Saturday, 14 July 2018

Louis XIV's Ginseng: Shaping of Knowledge on an Herbal Medicine in the Late 17th and the Early 18th Century France

Uisahak. 2016 Apr;25(1):111-45. doi: 10.13081/kjmh.2016.25.111. [Article in Korean] Lee HM. Abstract This article aims to investigate the shaping of knowledge and discourse on ginseng, especially among physicians and botanists, since its introduction to France from the 17th century until the early 18th century. In France, knowledge on herbal medicine, including that of ginseng, was shaped under the influence of the modern state's policy and institution: mercantilism and the Académie royale des sciences. The knowledge of herbal medicine developed as an important part of the mercantilist policy supported systematically by the Académie. The East Asian ginseng, renowned as a panacea, was first introduced into France in the 17th century, initially in a roundabout way through transportation and English and Dutch publications of travel tales from various foreign countries. The publication activity was mainly conducted by Thévenot company with the intention to meet the needs of French mercantilism promoted by Colbert. It also implied interests on medicine in order to bolster the people's health. The Thévenot company's activity thus offered vital information on plants and herbs abroad, one of which was ginseng. Furthermore, with Louis XIV's dispatching of the Jesuit missionaries to East Asia, the Frenchmen were able to directly gather information on ginseng. These information became a basis for research of the Académie. In the Académie, founded in 1666 by Colbert, the king's physicians and botanists systematically and collectively studied on exotic plants and medical herbs including ginseng. They were also key figures of the Jardin du Roi. These institutions bore a striking contrast to the faculty of medicine at the University of Paris which has been a center of the traditional Galenic medicine. The research of the Académie on ginseng was greatly advanced, owing much to the reports and samples sent from China and Canada by Jartoux, Sarrazin, and Lapitau. From the early 18th century, the conservative attitude of the University of Paris, which was a stronghold of conservative Galenic Medicine, began to change with its new interest on foreign medicine herbs, including Chinese medicine. In our opinion, this change is exemplified in a paper, that is to say in a thése de licence or thése quolibétique in French, submitted to the Faculty of Medicine in 1736 by Folliot de Saint-Vast under the direction of Jacques-François Vendermonde. During this period, the knowledge of Chinese Materia Medica was introduced, despite of textual adaptation and interpolation, through the "translation" of Chinese medicale books such as Bencao Gangmu. The Chinese medical books were presented to the French academic public by doctors and Jesuit missionaries active in China. The assessment of the ginseng was generally favorable yet, although physicians and doctors began to take more caution on considering it as a panacea. KEYWORDS: Académie royale des sciences; Botany; Ginseng; Herbal Medicine; Louis XIV; Mercantilism; translation PMID: 27301857 DOI: 10.13081/kjmh.2016.25.111 [Indexed for MEDLINE] Free full text