during the early 1800s had "acquired a habitual fondness for chewing it."

In addition to his efforts in medical botany, Bigelow also worked to promote the compilation and use of a standard American pharmacopoeia. In 1822, he published his Treatise on the Materia Medica which functioned as a "sequel" to the Pharmacopoeia of the United State of America published in 1820. Bigelow’s treatise operated as a handbook for the physician and dispenser. His book proved particularly helpful since he simplified the nomenclature but provided a "Table of Synonymes" that compared terminology between the American Pharmacopoeia and other works.

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