The history of herbal medicine goes back many thousands of years. It is a form of medicine that has been practiced all over the world. Herbal medicine utilizes the leaves, seeds, roots, and flowers of plants in order to treat or prevent illness.
Early tribes developed their knowledge of plants, and most tribes had a specialist in using plants and herbs medicinally who was usually one of the most powerful people in the community.
The first written record of the use of herbal medicine dates back nearly five thousand years to China.
The use of herbs for medicine increased in importance, with ancient tribes such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans studying the practice in more detail.
Modern medicine began with the Greeks, who began analyzing illness and recording treatment and the effects of herbal medicine. The Indians had their own form of herbal medicine in Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine is based on the use of herbs. As the Roman Empire expanded, so did the trade in herbs.
Herb gardens grew in popularity in medieval times. Monasteries had their own large herb gardens and offered caring services for the sick, with the monks copying the Greek and Roman manuscripts, which detailed the uses and benefits of medieval herbal medicine.
At the same time, the Arabs dominated the trade in medieval herbs and spices from the Middle East.
During the Tudor era, the practice of herbal medicine had the endorsement of the king and parliament in Britain. This was a direct response to a large number of people practicing medicine without sufficient knowledge or training.
Prior to the Tudor period, information on herbal medicine had only been available in Greek and Latin, but a number of texts were published in English throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
By the seventeenth century herbal remedies were the medicine of the poor. Women who had been established as the ‘wise-women’ of their villages were persecuted as witches. Extracts of minerals, plants, and animals were being used to create drugs, and this became the treatment for the rich.
As the drugs were developed, side effects were reported, and herbal alternative remedies once again grew in popularity. During the nineteenth century the National Association of Medical Herbalists was created.
The two world wars in the twentieth century led to drug shortages, and herbal alternative remedies came into use again. The second half of the century saw the development of a large number of drugs that had drastic side effects, and the popularity of herbal medicine is now very high.
This brief history of herbal medicine shows that the popularity of herbal medicine goes in cycles and regularly falls in and out of favor with the public.
The percentage of people who have used herbal alternative remedies is estimated to be as high as 80%. The testing, manufacture, and sale of herbal alternative remedies is now monitored on a par with pharmaceuticals.
Studies into the use and benefits of herbs are ongoing and the world is still learning about their potential.