If you did not get a chance to read our part 1 of the history of herbal medicine I highly recommend reading it to hear more about how magic and spiritualism was important in the oldest of herbal cultures.
Greek and Roman Herbalism
Even the Greeks of 1250 BCE maintained this idea that the Gods were the first herbalists and physicians who taught humans the art of healing. Much of the herbal knowledge the Greeks used came from the Egyptians. It was from the Greeks that we got the wonderful symbol of a serpent coiled around a staff to represent medical knowledge. This is the sign of the God Aesculapius, God of Medicine. The followers of this god were the first doctors, the first herbalists who wandered around healing people. They were the originators of the modern medical code of ethics you have probably heard of.
Greek herbal medicine continued through to Hippocrates near 500 BCE. He was famously known for many herbal treatments but most know him by his famous phrase ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ This idea continues on even today and I am a high proponent of this idea.
Herbalists in the Greek culture continued to dominate the field through the birth of Christ and into the Central Era. The last of the well-known Greek herbalists was Galen in 130 CE. He is thought to have published over 400 works on herbs and their uses. Much of the modern use of herbs is based off the work of Galen when many herbalists do not give him credit because the direct line of citation has been lost.
Romans eventually also took the Greek system of medicine as their own after much avoiding it. Pliny’s Natural History book was a reference guide for all medieval scholars. Unfortunately, the author Pliny, had a date with Mount Vesuvius, ending his life early.
The herbal works of Ancient Greeks and Romans spread wide and were translated into Arabic as early as 600 CE. Arabic medicine was the first to flavor medicine to taste good, an excellent idea that even many herbalists today skip over when creating a formula.
The Saxons, while often remembered as a brutal people, were some of the first Europeans to have written herbals as early as 500 CE. Many of these were however destroyed by 800 CE by invading forces. While only a few herbal texts were known to be written between this time and the 16th century in Europe, herbalism continued to be practiced and was very much woven into the theology of the time as it had for many eons before.
Near the beginning of the 16th century, German herbalists began adding wood carving prints to their herbal works. This was vastly helpful in spreading herbal knowledge because plants could be identified much easier. Translations of various texts were making it to new countries to further share herbal knowledge leading towards the modern age of herbal medicine which we will share with you in our next blog post in our Herbal Medicine History Series.