Monday, October 08, 2012

St. Ignatius' beans

I was digging through a 1903 organic chemistry text (looking for examples of eponyms), when a familiar name caught my eye. What was St. Ignatius doing in a chemistry textbook, an organic one at that?  Jesuits, I could understand (quinine is extracted from Jesuits' bark), but Ignatius himself?

"Strychnine, C21H22O2N2, is found in St. Ignatius' bean..."  What is a violent poison doing in a bean named for Ignatius?  Despite the fact that I've got an impending writing deadline and  a couple of dozen exams to grade, I had to know.

Faba Sancti Ignatii were first described by an Austrian Jesuit missioned to the Phillippines in the 17th century, George Kamel, S.J. (his description was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1699).  Later authors speculated the plant was named for Ignatius because of its many medicinal virtues (which they do not list, and about which I'm curious -- I'm having breakfast with a scholar of herbals from this period on Wednesday which may help).  These days it forms the basis for a homeopathic nostrum prescribed for grief and melancholia, particularly when associated with an abundance of tears.  I wonder if the homeopaths knew of Ignatius' gift of tears?


  1. Hmmmm - wow. That truly is finding God in all things, even beans! I will want to know more, so please report back. I'm sure that you will!

  2. Yes, please report back! Curious minds want to know!

  3. Fran and Denise, I absolutely will! I've got 12 hours on the train (to and from Boston) to puzzle over some Latin and see what I can make of it.

  4. Interesting. I read a book in theology studies that listed some of the discoveries and classifications by Jesuits as they discovered parts of the New World. I'll have to search through my materials.