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27.09.2018 | Lessons from the Museum | Ausgabe 2/2019

Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology 2/2019

Evaluation of an early twentieth century Afghan herbalist’s preparations

Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology > Ausgabe 2/2019
Rachael Farrington, Ian Musgrave, Christine Nash, Meghan L. Coghlan, Roger W. Byard


Mahomet Allum was a flamboyant philanthropist and herbalist who worked in South Australia in the early part of last century, whose herbal therapies generated some controversy at the time. Two of his preparations have survived to the present day, a general tonic and a treatment for liver and kidney dysfunction. Given the frequent use of pharmaceutical drugs in “tonics” at the time, toxicological analysis was undertaken at Forensic Science SA, Adelaide with liquid chromatography/quadrupole-time-of-flight mass-spectrometer (LC-QTOF MS), liquid-chromatography/ diode array detector (LC/UV) and gas chromatography/ nitrogen phosphorous- detector/mass-spectrometer (GC-NPD/MS), to look for common drugs. In addition DNA analysis was also undertaken at Trace and Environmental DNA (TrEnD) Laboratory (Curtin University) to evaluate the types of plant products used to make these remedies. The general tonic contained genera from the Triticeae (wheat) family as well as the Medicago family (includes alfalfa), possibly as fillers. Other genera found included Utrica (nettle) and Passiflora (passion flower). The preparation for liver and kidney disease also contained genera from the Medicago family as well as genera Arctostaphylos (bear berry) which has traditionally been used for the treatment of dysuria and bladder stones. No common drugs were found. Thus it appears that the two treatments prepared by Mahomet Allum contained only herbal substances and not adulterant pharmaceutical agents. The herbals identified provide an insight into herbalist practices in the early twentieth century.

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