Monday, May 17, 2021

Nations and Their Contributions to the Growth of Pharmacy

by | February 29, 2020 2

1. Mesopotamia (current Iraq and Iran) 2600BC

They were the first to put medicinal knowledge into writing and so were regarded as the forerunner of the pharmacist. They were also credited for the discovery of oils (castor oil), spices, garlic, plant extracts and animal parts that are of therapeutic importance. Practitioners combined the responsibilities of priest, physician, and pharmacist in caring for the sick.

2. China (2000BC)

According to legend, Emperor Shen Nung was the one who propagated Chinese pharmacy. He investigated the medical properties of hundreds of herbs and was believed to have tested then on himself.  He recorded and published a book (the Great Herbal) where he recorded 365 native herbal drugs in the first pen T’sao. The Chinese believed that diseases resulted from imbalance in forces acting on animals and humans so they produced herbal drugs with spiritual effect e.g. podophyllum, rhubarb, cinnamon, ginseng etc.

3. Egypt (the Days of the Papyrus Ebers) 2900BC

The Egyptians played significant role in the development of pharmacy. They developed the best known and most important pharmaceutical record from ancient history “Papyrus Ebers” which is a collection of 800 prescriptions, mentioning 700 drugs. They discovered dosage forms like decoction, enemas, infusions, inhalation, suppositories, ointments, plasters, and lotions. They also prepared drugs using mortar and pestle, hand-mill and weighing balance. Most of the Egyptian pharmacists were priests who were either gatherers/preparers of drugs, and “chiefs of fabrication,” or head pharmacists.

4. Greece

They refined pharmacy. They took over medicinal knowledge starting with superstitions but later turned to intellectual and rational use of drugs. During the superstitious era was Asclepius (Asklepios), a god of healing which had a staff with serpent curling on it. It was believed that one gets healed when touched with the staff. (This is where physicians got their symbol from). Hygeia (Asclepius’ daughter) was also believed to heal by giving one a healing portion to drink from a bowel (This is where pharmacists got their symbol of mortar).
Greek philosophers that contributed to the growth of pharmacy include:

  • Theophrastus (about 300 B.C.)– a natural scientists, also called “father of botany” who covered most aspects of botany: descriptions of plants, classification, plant distribution, propagation, germination, and cultivation.
  • Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (about 100 B.C.) – The royal toxicologist who spent his time studying the art of preventing and counteracting poisoning.
  • Hippocrates of Cos – a physician credited for being the first person to see medicine as a rational science and for writing the Hippocratic Oath. He also postulated the theory of the four humors that parallel the four elements – air (blood), water (phlegm), earth (black bile), fire (yellow bile).
  • Galen (130-200 A.D.) –the greatest of all Greek philosophers who taught and practiced principles of preparing and compounding medicines by mechanical means (galenicals).
  • Pedanios Dioscorides – a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De Materia Medica (a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia on excellent rules for collection, storage and use of herbs and related medicinal substances).

5. Europe and America

Pharmacy in Europe experienced growth as a result of the then evolution of new area like biochemistry, microbiology, biology etc. They discovered some important alkaloids like quinine, morphine and emetine.
Some of the notable European contributors include:

  • Paracelsus (Switzerland, 1493-1541 A.D) – He was regarded as the reformer of medicine and the founder of biochemistry. He introduced the use of chemicals and minerals as medicinal agents.  He also introduced the extraction of secondary metabolites from medicinal plants.
  • Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1743- 1786 A.D)– He is the Greatest of the Pharmacists-Chemists who discovered oxygen, chlorine, prussic acid, tartaric acid, tungsten, molybdenum, glycerin, nitroglycerin, and countless other organic compounds in the course of his experiments in Köping.
  • Louis Pasteur (1822-1897) – He worked mainly on alcohol and developed vaccines for chicken pox, cholera, anthrax and rabies. He also invented pasteurization method of sterilization.
  • Robert Koch– He discovered the causative organisms of tuberculosis and anthraces. He established a relationship between a microorganism and a specific infectious disease condition (Koch’s postulates or “Henle-Koch postulates). He also developed solid culture media.
  • Alexander Fleming – His research in antibiotics lead to the discovery of penicillin. He also discovered lysozyme.

Some of the notable American contributors include:

  • Louis Herbert – He is the first Canadian apothecary. He examined specimens of drug plants – Arum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit), Eupatorium (Boneset), Verbascum (Mullein), and Hydrastis (Golden Seal) offered by Micmac Indians.
  • John Winthrop – a politician-physician and first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony with broad interests in chemistry, metallurgy, astronomy, botany, and Materia Medica. He developed “sovereigne remedy” that he called “rubila,” which he believed was effective in the treatment of measles, colics, headaches, sciatica and many other ailments.
  • William Procter – Also known as the father of American pharmacy. He operated a retail pharmacy; served the College as Professor of Pharmacy for 20 years; was a leader in founding The American Pharmaceutical Association; served that organization as its first secretary; later, as its president; served 30 years on the U.S.P and many more.
  • Christopher Marshell – established anapothecary shop in Philadelphia in1729 which pioneer pharmaceutical enterprise and later became a leading retail store, nucleus of large-scale chemical manufacturing, a “practical” training school for pharmacists and an important supply depot during the Revolution.

Read Also: History of Pharmacy

Willey J. M, Sherwood L. and Woolverton C.J. (2011). Prescott’s Microbiology (8th Ed.). USA: McGraw-Hill.


  1. phar. aslam cop says:

    Dear sir/madam

    i am reading this website content from last many days. i am gaining in my knowledge. your efforts is very novel & marvelous.
    when i was reading the article “Nations and Their Contributions to the Growth of Pharmacy” i become surprised and disappoint as well. why you have not included the India’s contribution.

    hope you will update this article by including india’s contribution.


    • Calistus Ozioko says:

      Thanks for your observation. I promise to include India’s contribution in the next update.

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