Monday, October 6, 2008

A Brief History of Herbs and Herbalism

What is an herb? You could agree with the modern definition that states an herb is any part of the plant that is useful for healing, food or dye. However, the horticultural definition, which is the more common definition that was used hundreds of years ago, is the non woody part of a plant such as leaves, fruit and the soft green stems. For thousands of years, herbs have been used as scents, food, flavorings, medicines and disinfectants.

Herbalism is the practice and study of the uses of plants. How far back in our past does herbalism exist? There are sources that suggest the Stone Age. A 60,000-year-old burial site in Iraq contained evidence of eight different medicinal plants. Every continent seems to have their own practice of how to use herbs.

Ayurveda originated in ancient India. It is from the words Ayus meaning 'life' and Veda meaning 'knowledge'. This form of herbalism dates back about 5000 years with a detailed history, which I will cover in a future article. Ayurveda is still practiced today and uses herbs, breathing, meditation and diet for ever all wellness. It is based on rebalancing and maintaining the five elements of the body?earth, water, air, fire and ether.

Chinese herbalism was founded by ancient spiritual leaders roughly 3500 years ago. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states, it 'is widely acclaimed as one of the most complete and effective herbal traditions today'. Chinese herbalism is practiced in conjunction with acupuncture, massage, diet an Tai Chi--the art of movement and breathing.

Egyptian medical history was rejected by many cultures because it was thought to be a violation of humanity. This line of thought came from the fact that the Egyptians were the first to perform surgeries and to study the human body. From there study of the human body, they were able to discover and perfect the art of embalming the dead with herbs and spices. Where would we be today if they hadn?t committed such ?horrendous? acts?

Folk medicine seems to remain somewhat a mystery. I believe this is due to having a combination of so many different influences. We can see an assortment of inputs from the Native Americans, Mexican, African, European and Caribbean. Is there any wonder why it may difficult to target a specific origin? However, it does appear that the base of our folk medicine does originate from European Western Herbalism.

Native American Indian medicine continues to be practiced in America today. There are many tribes and the herbal practices of each tribe could be listed, but it does appear that they all agree on most of the uses of herbs.

There are other types of herbalism such as those practiced in Ancient Greece, the Aborigines, as well as the Hawaiians. I hope this brief little history has gotten you interested and ready for more of similar articles relating to the use of herbs and the different types of herbalism.

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