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History of Herbs

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Forums -> Herbalism -> History of Herbs

History of Herbs
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Post # 1
Throughout the years herbs have been revered and used as spices, seasonings, scents, medicines, disinfectants, and even currency. They were also used to create shelters and used as tools as well.
The first known written record of curative plants was of Sumerian herbal of 22,000 B.C.E.
There is no way of knowing precisely how the earliest cultures used herbs, but they had thousands of years to experiment. Early cultures probably recognized that certain herbs had curative powers, and it?s likely these curative powers were attributed to supernatural causes. A 60,000 year old burial site in Iraq contained evidence of eight different medicinal plants, probably intended to be taken along in the afterlife. Naturally, medicinal herbs remained steeped in magic and superstition for millennia, and even into today.
By 3500 B.C.E, the Ancient Egyptians began to associate less magic with the treatment of disease, and by 2700 B.C.E. the Chinese started to use herbs in a more scientific sense. Borrowing from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.E.), founder of the Hippocratic oath, developed a system of diagnosis and prognosis using herbs. He considered illness a natural, not supernatural, phenomenon and maintained that medicine should be give in without magic.
In 77 C.E. (Common Era), Pliny the elder wrote 37 volumes on natural history and devoted seven of them to the medicinal uses of plants. Unfortunately, Pliny verified little of what he wrote and much of his work is of very questionable value today.
Ancient physician Galen (131-201 C.E.) developed the principle of humors, linking body type with health and personality. For the next 1,400 years, physicians would trust in Galen?s principles for better or worse, often using them as the basis for purgatives, and bloodletting (which was done by leaches and cuts). In the 16th century, however, one physician would break ranks with the Galenic school to propose his own somewhat strange idea known as the Doctrine of Signatures. Paracelsus (1493 - 1541 A.D.) would reject humors and instead argue that botanicals bear an uncanny resemblance to the body parts, or causes of the ailments, they could cure.
Herbs in Medieval Europe

The progress of science and the understanding of plants nearly collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire. The early Middle Ages saw a return to the ritual and superstition that surrounded herbs, as the learning of the ancients was preserved mostly in monasteries and the Arabic cultures. Some herbs were positively reviled in Medieval Europe. A common Medieval belief held that scorpions bred beneath Basil pots, and inhaling the Basil's scent would drive a scorpion into the brain. Medieval herbalism had two problems. First, much of the learning of the ancients was lost to the population at large (if it had ever been available in the first place). Second, Medieval scholarship trusted ancient beliefs with no emphasis on experimentation that could lead to new discoveries. Yet many people in the Middle Ages possessed a sophisticated knowledge of medicinal herbs, as evidenced by archaeological finds. Throughout Europe, serfs and townspeople could make use of local herbs to flavor foods, but Medieval lords often purchased much more expensive spices from the East. During the Middle Ages, paradise was believed to be a physical place on Earth, and spices such as cinnamon and pepper were reputed to grow in close proximity to it, making them important status symbols on the Medieval table.

The Renaissance

As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, trade with other civilizations increased, and so did the knowledge of medicinal herbs. In fact, the "discovery" of the New World was fueled by a quest for herbs and spices ? Columbus was seeking a quicker, cheaper route to India in 1492. During the Renaissance, nobles of Europe aspired to assemble all human knowledge in their private libraries, and all useful botanicals in their gardens. Some of these nobles commissioned artists to produce beautiful, if not always accurate, catalogs of their collections. Meanwhile, universities teaching botany and herbalism planted "physic" gardens in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sadly, the exchange of plants in this new garden culture had a darker side: when European colonists planted gardens in newly discovered lands, some of their favorite botanicals became weeds, choking out the native vegetation.

*A cool little fact is that you can see paintings of herbs in France that have been carbon dated back to between 13,000 and 25,000 B.C.E. The Paintings in France are known as the Lascraux cave paintings.
A bit of the Present status on herbs and herbalism
Herbalists today, believe to help people build their good health with the help of natural sources.Herbs are considered to be food rather than medicine because they're complete, all-natural and pure, as nature intended. When herbs are taken, the body starts to get cleansed, It gets purifying itself. Unlike chemically synthesized, highly concentrated drugs that may produce many side effects, herbs can effectively realign the body's defenses. Herbs do not produce instant cures, but rather offer a way to put the body in proper tune with nature
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