History of Herbalism
The history of herbalism is a long and intriguing one. Some people think that using herbs for healing is some sort of “new age” art, but the truth is that herbalism has a very old history that goes back even before recorded history.
Herbalism combines botanical knowledge, food, and cultural tradition in an attempt to bring benefits to everyone.
Oldest Evidence of Herbalism
There is evidence that Neanderthals used herbs for healing. Evidence of poplar, chamomile, and yarrow was found in Neanderthal remains that may be as old as 60,000 BC. (1)
At about 1500 BC, ancient Egyptians had made the Ebers papyrus which had several medical texts and more than 700 formulas. Although these papers are very old, the depth of knowledge contained within them is impressive. These papers have descriptions of various systems in the human body and how they work. For example, the circulatory system is described in detail, and so is the heart’s function.
Various plants have been mentioned in this papyrus, including Bayberry, Basil, and Aloe. These herbs are still in use today.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were also advanced in herbalism. Hippocrates is known as the father of Western Medicine. This Greek physician theorized that disease is due to natural causes and not due to any other superstitious reason. Hippocrates was jailed for a long time due to his medical beliefs. During his time in jail, Hippocrates wrote a work known as “The Complicated Body.” Some principles that he has described are still in use today. He suggested that food should be your medicine.
One of the herbs that Hippocrates described was the willow bark and how it could help with pain and fever. Modern science used this knowledge to use active compounds found in this herb to make the medicine that almost all know of – aspirin. The ancient Greeks were also very enthusiastic about the use of Elderberry, which is seeing a resurgence today for its immune-boosting effects.
The Great Age of Herbalism
The great age of herbalism happened between the 15th and 17th centuries. Herbal books have become increasingly accessible to everyone since they were being translated from Greek and Latin.
One of the first books in English to be printed about herbalism was called “Grete Herball”. It was printed in 1526. Another important work on herbalism, “Bancke’s Herbal,” may have been printed just a little earlier in 1525. There is some disagreement about the times when these books were published.
The US National Library has a digital scan of Bancke’s Herbal. It is worth reading because many herbs suggested are seeing a lot of use today. Examples of these herbs include chamomile, mint, lavender, and rosemary.
The history of herbalism has a rich tradition that is worth reading. You will be surprised to find that many herbs recommended in ancient books are seeing increased popularity today.