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Herbal Lore | Ancient Civilization | Herbal Medicines

Since ages medicinal plants have been crucial in sustaining the health and the well being of mankind. Linseed for example, provides its harvesters with a nutritious cooking oil, fuel, a cosmetic balm for the skin and fibre to make fabric. At the same time it was used to treat conditions such as bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, boils and a number of digestive problems. Given the life-enhancing benefits that this and so many other plants conferred. 

For tens of thousands of years herbs were probably used much for their magical powers than for their medicinal qualities. Hypocrates (460-377 BC), the Greek `father of medicine`, considered illness to be natural rather than a supernatural phenomenon that needed to be treated without ritualistic ceremonies or magic. Similarly in the ancient Chinese medical text, the Yellow Emperor`s Classic of Internal Medical written in 1st century BC, emphasized on rational medicine.They also had supernatural significance as well as medicinal value. 

In some cultures, plants were considered to have souls even Aristotle, the 4th-century BC Greek philosopher, believed in it. In Hinduism, which dates back to at least 1500 BC, many plants are sacred to specific divinities. For example, the bael tree (Aegle marmelos) is said to shelter Shiva, the god of health, beneath its branches. In traditional Chinese medicine, qi is the primal energy that maintains life and health. In Ayurveda, it is prana, and in the Western tradition, Hypocrates writes about ``vis medicatrix naturae``or the healing power of nature, while modern western medical herbalists and homeopaths use the term ``vital force`. 
Herbal Lore
Until the 20th century, every village and rural community had a wealth of herbal folklore. Tried and tested local plants were picked for a range of common health problems and taken as tea, applied as lotions or even mixed with lard and rubbed in as an ointment.

As they did not know the effects of the herbs, they used to watch the behaviour of the animals. If it did not affect the animals in any way, then they too used to eat that particular root, leaf or berry. In this way they were able to find out more about herbs.

Ancient Civilizations
As civilizations grew from 3000 BC onwards in Egypt, the Middle East, India and China, the use of herbs too became more sophisticated, and the first written accounts of medicinal plants were made.

In India, the Vedas, epic poems written during 1500BC, also contained rich material on the herbal lore of that time. The Vedas were followed in about 700 BC by the Charaka Samhita, written by the physician Charaka. This medical treatise includes details of around 350 herbal medicines.
Herbal Medicines

As trade and interest in herbal medicines and spices flourished, various writers tried to make systematic records of plants with a known medicinal action and recorded their properties.

The Greek physician named Dioscorides wrote the first European herbal, De Materia Medica. His intention was to produce an accurate and authoritative work on herbal medicines.

Though European, Indian and Chinese systems differed widely, they all considered that imbalance within the constituent elements of the body is the cause of  illness, and that the aim of the healer is to restore balance, often with the aid of herbal remedies.




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