Medicinal Plants in the Era of Synthetics: A Case Study of Belladonna and Parkinsonism

  • Jemma Houghton (Discussant)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


From the historiography surrounding twentieth century pharmacy, drugs tend to be examined within the context of the rise of synthetic drugs, biomedicine and the so-called ‘antibiotic revolution’. It is easy to assume that this was a period of gradual divergence from the more ‘traditional’ plant-based knowledge of the nineteenth century. Few focus on the place of plants in this changing medical landscape, and those that do focus on the narrative of plants to synthetics or exceptions to this (such as the anticancer drug Taxol and the antimalarial artemisinin). Through the case study of belladonna for parkinsonism, this paper will explore the changing role of plants in a conventional plant to synthetic narrative. In doing so, I will complicate the progressive transition towards synthetics and highlight the more complex relationship between plants and drugs in the twentieth century.
Period2 Oct 2018
Held atCHSTM


  • lunchtime seminar
  • history of medicine
  • history of pharmacy
  • Parkinson's
  • medicinal plants
  • belladonna
  • therapeutics
  • drug research