Gardoni Herbarium

The eclectic trace of a man's dream

By Sistema Museale Università di Parma

Indice ErbarioSistema Museale Università di Parma

This huge general original herbarium has been assembled starting from plants collection up to maintenance by the pharmacist Luigi Gardoni in the mid-nineteenth century. He dedicated all his life to collecting plants and to set up the herbarium with great accuracy. Scrolling through the manuscript you can feel the great commitment that he has put into this great work.

Armadio GardoniSistema Museale Università di Parma

The herbarium

The herbarium consists of 268 cardboard folders and more than 10.000 sheets which contain specimens of dried plants collected all over the world. It also includes 447 carton boxes containing parts of plants, advertising material, illustrations, parts of books and handwritten annotations. This miscellany is a cross-section of nineteenth-century pharmaceutical life and of the relationships between doctors and patients, cures and trades, humans and plants, science and superstition.

Indice ErbarioSistema Museale Università di Parma

His purpose

The Gardoni Herbarium is neither a pharmacopoeia nor a scientific herbarium, but the reason of life of a man poised between the desire to know and the anxiety to accumulate. It offers a very current historical insight into human expectations for better health conditions. At the same time it reveals a world in which many herbal remedies have disappeared in favor of new remedies considered more effective.

Saponaria officinalisSistema Museale Università di Parma

The cataloguing activity

The herbarium is being catalogued and digitized by the Botanic Garden staff. Being a conservative restoration, the texts are transcribed in the original language, maintaining also the errors and the ancient Latin names, with the addition of the updated binomial nomenclature. All pieces of information are collected in a single card for each species on the Samira online platform. At the present time about 1,200 cards have been published, equal to 1,700 folders, out of a total of about 10,000.

Manoscritto GardoniSistema Museale Università di Parma

An eclectic collector

The cataloguing activity has revealed a long transcription, titled “Degli Erbarj e modo di farli” handwritten by Gardoni himself, describing in detail the typical preparation methods of the time. The text is taken from a book dated 1802: Istituzioni botaniche del dottore Ottaviano Targioni Tozzetti pubblico professore di botanica e agricoltura. It testifies to Gardoni’s modus operandi, poised between enthusiasm and disillusionment, in constant search for information from various sources.

Viola arvensisSistema Museale Università di Parma

Since the transcription of the text was interrupted in half, the sequel can be read even so in the original book. It is curious that this sheet is in itself a folder of a specimen of Viola arenaria. We can assume that the author may have copied it for scientific interest and then turned it into a folder, given the high cost of paper at the time.

GypsophylaSistema Museale Università di Parma

Medicinal plants and recipes

As a pharmacist, Luigi Gardoni was competent in the recognition of medicinal plants and in the formulation of Galenic recipes to be used for the most varied health problems in full respect of ethnobotanical tradition. Even at that time the pharmacy was a place to look for remedies for both serious diseases and less serious illnesses, but also the right spot to find spiritual comfort.

DelphiniumSistema Museale Università di Parma

In pharmacies people could find plants for various uses, as illustrated by the text dedicated to Gypsophyla struthium, good for washing the most delicate coloured garments. The use of plants in daily life, nowadays little practiced, was then much diffused, for instance the flowers of Delphinium for dyeing sugar of blue in pastry-making or those of Cakile maritima in the production of soda.

Funerale GardoniSistema Museale Università di Parma

Funeral of Teresa Gardoni

Entering the Gardoni Herbarium means entering a man’s life. In addition to the plants Luigi Gardoni includes countless materials of his daily life, such as the list of expenses incurred for the funeral of Teresa Gardoni, born Scarpa, who died in 1849. The detailed list reports the costs related to each service: the precious wooden coffin lined with the finest fabric, candles and flowers for the altar and even the expenses for the hairstyle service. Also donations to various priests, sacristan, altar boys and bell ringer are reported.

Funerale Gardoni DettaglioSistema Museale Università di Parma

The tie with the deceased is not known, perhaps his mother or his beloved. It is surprising that such a list has ended up in the herbarium; it could be assumed to preserve her memory or simply to recycle good quality paper to keep a dried Sinapis alba in it.

Contabilità San GiovanniSistema Museale Università di Parma

Accounting activity

As chemist and pharmacist from family tradition, Luigi Gardoni shows a keen interest in medical botany from his early age until he turns it into a real mission, in particular after having met Giovanni Passerini and Giorgio Jan, both directors of the Botanic Garden. The time he does not spend collecting plants or setting up the herbarium, is spent managing the accounts, drawing up inventories and keeping accounts of earnings and credits. At that time pharmacies are already places of business in addition to being places to dispense health.

Promessi SposiSistema Museale Università di Parma

Use of books pages

Given the scarcity of paper available at the time, Gardoni has a habit of tearing pages even out of illustrious books to carry on his collection of plants. There are sheets removed from treatises on chemistry, geometry, philosophy, natural sciences and medicine.

Polygala vulgarisSistema Museale Università di Parma

Scientific soundness

However Luigi Gardoni may not tie his name to a work scientifically recognized, due to some fatal errors of approach and method. The limits of filing make the herbarium vulnerable to the level of systematic botany; the relationships between species and environment are ignored; the data on species, origin and distribution are poor. A greater space is reserved for the therapeutic action of plants, for certain etymological controversies, but also for legends and superstitions.

Polygala vulgarisSistema Museale Università di Parma

The plant specimens are supposed to come mostly from the province of Parma and Piacenza and from exchanges with Spanish colleagues. Nevertheless, Gardoni Herbarium offers new insights for scholars of ethnobotany, pharmacy and in general on the historical relations between plants and human beings in science and trade. From this point of view, we owe to the author a posthumous recognition of the scientific value of his huge work.

Elixir GuaranàSistema Museale Università di Parma

Old magazines and newspapers

Following the botanical tradition of using sheets of newspaper to dry plants, Luigi Gardoni hands down to us interesting news about the provincial society in the mid-nineteenth century.

Through the sheets that enclosed and pressed the plant species we are in possession of numerous cutouts containing the most varied information: long-distance conversations between readers, marriage requests, sarcastic comments to building activities, letters of complaint to the Director, opening of French hats and cloths shops for ladies, advertising for boilers, silkworms, elixirs, hair and beard dyes made according to Ottoman recipes.

LinoSistema Museale Università di Parma

Advice and recipes

In old times pharmacists prepared drugs with special formulations through skills often lost today. With regard to flax, Luigi Gardoni shows his herbalist knowledge illustrating in detail the necessary steps for the preparation of cataplasms and extracts rich in mucilage.

Delpbinium ricetteSistema Museale Università di Parma

Health rules

A part of the pharmaceutical know-how handed down from the herbarium has disappeared, because hygienic conditions and scientific notions have improved so much that the old remedies against intestinal worms, scabies, lice and fleas are no longer necessary. However, the great report of plants having these properties bears witness to the relevant spread of these diseases two centuries ago to the point of using very poisonous plants to eliminate those troublesome parasites.

AtropaSistema Museale Università di Parma

Poisonous plants

The toxicological aspects were and still are the linchpins of plant based remedies, according to the theory primum non nocere. Gardoni shows great attention to the theme of poisonous plants, widely treated in his manuscripts. He also gives details about the species similar to the toxic ones, a relevant aspect since at the time almost all medicinal plants are collected by herbalists who act in specific geographical areas.

Aconitum napellusSistema Museale Università di Parma

In the case of the Aconite, Gardoni explains: Aconitus Napellus is not located in Tuscany, which is why our herbalists bring to the pharmacies the leaves of Aconitum licoctonum, a variety of Pyrenaicum .... or the leaves of Herantius hyemalis or Delphinium velutium; but these last two plants cannot be regarded as medicinal plants. It is up to pharmacists to recognize this fraud and any doctor must be circumspect in using the aconite arriving from the herbalists workshops.

Read more about Gardoni Herbarium here

Credits: Story

Read more about Gardoni Herbarium here

Credits: All media
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