Western Herbal Medicine – An Immense History

Posted on July 27, 2020

While many of us casually consume vitamins, supplements and herbal medicine or remedies, it’s often something we take for granted when the history of these complementary health items is immense!

What we decided to do was take brief journey through the history of Western Herbal Medicine from a number of valid sites to help you understand the rich history of development and use of medicinal herbs.

The use of plants as medicines predates written human history.

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans were using medicinal plants during the Paleolithic, approximately 60,000 years ago. (Furthermore, other non-human primates are also known to ingest medicinal plants to treat illness)

Plant samples gathered from prehistoric burial sites have been thought to support the claim that Paleolithic people had knowledge of herbal medicine. For instance, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site, “Shanidar IV”, in northern Iraq has yielded large amounts of pollen from 8 plant species, 7 of which are used now as herbal remedies. More recently Paul B. Pettitt has written that “A recent examination of the microfauna from the strata into which the grave was cut suggests that the pollen was deposited by the burrowing rodent Meriones tersicus, which is common in the Shanidar microfauna and whose burrowing activity can be observed today”.
Medicinal herbs were found in the personal effects of Ötzi the Iceman, whose body was frozen in the Ötztal Alps for more than 5,000 years. These herbs appear to have been used to treat the parasites found in his intestines.

During the Middle Ages, the study of plants began to be based on critical observations. “In the 16th and 17th century an interest in botany revived in Europe and spread to America by way of European conquest and colonization.”

Philosophers started to act as herbalists and academic professors studied plants with great depth. Herbalists began to explore the use of plants for both medicinal purposes and agricultural uses. Botanists in the Middle Ages were known as herbalists; they collected, grew, dried, stored, and sketched plants. Many became experts in identifying and describing plants according to their morphology and habitats, as well as their usefulness. These books, called herbals included beautiful drawings and paintings of plants as well as their uses.

Traditional herbalism has been regarded as a method of alternative medicine in the United States since the Flexner Report of 1910 led to the closing of the eclectic medical schools where botanical medicine was exclusively practiced.

In China, Mao Zedong reintroduced Traditional Chinese Medicine, which relied heavily on herbalism, into the health care system in 1949. Since then, schools have been training thousands of practitioners in the basics of Chinese medicines to be used in hospitals.
While Britain in the 1930s was experiencing turbulence over the practice of herbalism, in the United States, government regulation began to prohibit the practice.

“The World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 to 700 plant-based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70% of German physicians.”

“Traditional medicine is a complex network of interaction of both ideas and practices, the study of which requires a multidisciplinary approach.” Many alternative physicians in the 21st century incorporate herbalism in traditional medicine due to the diverse abilities’ plants have and their low number of side effects.

Today, we have suitably trained Herbalists and Naturopaths offering healthcare services to people looking for alternate options to alleviating health issues. By and large, the knowledge of herbalism has been an art that has been passed down from generation to generation and each time, we begin to learn more about the wonderful properties of healing herbs and plants.

Each herb or plant source is a matrix of many unique components and it is the knowledge of our practitioners which allows them to determine the best course of therapy utilising the power of herbs.

Imagine, what you may take now as an Echinacea remedy or medicine may have started over 50,000 years ago… That certainly provides strength of traditional evidence that our herbs and use of them for health and well-being make a great deal of sense.

Stay safe and be healthy

Always speak to your healthcare provider when taking or considering use of complementary remedies or medicines.