Early History of Solution Fluorescence: The Lignum nephriticum of Nicolás Monardes

  • A. U. Acuña
  • F. Amat-Guerri
Part of the Springer Series on Fluorescence book series (SS FLUOR, volume 4)


The history of molecular fluorescence is closely associated with the emission from plant extracts.N. Monardes, in his Historia Medicinal (Seville, 1565), was the firstto describe the blue opalescence of the water infusion of the wood of a Mexican tree used to treatkidney ailments. The strange optical properties of the wood, known as Lignum nephriticum(kidney wood), were later investigated by Kircher, Grimaldi, Boyle, Newton and many other scientists andnaturalists in the ensuing centuries. However, when G.G. Stokes published in 1852 the first correct relationshipbetween light absorption and fluorescence, his observations were based on the emission of quinine sulphatesolution, because in Europe the wood of Lignum nephriticum was no longeravailable and its botanic origin was unknown. An inspection of the works of sixteenth century Spanish missionariesand scholars who compiled information on the Aztec culture, such as Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun and FranciscoHernandez, indicates that pre-Hispanic Indian doctors had already noticed the blue color (fluorescence)of the infusion of coatli, a wood used to treat urinary diseases.Coatli wood was obtained from Eyserhardtia, a tree of the familyof Leguminosae, and is the most likely source of the exotic Lignum nephriticum. The wood of Eysenhardtia polystachyacontains large quantities of Coatline B, a rare C-glucosyl-α-hydroxydihydrochalcone. This compound gives rise to a fluorescentreaction product, in slightly alkaline water at room temperature, which is responsible for the blue emissionof Lignum nephriticum infusion.


Wood Sample Sixteenth Century Early History Alkaline Water Botanic Source 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Harvey EN (1957) A history of luminescence. From early times until 1900. The American Philosophical Society, JH Furst Co., Baltimore, USA Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Valeur B (2002) Molecular Fluorescence. Principles and Applications. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, pp 5–11 Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Stokes GG (1852) On the change of refrangibility of light. Phil Trans 142:463–562 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Becquerel E (1854) Cosmos 4:509–510 Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Angström AJ (1855) Opt Res Phil Mag S4 9:327–342 Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Herschel JFW (1845) On a case of superficial colour presented by a homogeneous liquid internally colourless. Phil Trans 135:143–145 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Herschel JFW (1845) On the epipolic dispersion of light. Phil Trans 135:147–153 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Brewster D (1846) On the Decomposition and Dispersion of Light within Solid and Fluid Bodies. Trans Roy Soc Edinburg 16(II):111–121 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Stapf O (1909) Lignum nephriticum. Bull Miscell Inform, Kew Gardens, pp 293–302 Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Möller HJ (1913) Lignum nephriticum. Ber Deut Pharm Ges 23:88–154 Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Safford WE (1915) Lignum nephriticum – Its history and an account of the remarkable fluorescence of its infusion. Ann Rep Smithsonian Inst, pp 271–298 Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Partington JR (1955) Lignum nephriticum. Ann Sci 11:1–26 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    López Piñero JM (1989) Critical study in the facsimile edition of Primera, Segunda y Tercera Partes de la Historia Medicinal de las Cosas que traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales, Monardes N, 1580 edition. Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo, Madrid, Spain, pp 9–74 Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Monardes NB (1565) Dos Libros/El vno que trata de todas las cosas que traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales que siruen al vso de Medicina y como se ha de vsar de la rayz de Mechoacan, purga excelentissima. El otro libro trata de dos medicinas marauillosas …, en casa de Sebastian Trugillo, Sevilla Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Bustamante J (1990) Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún. Una versión crítica de los manuscritos y de su proceso de composición. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Sahagún B (1970) Códice Florentino. Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España. Manuscrito 218–220, Colección Palatina de la Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana (edic. facsimilar) C. Edit. Giunti Barbera/Archivo General de la Nación, Florencia/México Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    López Piñero JM, Pardo Tomás J (1996) La influencia de Francisco Hernández (1515–1587) en la constitución de la botánica y la materia médica moderna. Inst Est Docum Hist sobre la Ciencia (CSIC), Valencia, Spain Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    López Piñero JM, Pardo Tomás J (2000) The contribution of Hernández to European Botany and Materia Medica, in Searching for the secrets of Nature. In: Varey S, Chabrán R, Weiner DB (eds) The life and works of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Stanford Univ Press, Stanford, pp 122–137 Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bustamante J (1997) Francisco Hernández, Plinio del Nuevo Mundo. Tradición clásica, teoría nominal y sistema terminológico indígena en una obra renacentista. In: Ares B, Gruziniski S (eds) Entre dos Mundos: fronteras culturales y agentes mediadores. Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos, Sevilla, pp 243–268 Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bustamante J (2000) The Natural History of New Spain. In: Varey S (ed) The Mexican Treasury: The writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Stanford Univ Press, Stanford, pp 26–39 Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Kircher A (1671) Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae. Amsterdam, p 77 Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Boyle R (1664) Experiments and Considerations touching Colours. London, pp 199–216 Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Boyle R (1684) Short Memoirs for the Natural History of Mineral Waters. London, pp 85–86 Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Newton I (1671) New Theory about Light and Colors. Phil Trans 6:3075–3087 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Newton I (1704) Optics or a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. London, p 140 Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ortiz B (1986) Aztec sources of some Mexican folk medicine. In: Steiner RP (ed) Folk Medicine. Am Chem Soc, Washington, pp 1–22 Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Oliva L (1854) Lecciones de Farmacología, Vol 2. Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Mexico, pp 429–430 Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Domínguez XA, Franco R, Díaz Viveros Y (1978) Mexican medicinal plants XXXIV. Rotenoids and a fluorescent compound from Eysenhardtia polystachya. Rev Latinoamer Quím 9:209–211 Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Beltrami E, de Bernardi M, Fronza G, Mellerio G, Vidari G, Vita-Finzi P (1982) Coatline A and B. Two C-glucosyl-α-hydroxydihydrochalcones from Eysenhardtia polystachya. Phytochemistry 21:2931–2933 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Burns DT, Dalgarno BG, Gargan PE, Grimshaw J (1984) An isoflavone and a coumestan from Eysenhardtia polystachya – Robert Boyle's fluorescent acid-base indicator. Phytochemistry 23:167–169 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Álvarez L, Ríos MY, Esquivel C, Chávez MI, Delgado G, Aguilar MI, Villareal ML, Navarro V (1998) Cytotoxic isoflavans from Eysenhardtia polystachya. J Nat Prod 61:767–770 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Álvarez L, Delgado G (1999) C- and O-glycosyl-α-hydroxydihydrochalcones from Eysenhardtia polystachya. Phytochemistry 50:681–687 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Química-Física “Rocasolano” (CSIC)MadridSpain
  2. 2.Instituto de Química Orgánica (CSIC)MadridSpain

Personalised recommendations