Pedanius Dioscorides (circa 40—90 AD) was a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist and the author of a 5-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances (a pharmacopeia), that was widely read for well more than a thousand years.
Dioscorides’ travels as a surgeon with the armies of the Roman emperor Nero provided him an opportunity to study the features, distribution, and medicinal properties of many plants and minerals. Excellent descriptions of nearly 600 plants, including colchicum, water hemlock, peppermint and cannabis, are contained in De materia medica. Written in five books around the year 77, this work deals with approximately 1,000 simple drugs.
Although the work may be considered little more than a drug collector’s manual by modern standards, the original Greek manuscript, which was copied in at least seven other languages, describes most drugs used in medical practice until modern times and served as the primary text of pharmacology until the end of the 15th century. Modern editions have been published in Greek (1906–14) and in English (1934).