Under spike and lavender oils (fol. 186) he mentions that these oils are commonly imported from France in small bottles and sold at a high price.1)
How little Ryff knew about the nature of volatile oils and how primitive were his methods of preparation, becomes apparent from fol. 187 and 188 of his "Destillirbuch" where he describes "how from several strong and good spices precious oils can be distilled." To prepare specially good oils from cloves, nutmeg, mace and safron these spices are to be comminuted and distilled with rectified spirit. When the "spirits" have been distilled off and oil begins to come over, the mass is to be taken out and pressed between warm metal plates. The oil thus obtained is to be rectified by "circulation" until it is clear.
1) In the "Reformirte Apothek" published by Gualtherus Ryff in 1563 the following interesting statement is found (fol. 191): "When lavender flowers are distilled, a very fragrant oil usually floats on the surface. In the French Provence, about Narbona, where this plant grows abundantly, a specialty is made of the distillation of this oil. Oils are likewise distilled there from other useful and fragrant herbs, flowers, fruits and roots."
This statement is of historical interest since it is probably the earliest reference in German literature to the volatile oil industry which apparently existed in France as early as the 16. century.
Among the other larger works of the sixteenth century which treat of medicinal plants and the preparation of distilled waters, also of the methods of distillation and of the utensils employed, those of Matthiolus and Lonicer are worthy of special mention.
In his comprehensive treatise on distillation,1) the former devotes a highly illustrated chapter to De ratio destillandi aquas ex omnibus plantis. Volatile oils, however, are mentioned only incidentally.
In his herbal of 1551,2) Adam Lonicer, however, describes in part the distillation of oils. Moreover, he reveals a better understanding of the same, as indicated in the following quotation from the preface (pp. 1 and 2).
"Dieweil der Gebrauch der gebrannten Wasser so von allerhand Krau-tern und Gewachsen durch die Kunst der Destillirung abgezogen werden, an alien Orten so gar gemein ist, dass auch die geringsten Leute sicb der Destillirung befleissigen, deswegen babe ich es vor gut angesehen, eine kurze Einleitung und Bericht des Destillirens zu beschreiben. Zudem werden viel herrliche und krafftige Ohle von Gewiirzen und Samen, als von Zimmet, Nagelin, Anis und dergleichen anderen vielen mit merklichem Nutzen der Kranken durch das Destilliren zu Wege gebracht3) .... Diese Kunst des Destillirens ist fast eine neue, und nicht gar alte Erfindung, den a/ten griechischen und lateinischen Medicis unbekannt und gar nicht in Gebrauch gewesen."
Thus at the beginning of the sixteenth century Brunschwig's treatise on distillation gave the impetus not only for the more general introduction into medicine, of distilled waters and of spirituous aromatic distillates, but also for the perfection of the method of distillation. Indeed, it would seem that during the first half of the sixteenth century the herbals and treatises on distillation largely replaced the older antidotaries. As already pointed out, the treatises mentioned above were not only reprinted but imitated in Germany as well as outside of Germany.
1) See p. 44, footnote 2.
2) See p. 44, footnote 6.
3) Aside from the use of rose oil and several other volatile oils as oleosacchara, already referred to, this statement is possibly the first reference to the medicinal use of volatile oils.
The professional scholars of this period who were most prominent because of their comprehensive knowledge and literary activity were Valerius Cordus and Conrad Gesner. Their works appeared about the middle of the sixteenth century and somewhat later. They were not only modeled after the earlier treatises but excelled them by a more thorough knowledge, by clearer exposition, and by greater wealth of material. Hence they were generally appreciated and recognized by municipal authorities.
Valerius Cordus (born 1515 in Simshausen, Upper Hessia; died 1544 in Rome), whose father was Professor of Medicine in Marburg, studied medicine at his home receiving the academic baccalaureate in 1531. In the same year he went to Wittenberg to attend the lectures by Melanchthon. Having soon obtained the venia docendi, he lectured on the Materia medica of Dioscorides.
These lectures of Cordus appears to have put down in writing. Five years after his death the German translation of these lectures was published in Frankfurt-on-the-Main by Ruellius. The commentaries on Dioscorides, also other scientific writings by Cordus were published in 1561 (possibly as early as 1557) by Conrad Gesner of Zuerich (born 1516, died 1565), who was a many sided scholar and a profuse medical writer. To the commentaries of Cordus were added not only additions by Gesner but an entire treatise by the latter.1) Only a single treatise appears to have been published by Cordus himself, viz. a botanical work, the Historia plantarum, a description of plants used in medicine. It is a folio of 224 pages with numerous illustrations and appeared 1540.
1) This folio bears the following title: In hoc volumine continentur Valerii Cordi Simesusii Annotationes in Pedaceii Dioscoridis Anazarbei de medica materia libros quinque longe alias quam antea sunt hac sunt evulgatae.
Ejusdem Val. Cordi Historiae stirpium libri quatuor posthumi nuncprimum in lucem editi, adjectis etiam stirpium iconibus et brevissimis Annctatiunculis. Sylva qua rerum fossilium in Germania plurimarum. Metallorum, Lapidum et Stirpium aliquot rariorum noticiam brevissime persequitur, nunc hactenus visa.
De artificiosis extractionibus liber. - Compositiones medicinales aliquot non vulgares. - Hie accedunt Stockhornii et Nessi in Bernatium Helvetiorum ditione montium, et nascentium in eis stirpium, descriptio Benedicti Aretii Graecae et Hebraicae linguarum in schola Bernensi pro-fessoris clarissimi. Item Conradi Gesneri De Hortis Germaniae liber recens una cum descriptione Tulipae Turcarum, Chamaecerasi montani, Chamae-opiti, Chamaeenrii et Conizoidis. - Omnia summo studio atque industria doctissima atque excellentis viri Conr. Gesneri medici Tigurini collecta et prasfationibus iIlustrata. - 1561 Argentorati excudebat Josias Rihelius.