As far back as the Egyptians, humans have been using gifts from the earth for healing purposes. The Papyrus Ebers, an ancient text written approximately around 1500 BC, contains references to more than 700 herbal remedies, including herbs such as aloe, caraway seeds, marjoram leaves, spearmint, basil, hibiscus, calendula, anise seeds, parsley, cumin, licorice root, chamomile, dill, garlic and many others.
In ancient China, Shen Nung (approx. 2700 BC), the Divine Farmer, wrote a treatise, Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng, also known as The Canon of Herbs or The Divine Farmers's Materia Medica. This extensive book covered over 365 medicinal botanicals and their applications. Shen Nung is also reported to have discovered our beloved camellia sinensis – TEA! The story goes that the legendary Emperor was on one of his herbal recognizance missions and was not feeling quite at peak condition. He sat beneath a tree and began to boil some water. Some of the leaves from the tree floated into his boiling water. He took a few sips and immediately felt more revived and awake. Those leaves turned out to be camellia sinensis leaves. Life would never be the same again (There is another story about the discovery of tea and the Buddha's eyelids, but that is a tale for another day).
Ayurveda, the science of life, has been practiced in India for thousands of years using a plethora of botanicals in formulations used prevent and cure many ailments. The ancient encyclopedias of medicine include the Sushruta Samhita, which includes over 700 botanicals and Charaka Samhita. One of the most beautiful aspects of Ayurveda is that it helps the healthy person to maintain health and the diseased to regain their health. It treats the person as a whole and in the context of their environment.
These are just a few of the many cultures across the globe that have been using herbs and other botanicals for healing and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In modern society, thankfully there is a trend going back to the ancient ways of natural and holistic treatment of our health and well-being.
Stay tuned for more on our series – It’s Just Herbs, Man. What kind of herbs do you use for medicinal purposes? Did elder generations of your family pass down knowledge to you that you would like to share with us? We’d love to hear from you!