Brachythecium rutabulum, A Neglected Medicinal Moss
Published online: 6 December 2017
The Author(s) 2017. This article is an open access publication
Keywords Brachythecium rutabulum
Historical botanical nomenclature
The search for new pharmaceuticals from naturally occurring
biological materials has been guided by ethnobiological data.
The investigation of folk medicine is a valuable tool in
bioprospecting for pharmaceutical compounds (Costa-Neto
2002), and natural product drug development is key to the
pharmaceutical industry. Over the past decade, research on
medicinal plants has increasingly used historical medico-
botanical texts both to study the development of pharmaco-
poeias as well as to identify candidate species for drug devel-
opment (Staub et al. 2016).
The first medicinal bryophytes were noted in the first cen-
tury and subsequently a relatively large number of species in
the phylum Bryophyta have been recognized in medicinal
usage since the sixteenth century (Drobnik and Stebel 2014,
2015). In 1600, Caspar Schwenckfeld listed six botanical
names for bryophytes, which specified at least four species
used as remedies in folk medicine (Drobnik and Stebel
2015). Cooper (2010) concluded that Catalogues of flora from
specific European regions were published to provide local
resources for the distribution and use of medicinal plants.
Indigenous plants could be substituted for the exotic, often
unavailable or unaffordable Materia Medica. Examples in-
clude the Harz Mountains (Thal 1588), Silesia (von
Schwenckfeld 1600), Pomerania (Ölhafen 1643, 1656), and
East Prussia (Loesel 1654). Since Galen’s first century works
listed mostly Italian medicinal plants, these books enabled
local inhabitants, including pharmacists and physicians, to
harvest medicinal raw materials locally (Cooper 2010).
Historical medical applications of some species bryophytes
listed in these catalogues correspond with today’spharmaco-
logical knowledge of the herb (Asakawa 2007;Asakawaet al.
2013; Drobnik and Stebel 2014, 2015, 2017).
Medicinal plants described in historical sources can be
identified by means of a chain of synonymic botanical names
(mostly pre-Linnaean), which can be cross-checked with
modern knowledge of species morphology, taxonomy, phyto-
chemistry, and ethno-pharmacology (see Drobnik and de
Oliveira 2015). Information on ethno-medical and historical
uses of bryophytes has been collected to target modern phar-
macological research by selecting potential candidate species
as medicinal plant sources (Pant 1998;PodterobandZubets
2002;Glime2006;Harris2008; Bowman 2016).
Historical works have frequently provided information use-
ful for modern medicinal therapies. For example, Adams et al.
(2011) identified apparently lost Renaissance antimalarial
remedies with proven antiplasmodial activity. The diuretic
action of Polytrichum moss, known in seventeenth century
Europe and independently used in traditional Chinese and
Guatemalan medicine, was rediscovered in the nineteenth
and early twentieth century (Drobnik and Stebel 2015), when
Sphagnum moss was used for dressing wounds in 1882, and
subsequently used in World War 1 simply as an absorbent.
Medicinal use of Sp
* Jacek Drobnik
Department of Pharmaceutical Botany, School of Pharmacy with the
Division of Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of Silesia in
Katowice, Ostrogórska 30, 41-200 Sosnowiec, Poland
Human Ecology (2018) 46:133–141