Ana de Osorio was the Countess of Chinchon, a Spanish noblewoman assigned with her husband, the Viveroy of Lima, to a post in Peru. The assignment came in 1630, and by all accounts, Ana was not thrilled to be leaving Spain for the New World.
Very soon after arriving in Peru, both Ana and her husband came down with malaria, a mosquito-borne illness endemic to South America. Ana tried many home remedies to solve the crisis of their fever, but none worked. She soon learned of a local cure, and instructed her servants to search for the specific magical plant which would solve their illness.
Eventually, the plant was found. Its bark held the ingredient quinine, which when ingested by Ana and her husband, had them quickly on the mend.
In 1638, Ana and her husband were sent back to Spain. Ana, thinking ahead, put some of the malaria-curing bark into her luggage. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as they arrived in Spain just in time for a malaria outbreak there. Ana shared the wealth of her quinine bark, and cured many a sick Spaniard. Ana became famous throughout Spain as the woman who could cure malaria.
A century after Ana brought quinine to the Old World, famous Swedish botanist Linnaeaus developed his Latin-naming structure for plants and animals. In a honor of Ana, Countess of Chinchon, he named the quinine plant’s genus Chinchona.
In British India and elsewhere in the tropical British Empire, gin and tonic was consumed because of the quinine found in tonic water, thus preventing malaria in the consumer.
Although it has been replaced in modern times by artemisinin medications, today, quinine is a major preventative treatment for malaria worldwide. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medications.
All because of the discovery of a woman you’ve probably never heard of—Ana de Osorio.