The word that comes to my mind when I think of the history of herbs and spices is “exotic.” Perilous ocean voyages, colorful cultures, secret maps delineating spice routes, danger and excitement. Countries and companies financed long ocean voyages to far off continents mainly for the purpose of obtaining and transporting spices.
Commerce in spices began over 3000 years ago. At this time, the Ancient Egyptians were recording and cataloguing their knowledge of herbs, and a Chinese emperor published a book, The Great Native Herbal. Many plants mentioned in there are still used today in Chinese herbal preparations.
Arab merchants, before 2000 BC, controlled the overland trade routes to India in the Middle East. After sea routes were discovered, Egypt became a major commercial center for trading spices. Later, Venice monopolized the spice trade with the Middle East, and became the middleman to the rest of the Europe. Countries became very wealthy from trading in spices.
As Venice was demanding exorbitant prices, Portugal and Spain looked eastward for new routes and then, with the voyage of Christopher Columbus, searched westward. Columbus was not looking for America, and gold took a back seat to spices. He was looking for a shorter ocean route to India, in order to gain access to their spices. Columbus’ expedition gained the majority of its financial backing from spice traders.
Spices –more valuable than gold
Herbs, during these ages of mankind, were not simply spices. The phrase, “The spice of life,” can be literally translated. These herbs or spices were what were available medicinally to heal. The great value placed on these spices was due to the healing properties these herbs possessed. In truth, herbs were considered more valuable than gold in commerce. The great value that was placed on obtaining herbs and spices is recorded in history. Each region had plants and herbs that were specific to that particular area and climate. Countries were motivated to discover and control new routes for spice trade because these herbs were precious. Spices were big business. *The term spice includes herbs, which are the fragrant leaves of herbaceous plants, many of which are native to particular temperate regions.
People from diverse cultures all over the world wanted good health. With few exceptions, the spices and herbs known today were being used very early in human history. So marvelous is the gift of health that people were willing to resort to the expense of long ocean voyages to obtain herbs for their diet and medicine.
Spices and herbs played important, sometimes magical, roles in medicine. Before the advent of industrially prepared medicines, herbal remedies were commonly prescribed and were, of course, effective.
In the next blog post, we will rediscover some of this ancient herbal lore and learn how to use it to improve the health of our dogs! You can purchase Dr. Khalsa’s Natural Dog on Amazon!
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