Herbs have a long history of medicinal use. Before modern pharmaceuticals, the majority of medicine came from nature. The oldest written evidence of using plants as medicine was written on a clay slab over 5000 years ago! This particular slab included 12 different recipes for medicines and referred to over 250 different types of plants including henbane, mandrake, and poppy. Herbs are a very important part of both Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, two holistic ancient practices that are still in use today.
Although herbs have always been widely used in Eastern practices, herbalism is now becoming more popular in the Western world. We drink ginger tea to ease upset stomachs, sniff eucalyptus essential oil to ease congestion and eat spoonfuls of garlic to ward off cold and flu without even thinking about the fact that we’re using an ancient form of medicine!
History of herbs for medicinal use
Chinese medicine has always placed great emphasis on the healing properties of herbs and other plants. A Chinese book titled Pen T’Sao , written by Emperor Shen Nung around 2500 BC, offers an overview of 365 dried parts of medicinal plants. Some people still use some of these are herbs today, including cinnamon bark and ginseng.
The Ebers Papyrus is an Egyptian text written in 1500 BC and refers to over 700 different plant species used for medicinal purposes. the texts mention pomegranate, garlic, onion, coriander, juniper, aloe and more.
Hippocrates - a name still popular in modern medicine today - wrote about over 300 medicinal plants and their uses. He wrote that garlic combats intestinal parasites, wormwood helps reduce fevers, hellebore is an effective emetic, asparagus and parsley are good diuretics and pomegranates are astringents. While wormwood and hellebore aren’t common in modern herbalism, many of the medicinal plants Hippocrates mentions are still in use.
History of herbs continued
Dioscorides wrote one of the most well-known ancient texts on herbal medicine in 77 AD - De Materia Medica. In the book, he includes in-depth descriptions of the appearance of medicinal plants, where they grow, how to harvest them, how to make medicine out of them, and the therapeutic effects they offer. Chamomile has the ability to heal minor wounds, burns, stings, and ulcers. It also cleanses the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Sea onion and parsley have diuretic properties, while white willow was an antipyretic.
During the Middle Ages, medicinal plants became popular within monasteries. A typical herb garden often included sage, betony, clary sage, mint, hyssop, rue, chamomile, dill, tansy, cumin, and comfrey, among many others.
In the early 19th century, the discovery of plant-derived alkaloids marked an important moment in scientific pharmacy. As the years went on, herbal medicine became second to more modern medicines that were using isolated compounds from plants. While much of Western medicine has turned to more conventional treatments, herbalism is making a comeback with those who wish to have a more natural way to treat their symptoms. 1
The medicinal use of herbs today
Nowadays, herbs are still widely used to both treat and prevent a wide variety of ailments. Many of use herbs for medicinal purposes on a daily basis without even realizing it! If you reach for a mug of herbal tea to ease the nerves, promote a restful sleep or calm an upset stomach, you’re benefiting from the medicinal properties of these powerful plants.
- Chamomile has relaxing and sedative properties. If you’ve ever brewed a mug of chamomile tea before bed, you know exactly how soothing this herb is!
- Echinacea helps to ward off colds, flu, and other seasonal illnesses. It also promotes the healing of wounds.
- Garlic promotes heart health by lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure. It also has strong antimicrobial properties, and people use it as a folk remedy for the common cold and flu.
- Ginseng can help promote energy and vitality. Many call it an aphrodisiac. It is also a general tonic that helps promote overall wellness.
- Saint John’s Wort has been used as an antidepressant, although is also known for its antiviral properties which can help heal wounds. 2
- Yarrow is wonderful for easing the digestive system, soothing painful menstrual cramps, healing wounds and reducing fevers. 3
- Calendula is in salves and creams, and has antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties.
- Peppermint does wonders for easing the digestive system, and can also help to ease the pain of headaches and reduce fevers.
- Rosemary is a wonderful herb to turn to when you need to ease muscle and joint pain. It can also help boost concentration, improve mental clarity, relieve stress and boost the immune system.
Easy ways to add herbs to your daily routine
You don’t need to become a master herbalist to benefit from the healing properties of these common herbs. Many of these medicinal plants are probably already in your pantry in the form of a powdered herb or herbal tea! Try a few of these simple tricks to ease stress and anxiety, relieve muscle pain and ward off illnesses.
- Keep a bottle of eucalyptus essential oil on hand to sniff when you are feeling congested. You can also diffuse throughout your home or add to a soothing homemade vapor rub.
- Add a few drops of rosemary essential oil to a carrier oil and use as a massage oil to ease the pain of sore muscles and joints. You can also add a few drops to a warm bath and relax.
- If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try making a mug of chamomile and lavender tea. You can also diffuse a mixture of roman chamomile and lavender essential oils throughout your room before bedtime, or add a few drops of this mixture to a spray bottle of water and lightly spray your bed linens.
- To ease feelings of stress and anxiety, brew a mug of lemon balm tea. You can also diffuse lemon balm essential oil throughout your home, or add to a bath or massage oil.
Herbs are widely available in many different forms depending on your particular needs. You can use powdered herbs in meals, fresh or dried herbs in teas, or the essential oils aromatically and topically. If you’re looking for a more natural way to ease your discomfort, there are many different herbal options out there.
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