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Garcia de Orta (1501/02-68)

Garcia de Orta was a Portuguese physician of Spanish Jewish descent who lived and practised in Goa, India. His work on the materia medica and natural history introduced Indian medical practice to Europe.

De Orta practised and taught medicine in Portugal, before sailing to India in 1534 as a physician with the Portuguese navy. He settled in Goa and built a substantial medical practice where he treated Portuguese and Indian patients, including prominent leaders in both communities.

He collected and traded plants and drugs, and described them in Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia or Conversations on the Simples, Drugs and Medicinal Substances of India. This was a multivolume work published in Goa in 1563. It was written in dialogue format, between Portuguese and Indian physicians, and enslaved servants. It details the names and properties of plants, case studies of different diseases, and other Indian medical knowledge. The work was translated across Europe, providing the earliest systematic exploration of Indian medicine by a European.

Related Themes and Topics



R Grove, ‘Indigenous knowledge and the significance of the south-west India for Portuguese and Dutch constructions of tropical nature’, Modern Asian Studies (30, 1996), pp 121 -143

M N Pearson ‘Hindu Medical Practice in Sixteenth-Century Western India: Evidence from Portuguese Sources‘ Portuguese Studies, 17/1 (2007), pp 100-113

M B Barbosa and J Caria Mendes, ‘Garcia d'Orta, pioneer of tropical medicine and his descriptions of cholera in his Coloquios (1563), Proceedings of the XXIII International Congress of the History of Medicine 1974, pp 1258-1259


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