Herbal medicine is probably as old as humanity itself. The discovery of many spices predates the earliest civilizations. Interestingly, though separated by vast expanses of oceans and continents, explorers found primitive peoples everywhere possessed a remarkable knowledge of herbal lore. In fact, many cultures used a particular plant for the same healing purposes in spite of the fact that they were divided by great oceans.
Perhaps humans learned about herbs by trial and error. What they did learn was passed down from one generation to the next. Early man looked at the configuration and structure of a plant to help them understand what problem it could help with. The leaves and the cross-section of the fruit of the Ginkgo biloba resemble a brain and Ginkgo is today used for memory loss. Ginseng root resembles the body and arms and legs of a man and has been used for thousands of years as a tonic for the entire body.
This is called the Doctrine of Signatures, and it was taught that plants with a yellow signature, such as dandelion, could treat liver conditions such as jaundice (a condition in which the whites of the eyes become yellow as does the skin because of liver failure). The leafy greens of the beet top with the red veins are good for cleansing the blood. Hawthorne berries (Cratageous) are bright red berries shaped like a heart and they prove very helpful in heart conditions. These same plants we discuss above can be commonly found in Health Food Stores today.
The five cradles of civilization developed medicinal protocols using herbs simultaneously. The Arabs, Hebrews, Persians, Romans, Greeks and Babylonians were all familiar with the use and practice of herbal medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has incorporated the use of herbs for at least seven thousand years. As mentioned earlier, a book called The Great Native Herbal, was published in China around 2500 BC. Many plants mentioned in there are still used today in Chinese herbal preparations. The Chinese developed a systematic methodology of prescribing herbal medicines. The body is viewed as a reflection of nature and changes in the flow of life energy, called the Qi, are rebalanced and corrected back to health with herbs.
In ancient China, a doctor was paid when the patient was healthy. When the patient became ill, the patient stopped paying him his fee, but he was expected to spend his time and use his knowledge to return him to health. Imagine how this payment plan would change the practice of medicine in modern times!
Combinations of Chinese herbs are formulated to have a deep and powerful healing effect. In these formulations, different herbs that compliment each other are combined, resulting in a synergistic effect and more potent healing. It’s a more magnified version of the synergistic effects of the whole leaf or the whole plant. Chinese herbal combinations have a very powerful ability to heal illness and deserve much recognition and respect.
A sophisticated knowledge of botanical medicine was likewise developed in India. Ayrurvedic medicine is one of the most ancient and complete systems of holistic healing. This form of medicine recognized that there are different metabolic types. A practitioner observes if his patient has an excess or deficiency in an area and uses diet and herbs to bring back a balance.
Western herbal use stems from the ancient uses of medicinal plants in Europe. The herbs used by the Native Americans are also incorporated into Western herb-lore. The Western approach tends to conform with the modern medical approach, and the body is viewed as a system of organs, cells, enzymes and nutrients that must be maintained in balance.
Yet in all of these forms of herbal practice, the restoration of balance and harmony in the body is the primary goal. For this balance is truly the key to maintaining and restoring health.
Each culture had their particular sacred and common herbs. Over time, just about all have been shared throughout the world. We can now go into a health food store and buy herbs that were more precious than gold hundreds of years ago. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that about 80% of the world’s people rely on herbs for health care.
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