Thursday, December 29, 2011

Types of Herbalism...

Part 2) Types of Herbalism and Historical Events: Chinese and Ayurvedic

            There are many types of natural medicine in the world, and a majority of these include a culture or world region that has their own specialized herbal medicine. In this part of the information about these following types: Chinese, Ayurvedic, Middle Eastern, Greek and Roman, Native American, and European.
            Chinese medicine, from what I have been able to find, is technically the most ancient based on the first dates of Chinese herbs being assessed, in 3500 BCE by the Emperor Shennong (Patnaik), the first Herbalism book ever written, in 2700 BCE called the Great Herbal and Chinese medicine was scientific in 2500 BCE, and lastly, major herbs were mentioned first in Chinese herbals, including opium, chaulmoogra, hemp and ephedra (Google, Timeline of Herbalism).
            Though this medicine is not actually referred to as “Chinese Herbalism”, it is regularly referred to as TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine. This medicine field specialized in using ancient herbs, along with other natural remedies such as acupuncture. The most simple, and perfect summarization of this herbal field is in the following excerpt: “To take Medicine only when you are sick is like digging a well only when you are thirsty. Is it not already too late?” –Ch’I Po circa 2500 B.C. (Smith, 1). This quote shows Chinese medicine as primarily preventative, which also, “looks at treating a patient as a whole person, looking at the mental and spiritual health, as well as the physical health…Illness is seen as a disharmony or imbalance among these aspects of the individual” (Herbalism, Traditional Chinese), meaning it is also a holistic form a medicine. A good example of holistic medicine and the longevity that may come from using herbs in a preventative way, is of a historical Chinese man, known as Shen-Nung, the “Red Emperor”, who lived to be 123 based upon testing herbs on himself (Huson).
            Lastly, Chinese Herbalism is also based upon their way of thinking, which originates from the Taoist belief system of yin and yang; Yin, being female and cool, and yang, being male and hot (Bremness, 26). The Chinese use this, along with three types of energy to make a proper diagnosis. The others include, ““Jing-inherited instinct, nurtured by food and herbs; Qi (chi)-life force in all things, adjusted through acupuncture and herbs; and Shen, which gives higher consciousness by meditation” (Bremness, 2).
            Ayurvedic medicine is the other major  Herbalism system of Asia, whose origin is in India, but is also present in several Southeastern parts of Asia (Adams). Ayurveda, being literally translated as the knowledge of life (Patnaik, 1), is interconnected to India’s original religion of Hinduism. This religion’s philosophy is based upon the belief that, “suffering is disease, contentment is good health. No man is truly healthy who does not possess a sound body, a sound mind, and a sound soul. This philosophy makes Ayurveda more than a school of medicine…Its logic prescribes a whole way of life…” (Patnaik, 1), and that a man’s mental health and ability to live in harmony with the world must, “depend on his ability to live in harmony with himself (Patnaik, 2), or nature’s equilibrium will be out of balance.
            The first major record of anything medicine related happening, was, “specifically [from] the Indus Valley civilization, are being traded with other countries” (Patnaik, 11), in 3000 BCE. The medicine system of Ayurveda, originated from the Hindu vedas, which were written around 2000 BCE (Wikipedia, Herbal), specifically the Rig Veda, the major medicinal work, wrote of the herb, “snakeroot which was a treatment for insanity” (Sumner, 135). Around the third century BCE, Ayurvedic medicine was proclaimed to be free, by the Emperor Asoka (Patnaik, 10). In the fourth century CE, the earliest surviving record of Ayurvedic medicine was written, the Bower’s Manuscript (Wikipedia, Herbal), which was written by a famous surgeon that included details of how to perform, “an operation for peritonitis, and such exact operations as those required for the cranium, ear, nose and throat” (Patnaik, 11).
            Lastly, Ayurvedic medicine works with the idea that there are three types of doshas, similar to Yin and Yang in Chinese, and the four Humors of Hildegard and Hippocrates (see later). Which breaks down to Vata, Kapha, and Pitta; each of which is more present throught one person, which is determined by the physical body structure, energy levels, eating habits. Based off of your dosha, or doshas, you are than prescribed a way of life of what do eat, how to sleep, and excerise.

Part 3) History of Herbalism: Middle Eastern; Greek & Roman

            Middle Eastern Herbalism is primarily focused around Ancient Egypt where, their medicine included, “a highly organized and greatly respected healing tradition which merged the roles of the priest or priestess and physician. The sicknesses of the body and of the soul were seen to be connected, if not intimately linked” (Brooke, 6). The first record of medicine having taken place was in Egypt, which was also the oldest, ““pictorial representation of a female physician has been dated to around 3000 B.C.E. It shows Isis with a male child who has a …paralyzed leg. He was brought before the goddess who healed him” (Brooke, 8). To the Egyptians she was known as the healing goddess, the, “restorer of life and the source of healing herbs” (Brooke, 6). There were two major healing scrolls, or texts of Egyptian history, one was focused around female practitioners, known as the Kahun papyrus and was, “dated around 1900 B.C.E., covers the diseases of women and children. As only women treated women’s ailments, this text was written for female practitioners” (Brooke, 8), and included how to treat women being barren and infertile, among many other things. Also around this time, in 1500 BCE, the Eber Egyptian scroll, the other primary medicinal work, mentioned the herbs mandrake, castor bean, opium and aloe (Sumner).
            Moving to another part of the Middle East is in Persia, where the ancient worldly famous herbalist Ibn Sina, or Avincenna was from. It is said that by this man, “became the court physician in Persia by the age of eighteen, and his [work]… was used for the next five hundred years. His likeness has appeared on the diploma of the Pharmaceutical society of Great Britain since the founders received their charter from Queen Victoria” (Sumner, 22). His most famous work was the Canon of Medicine,  having been published in 1025 CE (Wikipedia, Herbal), was comprised of fourteen volumes, and included a list of , “800 tested drugs, plants and minerals. Book Two is devoted to a discussion of the healing properties of herbs, including nutmeg, senna, sandalwood, rhubarb, myrrh, cinnamon, and rosewater” (Wikipedia, Herbalism).
            The more renowned type of medicine, which also happens to be the pillar for modern Western medicine as we know it, is Greek and Roman Herbalism. If you only go away with learning one thing about medicine, know that Hippocrates was the most famous of them all, having been known as  the “father of medicine”, as well as for his Hippocratic oath, who lived from 460 to 377 CE (Wikipedia, Herbal), his medicine system became what all medicine’s to come were based upon. He was also famous for how he approached an ailment, as, “purely rational, and he dejected diagnoses and cures that were based on magic” (Sumner, 18), and believed that, “healing is a matter of time, but sometimes also a matter of opportunity. Hence medical practice must not depend primarily on plausible theories, but instead on experience combined with reason” (Bauman, 78-79), so to heal someone one must also realize there is an imbalance in the person’s bodily humors and he, “advocated plant medicines to correct human ailments” (Sumner, 19),
            Another very important Greek find is by the woman, or Queen of Caria, known as Artemisia. She was a, “great and famous healer who had a wide knowledge of medicinal plants. According to Pliny, she was credited with discovering the value of the plant wormwood as a drink, which was named after her: Artemisia” (Brooke, 12). Lastly, one very famous herbal women of this part of the world is Fabiola of Rome, was primarily known to, having devoted herself to a life of charity, became a physician and opened a free-clinic in Rome, which at this time was completely unheard of.
            Lastly, is another famous but not as well known Greek female physician, whose name was Aspaisia.  She was known for having a practice in Rome, as well as for her writings which, until the time of Trotula of Salerno, Italy, was known as the ‘standard gynecological text’ of her time (Brooke).

Part 4) History of Herbalism: Native American and European

            If I had to attempt to summarize one of the most amazing, ancient, and barely recorded types of medicine, being Native American Herbalism, it would be in the following excerpt.  “Civilization has taught us to build empires for Life Insurance Companies, numerous research, welfare, old age organizations, etc. In comparison, the Indians’ protection came from Nature, the “Mother Earth” being the most important. They learned to treat lives with plant life, the medicine from the earth” (Hutchens, xxvi), of which Native Americans will, “remember a few of the family and tribal herbs that we think of as noting but a troublesome…weed To most of us trees are for beauty alone, but they bring out medical uses from experiences we have yet to identify as the same” (Hutchens, xxvi).”  Historically, Native Americans were never, “at a loss of which plant was best, or the time it should be gathered to heal them of diseases” (Hutchens, xxvi). Native Americans, “ideas of health, illness, and healing are inseparable from religion and concerns with spiritual issues” (Johnston, 198), which greatly displays the basic beliefs, and connectivity of all things in Native American culture, as well as Chinese and Indian. Lastly, in Native American medicine, when a healing rite was conducted, most, if not all of the community was involved, and it included not just the gathering, and making of the medicine, but dancing, and singing to name a few (Irwin, 238). The first, and only actual date I found referencing Native American, in this case Mexican, herbal medicine was in the year 1552, where the phyisican Juan Badianus wrote an herbal manuscript (Google, Timeline of Herbalism).
            Overall the hardest ‘type’ of Herbal medicine, I feel, to summarize is European. Now I say European Herbalism I mean the Medieval period through the 1800s, when they made their mark on modern medicine as we know it. The top herbalists and natural medicine practitioners of this time period includes: Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth Blackwell, Samuel Hahneman, Mrs. Hutton.
            From the famous Hildegard comes a very European herbalist type of quote: “For the earth has many useful herbs that reach out to people’s spiritual needs, and yet they are distinct from people. In addition, the earth has many useless herbs that reflect the useless and diabolical ways of humans” (Hildegard, 1). Hildegard, having lived in the Medieval days, was lucky to be allowed to be an author, along with this she also lived unusually long—having been 82 when she died. Her beliefs were very ‘new’ for her time, having a, “pragmatic view of medicine, recommending a balanced diet, rest and the alleviation of stress, together with a wholesome moral life” (Brooke,44). Her herbal, and medicinal writings focused on four humors that women have, and how to cure them, based on their physical, emotional and sexual traits.
            Elizabeth Blackwell, was the first female medical student in the United States (Brooke, 97). She set off to make her own medical school after seeing a female friend die, and thought she might have had a chance if she had been treated by another female (Brooke, 97). To her the thought that, “wining a doctor’s degree gradually…possessed immense attraction to me”, and some men didn’t like her resolve of doing anything to get sed degree, even if it meant going to hell (Brooke, 97).
            Next is the ever famous Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who invented Homeopathy. After experimenting around for six years, he finally realized that, “diseases  could be cure by applying herbal remedies which would produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to the ailments of the patient” (Huson, 22), by only using a very small amount of medicine. Another famous female herbalisdt, Mrs. Hutton, was very important female herbalist, who “pioneered the use of digitalis or foxglove” (Brooke, 91), by saving the Dean of Oxford’s life when he was dying of congestive heart disease.
Works Cited:

Adams, Mike. "Systems of Medicine Explained: Conventional, Alternative, Integrative,    Complementary and More." Independent News on Natural Health, Nutrition and More. 1 May 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Bremness, Lesley. Herbs. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2002. Print.
Brooke, Elisabeth. Women Healers: Portraits of Herbalists, Physicians, and Midwives. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts, 1995. Print.
"Herbal." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 09 Feb. 2011. <>.
"Herbalism, Traditional Chinese." Medical Dictionary-the Free Dictionary. Web. 25 July   2011. <http://medical
Hildegard. Preface. Hildegard's Healing Plants: [from Her Medieval Classic Physica]. Boston: Beacon, 2001. 1. Print.
Huson, Paul. Mastering Herbalism: a Practical Guide. New York: Stein and Day, 1975. Print.
Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston: Shambhala, 1991. Print.
Irwin, Lee. “Cherokee Healing: Myths, Dreams and Medicine.” American Indian Quarterly 16.2 (1992): 237-57. JSTOR. Web. 3 Mar. 2011. <>.
Johnston, Susan L. “Native American Traditional and Alternative Medicine.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 583 (2002): 195-213. JSTOR. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <>.
"Timeline of Herbalism." Google. Web. 09 Oct. 2010. < of herbalism&hl=en&rlz=1R2SKPT_enUS406&prmd=ivns&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=SIRRTZ6BIYqCsQP4mODABg&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=11&ved=0CFsQ5wIwCg&fp=517884ad4e853a0b>.
Patnaik, Naveen. The Garden of Life: an Introduction to the Healing Plants of India. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print. Powered by


-To see what type of dosha of Ayurveda you are:
-Good overview of Ayurvedic herbs-- The Garden of Life: an Introduction to the Healing Plants of India.
-A very good Native American medicinal herb book is “Indian Herbology of North America” By: Alma R. Hutchens
-Chippewa ritual and medicine related customs: Chippewa Customs. By: Frances Densmore.
-Cherokee healing information:

-For basic herbal information--Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality (By: Kathleen Brown)
-A great historical herbal book is: “A History of Thyme and Other Herbs” By: Miranda Seymour
-Historical uses of herbs: Judith Sumner’s “The Natural History of Medicinal Plants”
-For more in-depth herbal studies and uses of any listed herb see Kathi Kevills’ book: Herbs for Health and Healing
-More in-depth family remedy book is Rosemary Gladstar’s “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health”
-Basic information on 100s of herbs around the world: DK Herbs (By: Lesley Bremness)


  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    jobs in life Sciences

    1. Hello V.K. Sinha, so sorry about the delayed response. I am posting my next blog today or tomorrow, and am really making a resolution to post for sure once a week this year.

      Thanks, Jennifer