The Beans of St. Ignatius

In the end of the seventeenth century the Czech Jesuit brother Georg Joseph Kamel was active as a missionary in the Philipines, but he also performed botanic research in these oriental islands. His drawings and descriptions of local plants eventually reached London (the first lot had been stolen by pirates), where they were published. Kamel was the first to describe a crawling plant that the Philipinese called aguwason, dankkagi, or igasud and he called, scientifically, Strychnos ignatia after St. Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of the Jesuit order.

Georg Joseph Kamel

The bitter fruit of this plant, in the shape and size of an orange, has hard, almond-shaped seeds called faba Sancti Ignatii. The beans contain two toxic alkaloids, stricnine and brucine. In small doses they act on the transmission of nerve stimuli towards the muscles and in higher doses can causes death through asphyxiation.

Apothecary jar from the collection.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the beans were used in curing goiters, cholera, asthma, epilepsy and other afflictions, but their use was limited in time due to their toxic effects. They were rediscovered during the nineteenth century and were used in the making of the homeopathic dilution called Ignatia or Ignatia amara, recommended as remedy against strong emotional suffering and contradictory, hysterical symptoms. It was, and still is mainly used by women who show “symptoms of emotional stress such as headaches, twitches, digestive problems, throat pains and fear of birds (especially chicken)”.
1790 inventory of the pharmacy shop in Targu Mures mentioning Faba Sancti Ignatii

The collection includes three items related to this ingredient: several beans of St. Ignatius, one with grate marks, used during the nineteenth century in the pharmacy from Baia Mare; a small glass bottle marked IGNATIA from a nineteenth-century homeopathy set from the same location, and a glass jar with the signature FABA ST. IGNATII from Valeriu Bologa’s collection.
Small homeopathy bottle for Ignatia.

St. Ignatius' Bean with grate marks.

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