Detail of a woodcut of a squash vine with large leaves and flowers and several large round pumpkins.

Searching for Pumpkins

By Lindsay Franz ~

Pumpkin season is upon us! Pumpkin flavored coffee, candles, lotions and even beer are everywhere as soon as the season of Fall arrives. This modern-day trend puts a spotlight on a versatile vegetable that has been around for quite some time.  Pumpkins are not just used for decorations and flavoring your favorite beverage. This North American winter squash has been a nutritious option around the world for hundreds of years.  The National Library of Medicine (NLM) holds a number of early works featuring pumpkins including the 1597 book The Herbal or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard which features woodcut illustrations of pumpkins.

IndexCat™, an NLM bibliographic resource, is a good way to find other historical works on pumpkins and other topics of interest. IndexCat™ is the database version of the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, a multi-part printed bibliography that lists items collected between 1880 and 1961. The Library of the Surgeon General later became the National Library of Medicine. Material included in the catalog is dated from the 1400s through 1950. The digitization project began in 1999 and a final digitized copy of the Index-Catalogue was completed in December of 2001. The digitization of the Index Catalog allows users to search all descriptive information as direct search terms.

A gallery of three images, leather bound books on a shelf, a title page for the Index-Catalogue, and a painting of a man in an academic robe.

IndexCat™ citations are only from the collection of the Library of the Surgeon General and are a finite number of resources. However, when entering a search term, queries are simultaneously run across multiple NLM databases—IndexCat™, eTKeVK2, LocatorPlus, PubMed, and PubMed Central—and displayed in a series of tabs. The eTKeVK2 tab provides citations for medieval Latin and English texts. LocatorPlus provides access to NLM’s entire collection of 1.4 million journals, books, audiovisuals, and other resources and continues to grow.  PubMed contains more than 36 million citations and abstracts of biomedical literature, while PubMed Central provides access to selected full text journal articles and backfiles. Each database runs a search within its unique catalog. In each tab you can select items from the results for export in various formats. Clicking on a result in the LocatorPlus, PubMed, or PubMed Central tabs will take you to the item’s record in that database’s main interface.

A screen capture of the IndexCat search interface.

Running a search on pumpkins in IndexCat returns 22 results ranging through topics including pumpkin anatomy, tapeworm, and foreign objects.

Bibliographic entry for an 1856 article with the title "Expulsion of Taenia by pumpkin seeds"One cautionary 1898 citation in IndexCat™ is from a journal discussing foreign objects found in the bronchus. “The pumpkin seed was the object removed from the bronchus by aspiration.” A second resource from 1898 “report(s) of a case in which pumpkin seed formed the nucleus for a vesical calculus in the male subject.” One of the most common citations returned from the search is the use of pumpkin to treat Taenia, or tapeworm. A 1854 citation noted that “expulsion of tapeworm was successful by the infusion of pumpkin seed.” The oil extracted from pumpkins was a treatment plan for tapeworm. In one instance, pumpkin pie was identified as a “simple and efficient method of treatment of taenia.” A 1910 chemical examination of pumpkin seed is also cited.

The historical bibliographic references in IndexCat™ provide additional perspectives on the pumpkin, which has become an iconic element of contemporary culture. These citations remind us that medical research can reveal hidden depths to even commonplace things. Indeed, perhaps the pumpkin may be as exciting as the spice! The fascination with pumpkins may have evolved over the years, from its novelty as a uniquely American fruit with therapeutic properties to a key element of American seasonal rituals, but it is clear pumpkins have long been a favorite Fall fixture.

Discover more historical works on Pumpkins, or other topics, in IndexCat™. IndexCat™ data is also available for download in XML for computational research and data exploration.

Sample healthy recipes featuring pumpkins from MedlinePlus and learn about current research related to pumpkins on PubMed.

Formal portrait of a woman indoors.Lindsay Franz is a librarian in the History of Medicine Division.

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