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Ernst von Bibra


Dr. Ernst Freiherr von Bibra (* June 9, 1806 in Schwebheim; † June 5 1878 in Nuremberg) was a German Naturalist (Natural history scientist) and author. Ernst was many things including a botanist, zoologist, metallurgist, chemist, geographer, travel writer, novelist, duellist, art collector and trailblazer in ethnopsychopharmacology.



Ernst's father, Ferdinand Johann von Bibra, (*1756; † 1807), fought under General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur Rochambeau in the American Revolutionary War on behalf of the colonies. Later he married his brother's daughter, Lucretia Wilhelmine Caroline von Bibra,(1778. + 1857). Ernst's father died when he was 1 1/2 years old and Baron Christoph Franz von Hutton (d. 1830) raised Ernst in Würzburg. He graduated at nineteen from a boarding school in Neuberg on the Danube. Baron Ernst von Bibra started studying law at Würzburg but soon changed over to the natural sciences, especially chemistry. Martin Haseneier, in his Foreword to the 1995 translation Plant Intoxicants relates that Ernst fought in no less than 49 duels as a young man! Six of his works have been reprinted in recent years.

He produced: Chemical Research on Various Varieties of Pus (Berlin 1842); Chemical Research on the Bones and Teeth of Humans and Other Vertebrates (Schweinfurt 1844) and Helpful Tables for the Recognition of the Substances of Zoological Chemistry (Erlangen 1846). Then in cooperation with Geist he published: Investigations of the Diseases of the Workers in the Phosphorus Match Factories (Erlangen 1847) as well as with Harleß The Events of the Investigations of the Effects of Sulphur Fumes (Erlangen 1847). After he had published Chemical Fragments Concerning the Liver and Gall-Bladder (Branschweig 1849), he went to Brazil and around Cape Horn. He reported on this trip in his Trips in South America (Mannheim 1854, 2 vols.). After his return he lived mostly in Nuremberg where he also set up his rich collections of natural history ethnographics and died on the 5th of June 1878. Here he published Comparative Investigations of the Human Brain and Those of Other Vertebrates (Mannheim 1854); The Narcotic Substances of Enjoyment and the Human Being (Nuremberg 1855); Bread and the Various Grains (Nuremberg 1860); Coffee and its Substitute (Reports at the Meetings of the Academy of Sciences in Munich, 1858); The Bronze and Copper Alloys of the Old and Most Ancient Peoples (Erlangen 1869) and Concerning Old Discoveries of Iron and Silver (Nuremberg 1873).

Ernst work on narcotics is his most famous and was recently translated into English and publish under the name of Plant Intoxicants. (ISBN 0-89281-498-5). This was one of the first books to examine the cultivation, preparation, and consumption of the world’s major stimulants and inebriants. The book includes seventeen chapters : 1) coffee, 2)coffee leaves as a beverage 3) tea, 4) Paraguayan Tea (yerba maté), 5) Guarana, 6) chocolate, 7) Fahan Tea (the orchid Angraecum fragrans Thouars as a source of coumarin), 8) Khat, 9) Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) opiate derived from the "poison lettuce,"10) thornapple, 11) coca, 12) opium, 13) Lactucarium 14) hashish, 15) tobacco 16) betel and 17) arsenous acid or arsenic trioxide (As(2)O(3)). Because of Ernst's early investigation and writing on coffee, he is occasionally referenced in modern coffee literature.

Starting with travel sketches and culturally historic descriptions rendered in novelistic style (Memories of South America, Leipzig 1861, 3 vols.; About Chile, Peru and Brazil, Leipzig 1862, 3 vols. and others) von Bibra preferred to busy himself in his later years with fictional works and developed an astonishing fruitfulness in this field. Of these writings which stand out especially because of successful characterizations and descriptions of beautiful landscapes we mention: A Jewel (Leipzig 1863); A Woman with a Noble Heart (Ein edles Frauenherz was featured in a broadcast August 26, 2006 reading and concert)(2nd ed., Jena 1869); The Adventures of a Young Peruvian in Germany (Jena 1870); The Nine Stations of Mr. von Scherenberg (2nd ed. Jena 1880); The Children of the Rogue:(Nuremberg 1872); Brave Women (Jena 1876.)

von Bibra Family

Main article: von Bibra

Ernst was a member of the aristocratic Franconian von Bibra family which among its members were Lorenz von Bibra, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Duke in Franconia (1459-1519), Lorenz’ half brother, Wilhelm von Bibra Papal emissary, Conrad von Bibra, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Duke in Franconia (1490-1544) and Heinrich von Bibra, Prince-Bishop, Prince-Abbot of Fulda (1711-1788).

Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Ernst was one of the co-founders of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (formerly "Germanischen Museums“) located in Nuremberg. Founded in 1852, lead by fellow Franconian baron, Hans von und zu Aufsess, whose goal was to assemble a "well-ordered compendium of all available source material for German history, literature and art". Ernst donated much of his personal collection, which included art, a rich natural history and ethnographic collection, to the museum. A room from his home is often on display at the museum.

"Theory on the action of ether" Anesthesia

An outdated theory of anaesthetic action, Ernst von Bibra and Emil Harless, in 1847, were the first to suggest that general anaesthetics may act by dissolving in the fatty fraction of brain cells. They proposed that anaesthetics dissolve and remove fatty constituents from brain cells, changing their activity and inducing anaesthesia. Below is the abstract of a recent German scientific paper on their work.

Frühe Erlanger Beiträge zur Theorie und Praxis der äther- und Chloroformnarkose : Die tierexperimentellen Untersuchungen von Ernst von Bibra und Emil Harless U. v. Hintzenstern, H. Petermann, W. Schwarz Der Anaesthesist Issue Volume 50, Number 11 / November, 2001
Abstract of Article: Just three months after the first application of sulphuric ether to a patient in German-speaking countries the monography Die Wirkung des Schwefeläthers in chemischer und physiologischer Beziehung was published. In this book Ernst von Bibra and Emil Harless presented their experimental research on the effects of ether on humans and compared it to those on animals. The contents of the book are described. The authors "Theory on the action of ether" will be discussed in the context of contemporary criticism. Their hypothesis affected the discussion on the mechanisms of anaesthetic action up to the twentieth century.

Composition of Barley

The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) cites the following composition of barley meal according to Ernst von Bibra, omitting the salts:

Water 15%
Nitrogenous compounds 12.981%
Gum 6.744%
Sugar 3.200%
Starch 59.950%
Fat 2.170%

What Others Thought about Ernst von Bibra

Richard Evans Schultes, "Father of Modern Ethnobotany" on Ernst von Bibra

 Richard Evans Schultes, Ph.D., F.L.S. who was the Curator of Economic Botany and Executive Director, Harvard Botanical Museum wrote in The plant kingdom and hallucinogens (1970):

In 1855, Ernst Freiherr von Bibra published the first book of its kind, Die narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch, in which he considered some 17 plant narcotics and stimulants and urged chemists to study assiduously a field so promising for research and so fraught with enigmas.
A review of the scientific literature of the last half of the past century indicates that von Bibra's suggestions were followed, and an interdisciplinary interest in narcotics began to take hold and grow. It proved to be the spark that eventually engendered today's extraordinarily extensive and complex literature in many fields on narcotic substances.
Half a century later, in 1911, another outstanding book-in reality, a much expanded and modernized successor of von Bibra's work-appeared in C. Hartwich's Die menschlichen Genussmittel. This volume considered at great length and with interdisciplinary emphasis about 30 vegetal narcotics and stimulants and mentioned many others in passing. Hartwich pointed out that von Bibra's pioneer work was out of date, that research on the botanical aspects and chemical constituents of these curiously active plants had, in 1855, scarcely begun but that, by 1911, such studies were either progressing well or had already been completed.

Albert Hofmann on Ernst von Bibra

Albert Hofmann writes and quotes Ernst in his book LSD — My Problem Child, Chapter 7. "Radiance from Ernst Jünger"

I visited Ernst Jünger occasionally in the following years, in Wilfingen, Germany, where he had moved from Ravensburg; or we met in Switzerland, at my place in Bottmingen, or in Bundnerland in southeastern Switzerland. Through the shared LSD experience our relations had deepened. Drugs and problems connected with them constituted a major subject of our conversation and correspondence, without our having made further practical experiments in the meantime.
We exchanged literature about drugs. Ernst Jünger thus let me have for my drug library the rare, valuable monograph of Dr. Ernst Freiherrn von Bibra, Die Narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch [Narcotic pleasure drugs and man] printed in Nuremburg in 1855. This book is a pioneering, standard work of drug literature, a source of the first order, above all as relates to the history of drugs. What von Bibra embraces under the designation "Narkotischen Genussmittel" are not only substances like opium and thorn apple, but also coffee, tobacco, khat, which do not fall under the present conception of narcotics, any more than do drugs such as coca, fly agaric, and hashish, which he also described.
Noteworthy, and today still as topical as at the time, are the general opinions about drugs that von Bibra contrived more than a century ago: The individual who has taken too much hashish, and then runs frantically about in the streets and attacks everyone who confronts him, sinks into insignificance beside the numbers of those who after mealtime pass calm and happy hours with a moderate dose; and the number of those who are able to overcome the heaviest exertions through coca, yes, who were possibly rescued from death by starvation through coca, by far exceed the few coqueros who have undermined their health by immoderate use. In the same manner, only a misplaced hypocrisy can condemn the vinous cup of old father Noah, because individual drunkards do not know how to observe limit and moderation.

Arthur Schopenhauer on Ernst von Bibra

The famous philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), was extremely critical of Ernst for his vivisection of animals in Parerga and Paralipomena. (quoting Payne's translation)

Deserving of special mention is the atrocity, perpetrated in Nuremberg by Baron von Bibra and reported by him tanquam re bene gesta to the public with inconceivable naïveté in his Vergleichende Untersuchungen über das Gehirn des Menschen und der Wirbelthiere (Mannheim, 1854, pp. 131 ff.). He deliberately arranged for the death by starvation of two rabbits in order to carry out a useless and superfluous research as to whether the chemical constituents of the brain underwent a change in their proportions through death by starvation! For the benefit of science, n’est-ce-pas? Does it never occur to these gentlemen of scalpel and crucible that they are human beings first and chemists afterwards?
Schopenhauer further on states 
If Bibra’s cruel act could not be prevented, was it left unpunished? At any rate, anyone who has still as much to learn from books as has that von Bibra, should remember that to extort the final answers on the path of cruelty is to put nature on the rack in order to enrich his knowledge, to extort her secrets which have probably long been known.

Works (Titles in German)

  • Chemische Untersuchungen verschiedener Eiterarten: und einiger anderer krankhafter Substanzen.. Berlin, Albert Förstner 1842 (reprinted c.2003 Elibron Classics)
  • Chemische Untersuchungen über die Knochen und Zähne des Menschen und der Wirbeltiere. Schweinfurt, 1844 (reprinted 2003 Elibron Classics)
  • Hilfstabellen zur Erkennung zoochemischer Substanzen. Erlangen 1846
  • Untersuchungen über die Krankheiten der Arbeiter in den Phosphorzündholzfabriken. Erlangen 1847
  • Emil Harless, Ernst von Bibra: Die Ergebnisse der Versuche über die Wirkung des Schwefeläthers. Erlangen 1847
  • Emil Harless, Ernst von Bibra Die Wirkung des Schwefeläthers in chemischer und physiologischer Beziehung (May be work just above.)
  • Chemische Fragmente über die Leber und die Galle. Braunschweig 1849
  • Reisen in Südamerika. 2 Volumes, Mannheim 1854
  • Vergleichende Untersuchungen über das Gehirn des Menschen und der Wirbeltiere. Verlag von Basserman & Mathy, Mannheim 1854
  • Die Narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch. Nürnberg, Verlag von Wilhelm Schmid, 1855 /reprinted Leipzig, Wiesbaden 1983 / Also republish as Haschisch Anno 1855: Das narotische Genußmittel Hanf und der Mensch Rauschkunde(unknown date 1970 - 90's) ISBN 3-930442-07-8 / translated into English Plant Intoxicants: A Classic Text on the Use of Mind-Altering Plants Translated by Hedwig Schleiffer, Forward by Martin Haseneier and extensive technical notes by Jonathan Ot, an ethnobiologist- ISBN 0-89281-498-5 Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont 1995
  • Der Kaffee und seine Surrogate. Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in München 1858
  • Die Getreidearten und das Brot. Nürnberg 1860, 2nd Edition 1861
  • Erinnerungen aus Südamerika. 3 Volumes, Leipzig 1861 (reprinted 2007 as one volume with modern forward, ISBN 10: 3865030459 ISBN 13: 9783865030450)
  • Aus Chile, Peru und Brasilien. 3 Volumes, Leipzig 1862
  • Die Bronze- und Kupferlegierungen der alten und ältesten Völker. Erlangen 1869
  • Über alte Eisen- und Silberfunde. Nürnberg, Richter & Kappler 1873 (reprinted 2003 Elibron Classics)

Some of his novels include:

  • Ein Juwel. Leipzig 1863
  • Reiseskizzen und Novellen. Jena ; Leipzig : Costenoble, 1864
  • Tzarogy. Jena ; Leipzig : Costenoble, 1865 (3 volumes)
  • Ein edles Frauenherz. 1866, 2nd Ed., Jena 1869 (reprinted 2003, 3 volumes Elibron Classics)
  • Die Schatzgräber. Multiple volumes Jena : Costenoble, 1867
  • Aus jungen und alten Tagen : Erinnerungen. Jena : Costenoble, 1868 (may be nonfiction)
  • Abenteuer eines jungen Peruaners in Deutschland. Jena 1870
  • Die Kinder des Gauners. Nürnberg 1872
  • Hieronimus Scottus : ein Zeitbild aus dem 16. u. 17. Jahrhundert Multiple Volumes. Berlin, 1873
  • Wackere Frauen. Jena 1876
  • Die neun Stationen des Herrn v. Scherenberg. Jena 1880



  • Frühe Erlanger Beiträge zur Theorie und Praxis der äther- und Chloroformnarkose : Die tierexperimentellen Untersuchungen von Ernst von Bibra und Emil Harless U. v. Hintzenstern, H. Petermann, W. Schwarz Der Anaesthesist Issue Volume 50, Number 11 / November, 2001;
  • Rudolf Beissel Ernst Freiherr von Bibra. Ein Naturforscher mit schöngeistigen Neigungen. In: Augustin, Siegfried - Mittelstadt, Axel (Hrsg.): Vom Lederstrumpf zum Winnetou. Munich 1981.
  • Rudolf Beissel and Erich Salomon Ernst Freiherr von Bibra In: Schegk, Friedrich (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Reise- und Abenteuerliteratur. Meitingen o.J. (1988 ff.)
  • Rüdiger Kutz: Zum Leben des Naturforschers Ernst von Bibra I, Franconiae Würzburg. In: Frankenzeitung, Würzburg, 1999 (118), pp. 56-60.
  • Meyers Konversationslexikon von 1888 Band 2 von Atlantis bis Blatthornk, page 895: Basis of much of initial article.
  • Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena II/2, Züricher Ausgabe 1977, Kap. 15. Ueber Religion, § 177. Ueber das Christenthum, pp. 412/413.


  • Plant Intoxicants: A Classic Text on the Use of Mind-Altering Plants 1995 Translation of Die narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch Translated by Hedwig Schleiffer, Forward by Martin Haseneier and extensive technical notes by Jonathan Ot, an ethnobiologist- ISBN 0-89281-498-5
  • Parerga and Paralipomena by Arthur Schopenhauer. Translated from the German by E.F.J. Payne, Vol. II, Oxford University Press 1974, XV. On Religion, § 177 On Christianity, p. 374/375.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ernst_von_Bibra". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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