article at Slate a couple of weeks ago. A case in point: St. Ignatius' beans.
Last fall, I was digging through a 1903 organic chemistry text (looking for examples of eponyms for this article), when a familiar name caught my eye. What was St. Ignatius doing in a chemistry textbook, an organic one at that? Jesuits, I could understand (quinine is extracted from cinchona, also called Jesuits' bark), but Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits) himself?
"Strychnine, C21H22O2N2, is found in St. Ignatius' bean..." What is a violent poison doing in a bean named for Ignatius? Despite the fact that I was up against an impending writing deadline and had a couple of dozen exams to grade, I had to know.
Faba Sancti Ignatii were first described by an Austrian Jesuit living in the Philippines in the 17th century, George Kamel, S.J. (his description was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1699 - and yes, I looked up the Latin version). Later authors speculated the plant was named for Ignatius because of its many medicinal virtues (which they do not list). At the turn of the last century strychnine was part of the US Pharmacopoeia, prescribed as a stimulant — it was implicated in a early Olympic doping scandal — and for gastric upset; in the Phillipines it was often (more sensibly) the bean was worn on a string around the neck for protection against various diseases. These days it forms the basis for a homeopathic nostrum prescribed for grief and melancholia, particularly when associated with an abundance of tears.
A version of this post appeared at Quantum Theology.
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