History of Herbal Medicine
The first written records of herbal medicines come from Chine - the Pen Ts'ao by Shen Nung, which describes 366 herbs including Ephedra sinica which was found in a Neanderthal grave.
King Hammurabi of Babylon recorded information on stone tables in his Public Records Office. Records of herbs such as Mint (Mentha viridis), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and Henbane were found carved in stone.
Ancient temple carving at Karnak in Egypt show medicinal plants being brought back from as far away as Syria.
First Greek herbal written; Hippocrates develops principles of diet, exercise and happiness as the cornerstones of health
0 - 100 A.D
Crataeus, personal physician to King of Pontus, writes the first illustrated herbal.
Pedanius Dioscorides was a practicing doctor who travaled extensively with the Roman armies of Nero. His work De Materia Medica formed the basis form the medical pharmacopeia.
Roman army manual containing a numerous prescriptions of remedies based on herbs have been found all over Europe, together with directions on how to pack and transport their drug supplies.
Roman Empire spreads herbal medicine and commerce of plants around the Empire
Hippocrates (468-377 B.C.), credited today as being the most important and interesting medical thinker of early times, stressed the idea of balance, that is a balance between mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. He posed that disease was a disturbance of this balance, and that the healthy body was one in which the four “humours” of blood, bile, phlegm and choler were equally balanced.
Herbal practitioner, Galen (121-180 A.D), creates system for classifying illnesses and remedies according to the four humours. This became the cornerstone of an elaborate and rigid system of medicine, which effectively paralysed European medical thinking for the next 1500 years.
This also marked the beginning of a sharp division in Western Europe between the professional physician on the one hand, and the traditional healer on the other.
Christianity takes over from Roman Empire Rule in governing of the colonies - law, taxes and education.
Hippocrates' principles followed in Britain by Myddfai practitioners throughout Saxon times.
Christianity reaches Britain.
Invasion of Southern Europe by the Muslims, Holy Wars (crusades). The Dark Ages begin.
Monks now pioneer herbal medicine with infirmaries and physic gardens at every monastery
Arab world now major influence on medicine and healing practices.
Avicenna - The first "Pharmacist" he writes the Canon of Medicine
Black Death spreads across Europe; 'qualified' apothecaries try bleeding, purging, mercury and arsenic to stem the epidemic with no more success than traditional herbalists.
The Renaissance begins. Medicine as a "Nature Cure" virtually extinct and kept alive mainly by the practice of "folk medicine".
The Crusaders bring Eastern distillation techniques back to Europe.
Paracelsus describes the Doctrine of Signatures.
The Art of Perfumery is developed in Europe.
Development of "Chemical medicine" arises from the work of Paracelsus and wide spread use of Eastern distillation methods and Alchemy.
Henry VII promotes herbal medicine in the face of the growing number of untrained apothecaries and other 'medical practitioners' flourishing in London
Various Acts of Parliament passed to introduce some regulation of medical practices including protection for 'simple herbalists' to practice without fear of prosecution.
Society sees the first two-tier health system emerge - herbs for the poor and exotics (plant, animal or mineral extracts) or 'drugs' for the rich
Nicholas Culpeper (18 October 1616 – 1654 in London) was an English botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer; Culpeper writes his famous herbal: The English Physician, explaining in simple terms the practice of herbal medicine
Preacher Charles Wesley advocates a sensible diet, good hygiene and herbal medicine as the keys to a healthy life
Herbal medicines begin to be eclipsed by mineral-drug based treatments. With powerful drugs such as calomel (mercury) and laudanum available over the counter serious side effects begin to be documented.
Albert Coffin pioneers low-cost herbal remedies using plants from his native America as well as European ones helping hundreds of working class people at his north of England practice.
Burgeoning pharmaceuticals industry makes herbal medicine seem outdated. National Association of Medical Herbalists founded to defend the practice. Later to become the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH)
Resurgence of herbal medicine during World War I as drugs are in short supply.
Post war period sees enormous expansion in the international pharmaceuticals industry and the discovery of penicillin.
Pharmacy & Medicines Act 1941 withdraws herbal practitioners rights to supply patients with medicines. Public outcry ensures the Act is never enforced.
After much campaigning by the NIMH, the Medicines Act in 1968 reinstates practitioners' rights and the British Herbal Medicine Association (BHMA) is founded.
The BHMA produce the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
Concern starts to grow over the side effects of the 'wonder drugs' of the 1950s and their impact on the environment.
Today, herbal medicine is still struggling to be accepted as part of the mainstream, but as people are starting to see the benefits of using natural herbal medicine over the synthetic drugs, it's popularity is on the increase.