The history of medicinal herbs for natural healing goes back as far as the beginning of time. It seems people have known that certain herbs would aid in digestion, others would ease the pain of a headache, and still another would stop the bleeding from a cut. Cultures as diverse as Europe, Egypt, China, and India have all had their own medicinal herb cures for various ailments.
Herbalism In Ancient Egypt
Though the Egyptians believed many illnesses were caused by evil spirits and therefore used magical incantations and rituals to drive out the sickness, there was also widespread use of herbs in the practice of their medicine. Medical papyri dating as far back as the 17th century B.C. outline such cures as honey and milk for a sore throat, aloe vera to treat burns, and garlic to aid in digestion. Even some of the mummies that have been discovered in modern times have had a variety of herbal treatments at their side, presumably for use in the afterlife.
Chinese Tea And Other Discoveries
A thousand years earlier the Chinese emperor Shennong was experimenting with herbs and their medicinal value, and recording his findings in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic. The discovery of ginseng tea as an antidote to certain kinds of poison is attributed to him, as well as the effects of a certain Chinese herb—today known as ephedra—on respiratory diseases. Today, we drink ginseng tea for health and use the refined form of the ephedra plant, psuedoephedrine, in cold and allergy relief medicines of all kinds.
Ayurveda – Holistic Healing
Any schoolchild can tell you—”In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” What they don’t always know is why? He went in search of a shorter route to India, the source of all the spices that made food taste good. Along with that, India is also the source for many of the medicinal herbs and herbal medicines that have naturally healed people. Ayurveda, the holistic system of healing used in India from ancient times till today, is credited with inoculations as a prevention against smallpox and the theory behind modern homeopathy.
Hippocrates – The Foundation Of Western Medicine
One man in Ancient Greece laid the foundations for later medicine in the Western World. Hippocrates, later to become known as “the father of modern medicine,” argued against the idea of magic in healing and instead advocated things such as herbs and plants be used in observable and documented ways. He cataloged some 400 herbs and their uses, among them the use of parsley for rheumatism and chives to alleviate a sore throat.
In what came to be known as the “Dark Ages” because of the backwards progression of many of the advances in civilization up to that time, much of the knowledge surrounding herbs was lost. The end of the Roman Empire meant that travel, and the necessary trade of information and herbs, were much more difficult and expensive. Locally grown herbs became all that was available for most people who didn’t live in a castle, and superstition reigned supreme over the healing powers behind medicinal herbs.
A Reawakening To Natural Healing
Towards the end of the Renaissance a man by the name of Nicholas Culpepper, wrote a treatise outlining the use of all herbal remedies in Europe at the time. Culpepper used a return to Hippocrates’ methods of observation, improving on it by adding the use of reason in his diagnoses. His publication, The English Physician, is still used today and included such prescriptions as mugwort for inducing labor and easing labor pains, and sage to cure an upset stomach.
The first U.S. Pharmacopeia, published in 1820, outlined various medicinal herbs and their uses. However, as medicine become more and more of a science, synthetic methods were developed to extract the “active” compounds from herbs and plants. The herbal traditions that had cured people for so long began to be looked down upon, even outlawed in some places. Pharmaceutical companies began to take over the role of healer in modern society, and the fate of herbal remedies was sealed.
Today More Than Ever
In the twenty-first century, people are turning more and more to the medicinal herbs that their ancestors used, in part because of the spiraling rise in drug costs and unintended side effects from many of the drugs in use today. The use of herbal medicines has become an accepted alternative to many of the powerful drugs produced today, and is now known as complementary and alternative medicine. Holistic health has come full circle to embrace some of the same cures the ancient Egyptians might have used!
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