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Introduction to Organic Chemistry

History of the Use of Organic Materials

Even in the earliest age of humankind, men had already acquired much important knowledge of natural products in their vicinity by trial and error. In this process, it was naturally important to distinguish between poisons and food. In medieval times, poisonings of whole villages and towns by bread contaminated by ergot alkaloids caused not only mass hallucinations but also ulcers or in extreme cases, death.

Nature was also put to good use early on for manifold purposes. Many caffeine-containing plants, for example, have been used as stimulants by various natives all over the world centuries before their scientific exploration.

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Fig.1
Ergotism

The consequences of an ergotism in medieval times.

Fig.2
Lysergic acid

Lysergic acid is an ergot alkaloid.

Fig.3
LSD

D-(+)-Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a synthetic drug derived from the ergot alkaloid lysergic acid.

The production of alcoholic drinks by fermentation had already been carried out in prehistoric ages. The Indians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese made simple table vinegar already millenia ago by leaving these alcoholic liquids open to the air. Individuals with a special knowledge of medicinal plants, e.g. shamans, played an important part in their societies. From the special knowledge of these people through history has been developed what is known today as folk medicine. The De Materia Medica of Dioskurides from the first century AD and the Quinta essentia of Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim; circa 1493 - 1541) were milestones in this development.

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