History of Herbal Medicine

Phytotherapy or herbal medicine is certainly one of the oldest healing methods and is used in many different cultures. Already the indigenous peoples of the world took advantage of the fruits of nature. At that time, no distinction was made between material and spiritual healing – the holistic approach was (un)consciously pursued. Over time, and particularly since the development of modern science and industrialization this knowledge was partly forgotten, and even partly discredited. However, it still forms the basis of all medicine! Plants (Greek. Phyton = plant) used to be the only remedy. They also provided the raw materials for the production of the first drugs. The term phytotherapy has been established by the French physician Henri Leclerc. He referred to Phytotherapy, the science of prevention and treatment of diseases with plants or plant parts. Medicinal plants are a true miracle of nature: they are easily accessible and versatile. Depending on the formulation and segments used, entirely different remedies can be prepared from a plant. A medicinal plant (or extracts thereof) can be used as tincture, tea, juice, cream, ointment, emulsion, or as an inhalant. Depending on the preparation, other ingredients of the plant are made soluble; and thus the effect might be different.

Milestones in the development of herbal medicine

European medicine

In the 1950s an approximately 60,000-year-old grave was discovered in Iraq, where the dead were laid on plant tufts. The analysis of the plants revealed astonishing: it contained more than 25 different medical herbs, that still are used nowadays. Among other things, yarrow, mugwort or plantain. This can at least be seen as an indication that even in  early periods the use of medicinal plants was common. Ötzi’s mummified body found in the ice, the Iceman – was estimated after all, to be around 5,000 years old– carried a variety of herbs in a bag with him. In Egypt, too, the documentary evidence for the herbal medicine accumulated. About 1900 BC. likely the healing art of Ayur-Veda ( “science of a long life”) has originated. Accordingly, many impressive findings were discovered in Egyptian royal tombs. This lets us assume that Egyptians had a variety of uses of medicinal knowledge. Around the 5th century BC.  Hippocrates presented his still significant health theory – still the Hippocratic oath is the basis of creation of every health professional. In the time of Tacitus , the Roman also created different procedures and healing procedures with regard to natural therapies, which were later taken over by the Germans in part (but they also took advantage of the knowledge of the Celtic Druids). Under the guidance of Charlemagne herbs and spices were grown in a regulated way. In the 12th century  Hildegard von Bingen described meticulously and in unusual broad details the native plants in her work “Physica”, which made her “immortal”. From Goethe to Father Kneipp (Kneipp method), Johann Künzle and Rudolf Steiner – countless people contributed their part since then to help make the herbal medicine for what it has always been known: an inexhaustible source of healing power.

Chinese medicine

Parallel to the developments in Mesopotamia, Turkey, Greece and Europe, a very comprehensive knowledge built up in China about the healing powers of nature. Emperor Shennong, about 3,000 BC. developed an extensive library on the modes of action of over 200 different pharmacologically active plants and their uses. Although the age of the book written by him is estimated by some researchers to approximately 2,000 years, only, it is nevertheless recorded that the emperor tested the plants in  self-experiments and that he has also developed the art of tea according to tradition.