by Deb Shaw

Medicinal plant map of the United States of America, David Rumsey Map Collection, 1932. Author: National Wholesale Druggists' Association, Edwin Newcomb. Publisher: Einson-Freeman Co., Inc., New York.

Medicinal plant map of the United States of America, David Rumsey Map Collection, 1932. Author: National Wholesale Druggists’ Association, Edwin Newcomb. Publisher: Einson-Freeman Co., Inc., New York.

The year 1932 was a year of transition for the pharmacy industry. Historically, medicines had been compounded from plants. Botanical gardens and botanical art had originated with physicians describing diseases and the plants and other natural compounds used to treat and cure them. In the 1930’s however, pharmaceutical companies began to explore new synthetic drugs in the lab with increasing success.

The National Wholesale Druggists’ Association responded by producing a map of medicinal plants and highlighting their knowledge and skills in using them. Botanical illustrations of medicinal plants are shown as a border for the map, as well as in each of the States (minus Alaska and Hawaii) where they grow or are cultivated. Each illustration is accompanied with the Latin name and a description of the plant’s medicinal use.

The text in the lower right corner explains:

“It is important that the public does not lose sight of the fact that the professions of Pharmacy, Medicine, and Dentistry, each give an essential service, which must not be impaired or destroyed by commercial trends. The public and the professions will suffer equally if these services are allowed to deteriorate.

In pharmacy the public should understand something of the breadth of knowledge required of the pharmacist. Few people realize the extent to which plants and minerals enter into the practice of pharmacy, and how vital they are to the maintenance of public health. It has been stated that upwards of 70 per cent of all medicines employed are the products of plants. The more important vegetable drugs are obtained from about two hundred different plants which grow natively in different parts of the world. …”

More information is available in the Slate article by Rebecca Onion, “A Depression-Era Medicinal Plant Map of the United States.” The map is available for download (including in a high-resolution format) and prints are available for sale on the David Rumsey Map Collection site.

Thank you to the GNSI member that posted the link to this map, and my apologies for not being able to find the original post so I could locate your name and give you proper credit!

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