Hospital, the nation's first hospital, was founded in 1751 by
Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond. The hospital was the first
such establishment dedicated to the care of "the sick, the
injured and those suffering from mental and nervous diseases." Franklin
maintained an active interest in the hospital, serving as the
first secretary, and as president of the Board of Managers.
On June 7, 1774, physicians at Pennsylvania Hospital attended
a meeting of the Board of Managers and heard a proposal to establish
a Botanical Garden on the hospital grounds. Such a proposal pleased
them mightily as a garden of this kind would provide physicians
with a ready source of ingredients for the medical remedies of
the period, almost all of which were based on plant material.
For a variety of reasons, chiefly financial, the Botanical Garden
did not become a reality until 1976, 200 years after the original
proposal, when it was "generously executed" as a Bicentennial
project by the Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America
and friends of Pennsylvania Hospital, including physicians and
other staff members.
The purpose of the Physic Garden is still to serve "that
noble institution," no longer as a living pharmacopoeia,
but as a living demonstration to future generations in the ways
nature continues to help the physician.
The Physic Garden
Plant materials in the Physic Garden were selected to be a representative
collection of herbs, trees and shrubs grown for medicinal purposes
in America's 18th century gardens. The ancestors of most of these
plants either were brought to America by the early European settlers
or were native, their use taught to the settlers by the Indians.
Some plants are still used today for modern medicines, such as
Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove) which is used as a heart stimulant.
The pharmacopoeia is constantly expanding, reaffirming a vital
aspect of man's necessary interdependence with the physical world.
In Colonial times, most diseases were believed to enter the
body from without and with malignant intent. In turn, most treatments
involved eliminating the evils from within, through bloodletting,
induced vomiting, hot or steam baths to sweat out the poisons
and purging. Purging involved the ingestion of plant concoctions
made either of whole plants or plant parts that expelled the
poisons. To be effective these potions had to be carefully chosen
to comply with the prevailing theories.
Most medical remedies of 17th and 18th century America were
based on the lore of traditional European herbals. The herbals
contained detailed descriptions and drawings of plants and their
habitat and prescribed their application, efficacy and method
of preparation as "physics" or remedies. A wealth of
precedents was added to the information in the herbals from medical
authorities of the past, quoting liberally from translations
of Greek writers, such as Galen, court physician to the Emperor
Marcus Aurelius; Dioscorides, a surgeon in Nero's armies; and
10th and 11th century Arab physicians. The information also incorporated
medieval and Renaissance astrological and alchemical principles,
elements from the Old and New Testaments and common superstitions
of the time.
The most popular and comprehensive of the herbals or medical
treatises, was the Herball of John Gerarde, published in three
volumes in London in 1597. Gerarde, a member of the Company of
Barber-Surgeons, was head gardener to the mighty Cecil family
of England during the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1633, 20 years
after Gerarde's death, the Herball was enlarged and edited by
Thomas Johnson. It was this edition that was used by the Colonial
forefathers and is still referred to today.
Medical schools did not exist in pre-Revolutionary America.
Aspiring physicians were apprenticed to those already experienced
and then often went abroad to finish their training at the old
and famous schools of Edinburgh, London, Paris, Leyden, Montpelier
and Rheims. All five signers of the letter requesting a Physic
Garden at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1774 received most of their
medical education at such places. While abroad they may have
visited some of the physic gardens attached to these institutions
and subsequently suggested similar plantings for their longed-for
garden at Pennsylvania Hospital. However, it is hoped on viewing
the Physic Garden today that all will exclaim like Gerarde in
his introduction to the Herball :
"What greater delight is there than to behold the earth
apparalled with plants, as with a robe of embroidered work ...
The delight is great but the use is greater, and joined often
necessities. In the first ages of the world they were
the ordinaire meate of men, and have continued ever since of
necessarie use both for meates and to maintain life, and for
medicine to recover health."
to 1751 - 1800