Woodcut titlepage with botanical and alchemical decorations.

Palermo Book of Antidotes, 1670

By Margaret Kaiser ~

The Library has recently acquired a very rare pharmacopeia.

Nicolò Gervasi’s Antidotarium Panormitanum (Palermo book of antidotes) published in Palermo, Italy in 1670, is divided into 30 sections and describes the preparation of a variety of remedies.  Most of the remedies are prepared from plants, however, the author also includes sections discussing the medicinal properties of gemstones and minerals.

The first section of the pharmacopeia deals with electuaries.  An electuary is a paste containing a medicine which has been mixed in a sweet substance such as honey.  Gervasi describes electuaries made from flowers such as rose, hyacinth, and crocus, spices such as cinnamon, and gemstones including emeralds, sapphires, and rubies.

Gervasi was a botanist and chemist in Sicily and the Antidotarium includes sections on a wide variety of medicinal preparations including tinctures, pills, powders, extracts, waters, conserves, infusions, decoctions, syrups, oils, balms, plasters and poultices, and ointments.   Remedies for fevers, plague, heart problems, catarrh, and many others are provided.

In his botanical garden in Palermo, Gervasi collected plants not only from Sicily but also included exotic specimens.  Botanical gardens such as his not only encouraged and supported the identification and study of plants and the medicines which could be made from them but also served as centers for botanical research.

Access to this title is provided through LocatorPlus, the Library’s online catalog.  For questions about this title and other historical collections, including how to consult them, please contact the History of Medicine Division Reference staff at NLM Customer Support or call (301) 402-8878.

Margaret Kaiser is Acquisitions Librarian for the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Section in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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