Herbs have been used from the beginning of man and were the first herbal
medicine used by man. While allopathic medicine (the use of minerals to
treat disease) is only about 500 years old. The use of herbal medicine dates back several thousands of years B.C. The Chinese, Sumerians, and Egyptians all used plants for medicinal purposes. In the Old Testatment times, several herbs are mentioned, aloe is one of them.
One third of the medicinal plants and herbs listed in modern pharmacopoeia were known and used by the Egyptians. Here is a list of the herbs that were used, garlic, flax seed, fennel, juniper, sycamore, pine, senna, thyme, celandine, cinquefoil, black hellebore, tamarisk, celery, mandrake, henbane, willow, mulberry, myrrh, saffron, thyme, and onion, to name a few.
The knowledge of herbal medicine during the Middle Ages can be tribute to the monks, who not only copied the ancient manuscripts, but also cultivated their own herbal gardens in monasteries and used the herbs for many common disorders. In England during Elizabethan era, herbalism experienced a golden age, from which most of our herbals derives.
After the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, a large number of books on herbs were printed. In 1551, William Turner published his book, Newe Herball with illustrations on a variety of medicinal plants. John Gerard published his herbal book, The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, in 1597. The next noteworthy English herbalist was John Parkinson who in 1640 wrote Theatrum Botanicum, an encyclopedic work covering 3,000 plants and their medicinal uses. The English Physician Enlarged was written in 1653 by Nicolas Culpepper. He was the most controversial of the English herbalists.
In the 18th century William Salmon’s The English Herbal or History of
Plants, published in London in 1710, and An History of Plants and Trees,
Natives of Britain, Cultivated for use, or Raised for Beauty, by John Hill was
published in London in 1756. The introduction of naturopathy in America can be
attributed to Samuel Thompson. Samuel Thompson along with herbs used Thompson used diet, steam baths and massage. His motto was “To make every man his own physician.” Many people followed his theories after he died. Many doctors continued to use His ideas of relaxation, stimulation, and astringents because they were satisfied with the results.
For centuries the American Indians and native of other
countries have used all kinds of herbs, roots, barks in the healing art, and they still use them today. As more and more settlers arrived in the New World from Europe, their knowledge of herbs was combined with that of the herbals of the Native Americans and produced a distinctly American folk medicine. The Orthodox medical establishments in Europe and America started to move away from natural methods of healing and replied more on chemicals, leeches, and bloodletting.