Over the last 500 years, herbal medicine has shined and evolved greatly. Many of the herbal texts published in the mid 1500s spoke of many common herbs today including Rosemary. It was around this time in which the magical uses of plants were started to be debunked. While many were still used, the mandrake was an herb that superstitions around were no longer believed. This plant was once thought to have the root with the shape of a human child that, if not harvested properly, would lead to severe consequences for the individual.
Towards the end of this century, John Gerard, author of Gerard’s Herbal, laid down this great work. This was one of the most popular herbal texts of the time and is still plagiarized today after being copied so many times without citation. Unfortunately, within the text there are many mistakes that appeared and caused problems. One of the funniest is a page that discusses a ‘tree bearing geese.’ Even with this, this text was an important one because it suggested a new system of treating disease, Aromatherapy.
The next well known herbalist appeared in the mid 17th century. Nicholas Culpeper wrote frequently on the idea of the Doctrine of Signatures. This referred to the idea that plants that resembled parts of the body were effective at supporting that part of the body. For instance, the yellow root of yellow dock would be effective for supporting the gallbladder due to the yellow nature of bile or walnuts being supportive of brain health. Another thing about Culpeper that made him popular was that all of his works were translated into English for those who were unable to read Latin. This took the ‘boys club’ out of herbal medicine to share with all literate individuals, not just those with access to higher education.
Herbalism continued to flourish through Northern America and Europe and through the 18th and 19th century just about every herbalist published their knowledge to share it with others. One herbalist in America who gained a significant following was Samuel Thomson, the founder of Thomsonian Medicine. The basis of Thomsonian Herbalism was to open up the bodies detoxification and elimination systems to work most effectively to remove disease from the body. This offered a reformation of herbal medicine as a whole that did not peak until many years after being suggested and is still a common technique used by alternative medicine practitioners.
Near the same time, the mid 1800s, Dr. John Scudder in Europe was busy reforming the Eclectic School of Medicine. This system, founded by Wooster Beach, was one of the first herbal systems to look more closely at the chemistry of herbs, their dangers, actions in the body and appropriate dosage levels, publishing them in their texts. Another Eclectic herbalist, W. H. Cook, wrote a large number of texts that are still referenced today for guiding modern herbal research.
By the end of the 19th century, Neo-Thomsonianism, or Physiomedicalism, began to flourish in North America. Alva Curtis led the way for Physiomeidicalists to begin to treat with the new disease model of herbal medicine, that outside forces (diseases) propelled the body’s Vital Force to have symptoms and that these symptoms were the body trying to heal itself. These ideas were unique after the Tomsonian ideas of detoxification as Physiomedicalists sought to improve vitality through more nourishing pathways.
When Physiomedicalism was fully established, much of the folk lore, superstitions, and spiritual practices associated with herbal medicine had been weened out. In 1931, a popular book, ‘A Modern Herbal’ by Maude Grieve was published presenting a truly updated view of herbal medicine, looking at herbal history, folklore, usage and abuse of medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary herbs.
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History of Herbal Medicine, part 2