Drugs of plant origin from the “Carlo Erba” collection of the Botanical Museum in Portici “Orazio Comes


The aim of this paper is to illustrate the origin and composition of a collection of 192 plant drugs, based on archival documents from 1932 to 1940. This unique collection was produced in 1937 by the pharmaceutical company “Carlo Erba” of Milan at the request of prof. Giuseppe Catalano, director of the Botanical Institute in Portici. The 192 plant drugs, coming from almost all continents, belong to 78 botanical families among which the Asteraceae with 17 species and the Fabaceae with 15 species are the most represented. Twenty-eight of them are classified as poisonous even if used for a long time in the Italian and European pharmacopoeia. One hundred eleven plant samples from the collection were already known as plant remedies and described in two ancient books in the Historical Library of the Orazio Comes Botanical Museum, dedicated to medicinal plants: the first dated 1585 and the second dated 1712. Among the many plant species that make it up, 13 of them have been selected for their anticancer effect which has either been known since long or is currently being studied.

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  1. 1.

    Herbario nuouo di Castore Durante medico, & cittadino romano. Con figure, che rappresentano le viue piante, che nascono in tutta Europa, & nell'Indie orientali, & occidentali… Con discorsi, che dimostrano i nomi, le spetie, la forma, il loco, il tempo, le qualità, & le virtù mirabili dell'herbe… Con due tauole copiosissime, l'vna dell'herbe, & l'altra dell'infirmità, & di tutto quello che nell'opera si contiene, stampato In Roma: per Iacomo Bericchia, & Iacomo Tornierij, 1585.

  2. 2.

    I Discorsi di M. Pietro Andrea Mattioli sanese, medico cesareo, ne' sei libbri di Pedacio Dioscoride anazarbeo della materia medicinale: dal suo stesso autore innanzi la sua morte ricorretti & in più di mille luoghi aumentati. Con le figure tirate dalle naturali e vive Piante, & animali in numero molto maggiore, che le altre per avanti stamnpate. Con due tavole copiosissime: l'una intorno a cio, che in tutta l'opera si contiene: e l'altra della cura di tutte le infermità del corpo umano, stampata in Venezia presso Niccolò Pezzana. 1712.


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Monaco, A., Chianese, G. & Idolo, M. Drugs of plant origin from the “Carlo Erba” collection of the Botanical Museum in Portici “Orazio Comes”. Phytochem Rev 18, 1211–1222 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11101-019-09637-9

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  • Anticancer effect
  • Chemical composition
  • Medicinal plants
  • Plant drugs