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Treatise of the Materia Medica

Identifier: Coll-1127

Scope and Contents

The bound manuscript volume begins: ' A treatise of the Materia Medica in which the Virtues of all the Simples of the three Kingdoms are truly described and they have been fully demonstrated by the accurate Observations of many truly celebrated Authors and particularly of the learned Dr. Charles Alston Professor of the Materia Medica and Botany in the University of Edinburgh and Reg. Prof. Botan'.

The text in the manuscript volume is organised into the following components:

  1. Of Metals
  2. Of Salts
  3. Of Sulphurs
  4. Of Earths
  5. Of Semimetals
  6. Of Stones
  7. Of Imperfect Plants
  8. Of Roots
  9. Of Barks
  10. Of Woods
  11. Of Leaves
  12. Of Fruits
  13. Of Berries
  14. Of Nuts
  15. Of Seeds
  16. Of Aqueous Gums
  17. Of Liquid Resins
  18. Of Solid Balsams
  19. Of Resinous Gums
  20. Of Condensed Juices
  21. Of Animals, and, Parts of Animals

Additionally, at the rear there is: Index Rerum; Methodus Pra scribendi; and, Forms of Compositions

There is a book plate of North Vigor M.D., inside front board.


  • Creation: 1745-1747

Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

Materia medica is the Latin medical term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing - it is 'medicines', or 'materials used for medicine'. In modern terms, this is 'pharmacology'. The treatise of materia medica, or compilation of medical substances, that forms this manuscript collection might be called a 'pharmacopoeia'.

The earliest such compilations were those supporting the (Ayurvedic) system of traditional Indian medicine from the 6th century BC. There were Greek and Chinese compilations too, then those from the later medieval Islamic world. In 1025, Avicenna, the Perisan polymath, physician and philosopher, introduced hisCanon of medicinewhich is considered the first pharmacopoeia.

By the 13th century AD, Ibn al-Baitar (from Andalusia) had described more than 1,400 different plants, foods and drugs, over 300 of which were his own original discoveries. His teacher, the botanist Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati, introduced scientific techniques in the testing, description and identification of numerous materia medica, separating unverified reports from those supported by actual tests and observations. This allowed the study of materia medica to evolve into the science of pharmacology.

North Vigor, from England, was awarded his M.D. from Edinburgh University in 1747. His thesis or dissertation wasDe Diabete. It was during studies at Edinburgh, and attending classes offfered by Dr. Charles Alston, that he would have written down the notes of materia medica that comprise this collection. Vigor became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (FRCPE) in 1758.

Charles Alston was born at Eddlewood (now part of Hamilton). He was educated in Glasgow, and then went to Leyden in the Netherlands to study medicine under Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738). There he met Dr. Alexander Monro, primus (1697-1767). Together, on their return to Edinburgh, they revived medical lectures at the University with Alston being appointed Lecturer in Botany and Materia Medica. He was also Superintendent of the Botanic Garden. Alston published various medical papers and an index to the plants in the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. In hisTirocinium Botanicum Edinburgense(1753), he attacked the Linnaean system of classification. Dr. Charles Alston died on 22 November 1760.


1 bound MS volume

Physical Location


Notes by North Vigor M.D., being 'A Treatise of the Materia Medica in which the Virtues of all the Simples of the three Kingdoms are truly described', (circa 1747)
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
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