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[Perspectives] The matter of medicine

Of what matter is medicine made? For millennia, the bulk of western materia medica was plant-based: a thin green line can be traced from the Greek herbals of Dioscorides through the medical gardens of medieval monasteries to the vegetable extracts of the 19th-century pharmaceutical industry. Yet in the Renaissance the role of minerals in medicine became increasingly prominent. In 1527, the Swiss physician, alchemist, and iconoclast Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim—commonly known as Paracelsus—publicly burned the classical texts of Galen in favour of a new vision of a more mineral medicine.