The History of Herbs

Herbs have been used for thousands of years and across numerous continents to treat both physical and mental aliments.  Even Charles the great, known to most as Emperor Charlemagne, was a proponent of herbs.  “An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”  While he was uniting western and central Europe during the Early Middle Ages, he was doing so with the help of herbs.  And he was not alone.  The history of herbal use goes back to prehistoric times.  And luckily for us, advancements in bioavailability and absorption are making herbs even more helpful.  What a great time to be alive!

Ancient Usage of Herbs

When we said herbal use has been going on for thousands of years, we weren’t kidding.  The Lascaux cave paintings in France depict herbs.  These drawings have been dated back to between 13,000 and 25,000 B.C.  Around 1500BC, Ancient Egyptians wrote the Ebers Papyrus.  It listed over 850 herbal medicines.  And don’t forget the Romans and Greeks.  Both believed in heavy use of herbs.  The Romans used dill to purify the air.

During the 5th century, the “Father of Modern Medicine,” Hippocrates, wrote a guide with around 400 herbal entries.  His words “let your foods be your medicines, and your medicines your food” was a common belief during his lifetime.  He was the first to write about the medicinal properties of willow bark.  He said it could be used to treat fevers and pain.  And wouldn’t you know it, scientist in the 1800s started synthesizing compounds from willow bark to make aspirin.

During the Middle Ages, herbs were used to cover the bad taste of food that couldn’t be refrigerated and to help preserve meat.  However, it didn’t stop there.  Students studied medicine and grew herbs in the Benedictine monasteries.  These monasteries were also responsible for the translation of ancient Greco-Roman and Arabic writings on medicine.

The Herbalism Explosion

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the popularity of herbalism exploded.  The first herbal book in English, Grete Herball of 1526, was published.  Even the physician and botanist, Nicholas Culpeper, published a book on his herbal knowledge during the first half of the 17th century.  He wanted to bring medicine to the masses and sought to make medical information available to everyone.

During the latter half of the 19th century, the Eclectics, a group of physicians, started treating their patients with botanical medicines.  They used many forms of treatment that were safer than the conventional medical practices of the day.

The Rise of Western Medicine

The Herbal movement flourished in the United States during the end of the 19th century.  However, the movement was short lived.  In 1904, the American Medical Association (AMA) formed the Council on Medical Education (CME).  They established specific standards that medical teaching facilities had to meet.  Most of the facilities failed to meet those standards and were forced to either close or merge with larger Universities.  Schools that offered training in Eclectic medicine, chiropractic medicine, or osteopathic medicine were forced to drop these courses or lose their accreditation.


Herbs Today

In the last 30 years, we have seen a resurgence in herbalism.  People have started to realize the benefits of using herbs to balance the mind and body, and to help heal numerous ailments.   Scientist are using modern technology, such as MRIs, to prove that herbs are beneficial.  And what’s even better is the wide selection of herbs that are easily available.  With extraction processes being constantly refined, herbs are now more powerful, and cost less.  What a great time to be alive!


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