The Exhibition "Danish Slave Medicine" Rediscovers Forgotten Medical Plants – University of Copenhagen

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30 March 2017

The Exhibition "Danish Slave Medicine" Rediscovers Forgotten Medical Plants

Exhibition

On 31 March an exhibition on Danish slave medicine opens at NaturMedicinsk Museum. It tells a different, positive story about the exchange of pharmacological knowledge in colonial times, which is valuable today both to us and to the Caribbean and West-African populations.

In the film PhD and Curator Jens Soelberg from NaturMedicinsk Museum offers a taste of the temporary exhibition on Danish slave medicine, which opens on 31 March on the 100th anniversary of the handover of the Danish West Indies and runs until December 2017.

Admission is free of charge, and NaturMedicinsk Museum is open on Thursdays from 13:00-17:00.

In colonial times, otherwise a dark chapter of slavery and slave trade, knowledge of tropical medicinal plans was transferred from the fragile oral medicinal traditions of the West Indies and West Africa to Danish works and pressed plant sheets.

Danish pharmacists, botanists and doctors, who, due to the colonial rule, travelled the Danish West Indies and along the Gold Coast, compiled knowledge on local plants from enslaved locals. Subsequently, many medicinal plants fell into oblivion – both in Denmark and in the former colonies.

Knowledge About the Effect of the Plants Can Be Returned to Their Home Countries
Jens Soelberg from NaturMedicinsk Museum has gone through the Danish archives and travelled to the Virgin Islands (the former Danish West Indies) and Ghana to recollect the plants. Subsequently, he and master’s thesis students from the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology have tested the pharmacological effect of the plants.

Many of the plants have the effect they used to be known for, and if this knowledge is re-disseminated in the Virgin Islands and West African, where the plants still grow, they may prove highly useful as a supplement to expensive medicinal products. Around one fourth of the drugs used in the Western world today originates from plants.

Wound-Healing Find May Hold Great Potential
According to Jens Soelberg, some of the plants may also prove important clues in the development of new drugs in Denmark today. The forgotten, but effective plants include e.g. the wound-healing plant jasminum dichotomum, which in colonial West Africa was used to nurse wounds caused by the quinea worm – a parasitic threadworm, which used to be a widespread plague.

Laboratory tests conducted in connection with the exhibition now show that the plant, at least in experimental designs, is useful for healing wounds and causes cells to split and migrate onto an artificial wound. Wound-healing drugs are of great interest to pharmacologists all over the world, because type 2 diabetes, which has become such a large problem, can cause chronic wounds.


NaturMedicinsk Museum is a part of the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology at SUND.

Opening hours: Thursdays 13-17
Address: Jagtvej 160, Building 22, 3rd floor, 2100 Copenhagen Ø

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