A large ship sailing from South America to Europe, like giant chips of the ocean, was throwing a chip. All who still had at least some strength have been stubbornly resisting the indomitable elements for a day. But the danger was treacherously creeping up on the other hand: most of the crew and passengers were extremely tormented by some unknown disease.
Hopeless was the condition of the most eminent passenger - the Viceroy of Peru, who bore the intricate name of Don Luis Geronimo Cabrera de Vobadilla Count Cinghon. For several years he headed one of the richest Spanish colonies - Peru, and now at the end of 1641, exhausted by a mysterious illness, he was returning home to Spain. This disease was malaria. Among the many valuable cargoes that filled up the hold, the Viceroy was particularly worried about the fate of the heavy, bulky bale containing bark, which, according to local Indians, cured malaria. At the cost of great sacrifices she went to the Viceroy, who was the first of the Europeans to possess such a treasure. With this bark he linked the hope of healing from an evil ailment. But in vain, exhausted from suffering, he tried to chew the bitter, burning mouth bark: no one knew how to use its healing properties.
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After a long and difficult journey, a very battered ship reached Spain. The most famous doctors of the capital and other cities were called to the patient. However, they could not help: the secret of using the healing bark was not available to them. Therefore, doctors preferred to treat Cinghon with old, but, alas, useless means, such as the dust of Egyptian mummies. So Cinghon died of malaria, failing to take advantage of the drug taken from the natives.
The first to discover the mystery of the Peruvian tree were the sneaky, ubiquitous Jesuits. Having made anti-malarial powder from the magic bark, they were not slow in declaring it sacred. The pope himself, seeing this as a source of great profits and a reliable means of influencing believers, blessed the clergy of the Catholic Church and allowed them to start speculating with powder. However, the doctors did not soon begin to use the new medicine: they still did not know quite firmly either its properties or the method of application.
The severe epidemic of malaria spread more and more throughout Europe and finally reached England. Although by this time the Jesuit powders had already established themselves as a fairly effective means in the fight against ferocious malaria, but not a single self-respecting Englishman, of course, could use them. Who, in fact, would dare to take Jesuit powders in an atmosphere of universal hostility to everything that was at least remotely related to the papacy that was hated throughout England? The leading figure in the English bourgeois revolution, Cromwell, who became ill with malaria, resolutely refused to take this medicine. He died of malaria in 1658, not having experienced the last saving opportunity.
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When the malaria epidemic took on absolutely catastrophic proportions in a number of countries, the hatred of the masses towards the Jesuits intensified to the highest degree. In England, for example, they began to be accused of their intention to poison all non-Catholics with their powder, including the king, who had just become ill with severe malaria. All the efforts of the court doctors to alleviate his fate were in vain. Catholic monks' proposals for assistance were strongly rejected.
Suddenly something unexpected happened. Until then an unknown healer, a certain Talbor, undertook to cure the king. The results were stunning: in just two weeks, the king was cured of an evil ailment by taking some bitter medicine in a tablespoon after three hours. The cunning healer flatly refused to tell the composition and origin of the healing potion. However, the king, happy, quickly strengthened, did not insist on this. Delivered from a serious illness, he generously thanked his savior and granted him the title of Lord and Royal Healer by special decree. In addition, he authorized Talbor to treat patients throughout the country.
The envy of the entire royal retinue, especially the court physicians, knew no bounds. They could not put up with the growing fame of the new doctor. All ardently eager to seek treatment only at Talbor. Even the French king sent him an invitation to come to Paris to treat his person and the entire royal family for malaria. The outcome of the treatment was successful this time too. The new cure was an even greater triumph for Talbor, who, however, stubbornly continued to keep his secret. Only when the king of France offered the clever businessman 3000 gold francs, a long life pension and pledged not to disclose the secret until the death of the doctor, Talbor surrendered. It turned out that he was treating his patients with nothing more than a Jesuit powder dissolved in wine. He hid this fact from the English king, because he knew that he was risking his head.
But, finally, the time came when the miraculous medicine ceased to be a monopoly of individuals. It has established itself as the only reliable tool in the fight against fatal malaria. Tens, hundreds of thousands of Europeans got rid of the terrible disease with the help of the healing bark of the Peruvian tree, and no one had a clear idea about the tree itself. Even the Spaniards who settled in South America and gained a monopoly on the supply of Peruvian goods to Europe could not find its location.
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Local Indians, by this time already well aware of the insidious manners of the conquerors, were very careful. The collection of “kin-kin” (the bark of all barks) was entrusted only to its most reliable people (by the way, the name of the quinine tree and the alkaloid extracted from its bark - quinine comes from the Indian kin-kin). Old natives taught young people that malaria would help drive out violent enslavers if they could not solve the secret of the cinchona tree.
With the disclosure of the secret of the medicinal properties of the cortex, they reconciled, and besides, it turned into a profitable trade for them. By the way, many legends go about the disclosure of this secret, but one of them is repeated more often than others. Young Peruvian fell in love with a Spanish soldier. When he became ill with malaria and his situation became hopeless, the girl decided to save his life with a healing bark. So the soldier recognized, and then revealed the cherished secret of the natives for a substantial reward to one of the Jesuit missionaries. They hastened to remove the soldier, and make the secret a subject of their trade.
For a long time, the attempts of Europeans to penetrate the impenetrable thickets of tropical forests were unsuccessful. Only in 1778, one of the members of the French astronomical expedition, La Kondamina, was the first to see a hindu tree in the Loksa region. He sent with an opportunity a brief description of it and a herbarium specimen to the Swedish scientist Karl Linnaeus. This served as the basis for the first scientific research and botanical characteristics of the plant. Linnaeus and called it Cichona.
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So, it took more than a hundred years for the healing properties of the cargo of Count Cinghon to be finally unraveled. As if in a mockery of the ill-fated viceroy, his name is assigned to the miraculous Peruvian tree.
La Kondamina managed to bring along several seedlings of the cinchona tree, but they died on the way to Europe.
The youngest member of the French expedition, the botanist Jussieu, decided to stay in South America to study the hindu tree in detail. For many years of painstaking work, he was able to establish that the tree grows alone on the rocky, inaccessible slopes of the Andes, rising into the mountains up to 2500-3000 meters above sea level. He first established that there are several types of this tree, in particular, white, red, yellow, and gray cichon.
About 17 years, overcoming numerous adversities, Jussieu studied the rainforests of South America. He collected a lot of valuable scientific data about the mysterious tree. But before leaving for his homeland, somewhere, his servant disappeared along with all the research materials. From the shock experienced, Jussie went insane and died shortly after returning to France. So another attempt to solve the mystery of the Peruvian tree ended sadly. The most valuable materials selflessly collected by the scientist disappeared without a trace.
However, this does not exhaust the tragic stories associated with the search for the cinchona tree. Jussieu’s woeful fate was shared at the beginning of the 19th century by a group of young, energetic nerds of the New Kingdom of New Granada (modern Colombia). She made a significant contribution to the science of the mysterious plant: she studied in detail the places of its distribution, compiled a detailed botanical description, and produced numerous maps and drawings. But then the war of liberation of the peoples of Colombia broke out against the Spanish enslavers. Young scientists did not stand aside from a fair fight. In one of the battles in 1816, the entire group, together with its leader, the talented botanist Francisco Jose de Calda, was captured by the royal troops and sentenced to death. In vain, the captives, worrying about the fate of their scientific work, asked for a while to delay the execution of at least their leader: they hoped that he would manage to finish the almost finished monograph on the cinchona tree. The executioners did not heed their requests. All scientists were executed, and their valuable scientific materials were sent to Madrid, where they then disappeared without a trace. The nature and extent of this work can be judged even by the fact that the multivolume manuscript was provided with 5190 illustrations and 711 maps.
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So, at the cost of considerable losses, and at times sacrifices, the right was gained to take possession of the secret of this tree, which concealed deliverance from a debilitating, and often fatal disease. No wonder the cinchona tree bark was literally worth its weight in gold. Weighed it on the most sensitive pharmacy scales, with great care, so as not to accidentally spill, not even lose a pinch. They took the medicine in large doses. During the course of treatment it was necessary to swallow about 120 grams of powder or drink a few glasses of concentrated, incredibly bitter hinna tincture. Such a procedure was sometimes irresistible to the patient.
But in a country far from the homeland of the cinchona tree, in Russia, the possibility of treating malaria with small but very effective doses that did not have an impurity of extraneous substances that were not needed in the treatment was opened. Even under Peter the Great, they began to treat it with quinine bark in our country, and in 1816, the Russian scientist F. I. Giza, for the first time in the world, isolated the curative alkaline from the cortex. It was also found that in the cortex of cinnamon, in addition to quinine, contains up to 30 other alkaloids. Patients now took only a few grams of quinine in the form of small doses of white powder or pea-sized tablets. To process the quinine bark according to a new recipe, pharmaceutical factories were created.
Meanwhile, harvesting bark in the tropical forests of South America was still not an easy and risky venture. Almost every year, procurement declined, and quinine prices rose steadily. There was an urgent need to grow cinnamon on plantations, as was done with rubber hevea.
But how to get enough cinnamon seeds? After all, the governments of Peru and Bolivia began to help preserve the secret of the Indians, now, however, from commercial motives, which, on pain of death, banned the export of seeds and young plants outside their countries.
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By this time, it became known that different types of quinine trees contain different amounts of quinine. The most valuable turned out to be Kalisai cinchona (a real hindu tree), which is very common in Bolivia.
The first of the Europeans climbed deep into the rainforests of this country in 1840, the French botanist Weddel. He was delighted when he saw a mysterious tree with a mighty trunk and a beautiful silver bark. The leaves are dark green on the upper side and pale silver on the back, shimmering, sparkling, as if hundreds of colorful butterflies fluttered their wings. Among the crown were visible beautiful flowers, vaguely resembling lilac brushes. The brave scientist secretly managed to take out a few cinnamon seeds. He sent them to the botanical gardens of Europe. However, much more seeds were required to create industrial plantations of this tree. Many attempts have been made for this, but they all ended in failure.
The botanist Manager managed to achieve some success, but it cost him incredible labor. About 30 years he lived in South America, studying a quinine tree and intending to export its seeds to Europe. For 16 years, the scientist sent one commissioner after another to search for precious trees and harvest their seeds, but the Indians killed all his messengers.
In 1845, the Manager was finally lucky: fate brought him together with the Indian Manuel Mameni, who turned out to be an indispensable assistant. From childhood, Mameni knew perfectly well the regions where 20 species of quinine tree grew, he easily distinguished any species from a distance and accurately determined the amount of quinine in the bark. Devotion to his Manager was unlimited, the Indian took any risks for him. Several years Mameni spent on harvesting bark and collecting seeds. Finally, the day came when, having covered a distance of 800 kilometers, through the dense thickets, steep cliffs of the Andes and swift mountain streams, he delivered to his master the accumulated good. This was the brave man’s last journey: upon returning to his native places, he was captured and sentenced to death.
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The heroic work of Mameni was not in vain. The seeds he collected sprouted on new lands. Soon the vast plantations of the cinchona tree, called the Cinchon Legeriana, were greened. Alas, this is not the first time in history when a feat is attributed not to the one who performed it. Manuel Mameni was soon completely forgotten, and the tree, which saw thanks to him new lands, continued to serve humanity.
It must be said that for many years malaria itself was a mystery to the scientific world. Doctors have already mastered the methods of treating this disease, learned to recognize its symptoms, and the pathogen was not known to them. Until the beginning of our century, the cause of the disease was considered to be marsh bad air, in Italian “mala aria”, from where the name of the disease came from, by the way. It was only when the real causative agent of the disease, malarial plasmodium, became known, when it was established (in 1891) by the Russian scientist Professor D. L. Romanovsky that quinine, the secrets of the disease and medicine were finally considered to be revealed.
By this time, the biology of the cinchona tree, its culture and methods of harvesting bark were well studied, about 40 new valuable species and forms were studied and described. Until recently, over 90 percent of the world's therapeutic quinine reserves were planted in Java. Chinaceous bark was collected there, partially cutting it from the trunks and large branches of trees. Sometimes 6-8-year-old trees were completely cut down, and they together resumed by shoots from fresh stumps.
After the Great October Socialist Revolution, the imperialists, as you know, declared a blockade on the Soviet Republic. Among the goods whose import into our country was not allowed in those years was quinine. Lack of medication caused the spread of malaria. Soviet scientists energetically began to search for ways to overcome the epidemic. Work on draining swamps, disinfecting ponds, and rivers with the aim of destroying mosquito larvae that transmit malaria has become widespread. Other preventive measures began to be carried out persistently.
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Chemists have been stubbornly looking for synthetic drugs that would replace herbal quinine.When creating domestic antimalarial drugs, Soviet scientists relied on the discovery of the great Russian chemist A. M. Butlerov, who in the last century had established the presence of a quinoline nucleus in a quinine molecule.
In 1925, the first antimalarial drug, plasmoquinine, was obtained in our country. Then a plasmocide was synthesized, which possessed a particularly valuable property: the patient treated with this drug ceased to be dangerous to others and could no longer transmit an infection to them through a malaria mosquito.
Subsequently, our scientists created a very effective synthetic drug - Akrikhin, which almost completely saved the country from the need for expensive import quinine. He not only did not yield to quinine, but had some advantages over him. Reliable means for controlling tropical malaria were synthesized - half-drins and drugs effective against common malaria - choroidrin and choricide.
Malaria in our country was defeated. But all this happened later. In the first years of Soviet power, the main hope was for natural quinine, and Soviet botanists firmly decided to settle cinnamon in our subtropics. But where and how to find cinnamon seeds? How to make a tropic cinnamon tree pampered by the tropics grow in our subtropics so severe for it? How to achieve that it gives quinine not in decades, when the healing bark grows, but much faster?
The solution to the first problem was complicated by the fact that companies that profit from the production of quinine introduced a strict ban on the export of cinnamon seeds. In addition, after all, not any seeds were needed, but the most cold-resistant specimens.
Academician Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov suggested that most likely they can be found in Peru. The flair of a talented scientist brilliantly justified this time: it was in Peru that he found what he was looking for.
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The plantation was located on the high slope of the spurs of the South American Andes. In such cool conditions, Vavilov had not yet met a hindu tree. And although he knew that this species was not distinguished by a high content of quinine (it was broad-leaved cinchona), the belief that it was this tree that could become the ancestor of the cinnamon plantation in our subtropics grew stronger every hour.
Still seeking permission from the local colonial authorities to inspect the cinch tree plantations in Peru, Nikolai Ivanovich more than once heard from officials that the export of seeds was prohibited. Maybe he would have left with this plantation with nothing, if late in the evening on the eve of his departure the guest would not have looked into the room - an elderly Indian who worked on the plantation. He apologized for the unexpected visit and said that he had come to convey to the Soviet academician a modest gift from the workers of the cottage plantation. In addition to the herbarium of the most interesting plants, samples of bark, wood and flowers of the cinchona tree, he handed Nikolai Ivanovich a bag with the inscription "bread tree" packed in thick paper. Noticing the academician’s questioning look, the visitor said: “We made a small mistake in the inscription: it should be read like a hindu tree. But this mistake is for those ... for the gentlemen. "
Already in Sukhumi, having printed the coveted package, the scientist saw healthy, full-bodied broad-leaved cinnamon seeds. The attached note stated that they were collected from a tree that attracted the Russian academician.
A series of originally conceived experiments succeeded in quickly achieving seed germination. Then they applied a more effective, vegetative method of propagating cinnamon - green cuttings. Detailed chemical studies have shown that cinnamon contains quinine not only in the bark, but also in wood, and even in the leaves.
However, it was not possible to force the quinous tree to grow in our subtropics: everything that grew during the spring and summer was completely frosted. Neither wrapping the trunks, nor a special diet of fertilizers, nor sheltering with soil or a cool snow coat helped. Even the fall in temperature to +4, +5 degrees had a detrimental effect on cichon.
And then N. Vavilov suggested turning the obstinate tree into a grassy plant, making it grow only during the summer period. Now, every spring on the fields of Adjara, straight rows of cinnamon trees turned green. When autumn came, young plants with large leaves reached almost a meter high. In the late autumn, quinous plants mowed down, like corn or sunflower during silage. Then, fresh stalks with cinnamon leaves were sent for processing, and a new Soviet antimalarial drug, hinet, was obtained from them, which was in no way inferior to South American or Javanese quinine.
Thus was solved the last mystery of cinnamon.
Links to materials:
- S. Ivchenko - Book about trees