A contribution to the South African Materia Medica | National Inquiry Services Centre

A contribution to the South African Materia Medica

A contribution to the South African Materia Medica
By Andrew Smith of St Cyrus
Size: 148 x 210 mm
Pages: 270 pages
ISBN 13: 978-0-86810-469-0
Published: January 2011
Publishers: Cory Library, Rhodes University as part of the Eastern Cape Reprints series.
Recommended Retail Price: R 125.00
Cover: Paperback

About the book

A knowledge of the plants imported into the Medical Art

is traceable in every country to the early inhabitants.

Andrew Smith taught history, geography, philosophy and mathematics, but his real passion was botany. In 1885, he published a humble 23-page pamphlet entitled ‘A Contribution to South African Materia Medica’. It generated an overwhelming response and further information flooded in from all corners of the Eastern Cape. The third and final edition extended to 240 pages, more than ten times the length of the original. Notable contributors included Dr JF Soga, South Africa’s first qualified veterinary surgeon, and WW Gqoba, one of the great figures of early Xhosa literature. Of Gqoba’s contribution, Smith wrote: ‘The moment Mr Gqoba knew that my object was to bring the use of certain medicinal plants, usually kept secret, within the reach of all men, he placed his own knowledge at my disposal, and did all he could to procure a knowledge of these remedies from others.

’Smith’s ‘Contribution’ is first and foremost a botanical text and a monument to Xhosa indigenous knowledge. Smith was also interested in the way people lived and consequently provides us with a unique and vivid insight into the society within which these indigenous remedies were applied. He seems to have a particular interest in snakebite, and learned much about red dagga (Leonotis leonurus [‘umfincafincane’]) from the Rev WS Davis of Clarkebury, ‘than whom none have had better opportunities of testing the thing. ’The ‘Contribution’ is a serious scientific work, but it can also be read for pleasure by the merely curious. 

This facsimile edition is introduced by Tony Dold and Michelle Cocks of Rhodes University, themselves expert on the social and medicinal uses of indigenous plants. They situate Smith’s work in the context of earlier studies of South African medicinal plants, and they update it with a look at subsequent writings as well as the continuing relevance of indigenous medicines today. Comprehensive tables give the current botanical names and correct isiXhosa spellings of plants mentioned in the book. There is a full bibliography. 

First Published in 1895 by the Lovedale Press, this reprint edition includes an introduction by Tony Dold and Michelle Cocks.


Eastern Cape Reprints is a project of the Cory Library at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. It makes available facsimile reprints of scarce books, long unobtainable but of lasting value and utility. Each book is provided with an expert introduction, which highlights important aspects of the text, contextualises its background, and brings the reader up to date on subsequent relevant research.


About the Authors

Andrew Smith (1828–1898), born at St Cyrus in Scotland, taught academic subjects in the Lovedale ‘College Department’ for many years. In addition to Materia Medica, the wide range of Smith’s interests included agriculture, education, health, church administration and Bible studies. In his books he always referred to himself as Andrew Smith of St Cyrus to distinguish himself from an earlier, more famous zoologist and traveller also named Andrew Smith, with whom he was frequently confused. He died in Queenstown at the age of 70 and bequeathed his estate to Lovedale to be used for bursaries. He never married and had no children.


INTRODUCTION to the Reprint Edition
Chapter I Introduction 
Chapter II Snake poisons 
Chapter III Snake bite (treatment) 
Chapter IV Snake bite (plant remedies) 
Chapter V Milt-ziek poisoning
Chapter VI Milt-ziek (plant remedies) 
Chapter VII Tonics 
Chapter VIII Stomach disorders 
Chapter IX Wounds and sores 
Chapter X Blood purifying 
Chapter XI Scrofula 
Chapter XII Typhoid, etc. 
Chapter XIII Colds 
Chapter XIV Tapeworm 
Chapter XV Opthalmia 
Chapter XVI Diarrhoea and dysentery 
Chapter XVII Headache 
Chapter XVIII Toothache, etc. 
Chapter XIX Styptics, etc. 
Chapter XX Ringworm, etc. 
Chapter XXI Cancer 
Chapter XXII Blood-poisoning, etc. 
Chapter XXIII Lung-sickness. 
Chapter XXIV Gall-sickness, etc. 
Chapter XXV Calves 
Chapter XXVI Bots 
Chapter XXVII Miscellaneous 
Chapter XXVIII Plant preparations. 
Appendices I to XIV

Order Enquiries

For further information, please contact:
Cory Library
Tel.: +27 (0)46 603 8438
Email: cory@ru.ac.za
PO Box 184, Grahamstown 6140