The use of the plant Kew Nopal against Scurvy.


The preservation of seamen from the scurvy, and even the cure of that disease, so far as it has yet been investigated, being best effected by fresh succulent vegetables, you will oblige me by the insertion of the enclosed letter from Mr. Charles Edmund, surgeon of his majesty's ship Russell, as shewing, in a clear and distinct manner, the practicability of employing the Kew Nopal, as it is called here, for that valuable purpose, to which it appears peculiarly adapted, by being so far an air plant as to preserve life, and the capacity of vegetation, for months after an entire removal from the earth of watering gardens.

J. ANDERSON. -- 1808.

His Majesty's Ship Russell, Madras Roads,

March 3, 1808.


The plant, by the name of Kew Nopal, which you were so polite as to furnish me with to try its effects in scurvy, that was so general among the crew of his majesty's ship Russell, after a cruise of three months, entirely confined to sea diet, I have the pleasure to say, proved so agreeable to those who had it given them in its raw state, that they compared it to sorrell, and I have no doubt but it would have proved highly useful could it have been continued; but owing to a diarrhæa, which generally occurs on the first use of every kind of fresh diet, I was obliged to desist from giving the nopal or any other succulent vegetable, and to pay attention to the state of the bowels by apiates, and occasionally by a little creta or some absorbent to correct the acidity in the stomach. As I considered the whole of the crew as being more or less affected with the scurvy, and the necessity of their having vegetables with their boiled fresh meat, I made use of the nopal in a manner more admissible, which was, to put a proportion every day in the coppers with their soup; this I think is a preferable mode, it being less likely to affect the bowels than in a raw state. Having been so little able to speak of its benefit, from our not having quitted the coast, I can only say, that from a knowledge of the utility of vegetables in scurvy, I will endeavour to obviate any effects on the bowels by opiates, and hope by the next time I have the pleasure of writing to you on the subject, to be able to speak of the benefit obtained, as it is so easily taken care of by keeping it in the air. Therefore request you will furnish me with a further supply, as we have nothing that will keep so long in a fresh succulent stage.

I have the honour to be, sir,

Your obedient servant,


Surgeon on his majesty's ship Russell.

Nautical Chronical, Vol. 21 (1809), pp 40-41.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

Sjöhistoriska Samfundet | The Maritime History Virtual Archives | Naval Medicine | Search.

Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.