This first account of American plants and their medicinal uses was, oddly enough, published in Germany. Johann David Schöpf was a military surgeon who came to the country during the Revolutionary War and later traveled through New York, Pennsylvania, as far west as Kentucky, and then south through the Carolinas to Florida.
"Promulgated for the purpose of spreading medical light and information in America," Samuel Stearns' herbal is the first to be printed in the United States and incorporates information from the traditions of American Indians.
In addition to being a detailed examination of plants native to the United States with their medicinal uses, American medical botany is the first publication in this country to employ a color printing process for its plates, using an innovative etched stone process. Jacob Bigelow, Harvard's professor of materia medica, hoped to decrease reliance on foreign imported medicinal substances by substitution of domestic compounds: "Several departments of the Materia Medica may be amply supplied from our own forests and meadows, although there are others, for which we must as yet depend on foreign countries. We have yet to discover our anodynes and our emetics …. A great number of foreign drugs, such as gentian, columbo, chamomile, kino, catechu, cascarilla, canella, &c. for which we pay a large annual tax to other countries, might in all probability be superceded by the indigenous products of our own." The plate displayed shows panax quinquefolium [ginseng].
William P. C. Barton's Vegetable materia medica of the United States, along with Jacob Bigelow's contemporary American medical botany, are the first two American botanical publications with colored illustrations. Barton's contains hand-colored copperplate engravings.