An Overview of Herbal Medicine History

Herbal Medicine in the East

Papyrus writings from ancient Egypt and China describe medicinal uses of herbs, and the histories of cultures in Africa and the Americas show that herbal medicine was used in these regions of the world as far back as recorded history. Once world travel became more commonplace, early scientists found that people in very different parts of the world used some of the same plants for the same medicinal purposes. Today, herbal supplements are used worldwide, including in the most technologically advanced nations.

The first written record of herbal medicine is from around 2800 BCE in China. A comprehensive medical compendium discussing the use of herbs go back to the Huang Di Nei Jing, or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, which dates to between 800 and 200 BCE. It listed 28 different substances and a dozen different herbal prescriptions, and some of these are used to this day. Herbal medicine became firmly established in China over the next several hundred years, and in about the year 500, The Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica was published, containing references to the herbal vitamins properties and a classification system for herbs.

Herbal Medicine in the Mediterranean

But herbal medicine wasn't just confined to the Far East. The Greeks used herbs as well, and the Roman Empire spread the use of herbs throughout the Empire along with commerce based on growing herbs. The herbal practitioner Galen created the first Roman classification system that matched common illnesses with their appropriate herbal remedy around the year 200. Herbal supplements at that time were generally in the form of the actual plant parts, which may have been consumed directly, or in preparations like teas.

Herbs in the Arab World and Europe

By the dawn of the second millennium AD, the Arab world became prominent in medicine overall, and the medical canons of that era and region referred to herbal medicines as well. In Europe, as the Black Death spread mercilessly, herbs were used alongside "modern" techniques like purging, bleeding, and the use of arsenic and mercury, and they generally had better results, though nothing was able to stop the plague successfully.

The Renaissance through the Present Day

Herbs continued to be used throughout the Renaissance, and folk traditions from Europe brought European herbal medicine independently to America in colonial times. Today, with more people dissatisfied with the solutions of Western medicine, herbal supplements are undergoing another renaissance, and many are being scientifically studied in rigorous trials to lock down some of the mechanisms by which these ancient medicines work. Along with the world wide web, knowledge about herbs is spreading among ordinary people and scientists alike, and the future of herbal medicine looks as promising today as ever, as studies are showing the true effectiveness of these naturally-given medicines.

Natural herbal supplements have been under estimated by many in the past and still to this day, but the healing properties they posses are truly remarkable and should be looked upon as true medicines.

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