Herbal History and Definitions

Botanists define a herb as being a soft stemmed plant, which dies after flowering, while herbalists define a herb as any part of a plant which can be used for medicine, cooking, cosmetic uses and as a scent or dye.

Herbalism is the oldest known method of healing, being used to some degree by all Ancient cultures. Many herbs which were used for healing thousands of years ago are still in use today. Prehistoric sites in Irak show that Neanderthal man used herbs such as Yarrow around 60,000 years ago. Early humans were attracted to the aroma of herbs; they rubbed strong smelling herbs on their bodies to hide their human scent from animals which they were hunting. They also used the scent of herbs to mask the stench of rotting meat. Our ancestors discovered the healing properties of herbs by trial and error, learning the hard way that while some herbs heal, others harm.

Herbs were often considered magic in ancient times and form part of many love potions and aphrodisiacs. In the years before about 1300 AD,1650 AD the image of the herbalist changed, people using herbs were thought to be witchs. Many witch hunts occurred throughout Europe, but herbalism was not abandoned it was practised in secrecy. Nycholas Culpepper wrote the first popular herbal as it meant that the poor could read the book, collect herbs, and make their own medicine, therefore no longer relying on medicinal practicioners. Around the time of Culpeppers Herbal, medicine started to change. Inorganic remedies were being invented and introduced, and since these were new and considered scientific they often took prescedence over herbal remedies, so that herbalists found themselves being associated in reputation with superstition and quackery.

The medical physicians were using inorganic metals and with bleeding and violent laxatives as treatments through to the early 19th century. The period from 1920-1960 may be called the decades of lost herbal healing, medical schools ignored herbs, pharmaceutical drugs replaced herbal tinctures in pharmacies and many of the culinary herbs fell from popularity. However in the early 1960s many people became disatisfied with orthodox medicine and so began a resurgence in herbal medicine that is still escalating.