Evidence suggests that primative man, through observation, trial and error, discovered and used herbs in there daily lives both as
food and as medicine. Throughout the bible there are numerous references to herbs. "Then they are to take some of the blood
and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the
meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast." (Exodus 12:7-8).

The first known written record of curative plants was from a Sumerian herbal of 2200 BC, which described the use of medicinal
plants such as laurel, caraway, and thyme. Egyptian records dating back to 1000 BC indicate that early civilizations used many herbs as food, medicine, and dyes. Approximately two thousand years ago Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek contemporary of
the Romans, wrote De Materia Medica. He discussed about 500 plants (or plant products) familiar at that time, including
almost forty plants still used in medicine today; Also mentioned were plants from all regions of the world, including India and
Egypt. Dioscorides was regarded as the ultimate authority on plants and medicine for almost two millenia .

Following the fall of the Roman empire standard medical knowledge was based on surviving Greek and Roman texts. Medical
practices during the middle ages where barbaric at best. Bloodletting was used to restore a patients health and surgeries were performed by barbers who used no anesthesia. Medical treatment was reserved for the wealthy, while those living in villages rarely if ever had access to a doctor. Remedies were herbal in nature, and administered by people outside the medical tradition. Many medieval medical manuscripts contained recipes for remedies that called for hundreds of therapeutic substances--the notion that every substance in nature held some sort of power accounts for the enormous variety of substances. With the influence of Christianity came a growing tension between the church and those practicing folk medicine. The church felt that much of folk medicine was magical and mystical because spells and incantations were used along with herbs and other remedies. The church taught that God often sent illness as a punishment, and that repenting would cure all ills. Greek physician Hippocrates (460 - 377 B.C.), founder of the Hippocratic oath, developed a system of diagnosis and prognosis using herbs. He considered illness a natural, not supernatural, phenomenon and maintained that medicine should be given without magic. Based on these writings, a unified theory of medicine began to develop.

The Chinese had been using plants for over 2500 years for medicinal purposes and many of these were brought to Europe in
the seventeenth century. In England, herbal treatment reached its peak of popularity with the publication of the herbal of
Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54), a book first called the English Physician. In his book, Culpeper cataloged all the known herbal
remedies of England. Culpeper showed the people how they could rely on their own herbal remedies for healing.

In 1665, a plague ravaged England. Lasting from June until November, it reached its peak in September, when in one week
12,000 people in London died, from a population of 500,000. The king and his court fled to Salisbury, but a doctor named
Nathaniel Hodges remained in London to fight the disease. He fumigated houses with smoke from resinous woods, suggested
rest and a light diet, and relieved fever by giving his patients Virginian snake root. Although his favourite powders were made
from bezoar stone, unicorn horn and dried toad, he found these of no use. He himself sucked lozenges with ingredients of myrrh,
cinnamon and angelica root, and successfully survived in London without contracting the plague.(National Meritime Museum -
http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.138)

By the end of the 17th century, a more clinical and scientific approach to health, based on actual observation, began to appear.
However, folk medicine and herbal remedies remained a mainstay in most homes, and many of them were brought to the new
colonies of the Americas. In 1881 Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch presented the one germ-one-disease theory, which
postulated that germs were the primary cause of disease. This theory was quickly refuted by Pasteur and Koch's
contemporaries. However, despite the fact that the theory was dis-proven, it was quickly reinforced by the university trained
physicians because of a need for this profession to find one standard explanation of disease which would set them apart from
the other alternative forms of healing which were being used at the time. In 1882, however, Pasteur restated his theory, but
revised it saying that germs were actually the secondary cause of disease and that the debilitated terrain came first. Very little
notice came of this revision and the original theory remained the dominant theory in the medical circles. By the second half of the
19th century western medicine eventually turned away from herbalism in favor of chemical cures. In some parts of the western
world, herbalism was actually outlawed unless practiced by a doctor with medical training. With the advent of pharmacology and
diverse medical training backed financially by wealthy manufacturers, herbalism or alternative approaches to health care were
stigmatized as "quackery".

Despite all the medical advances and the new technology, the 20th century began to see a resurgence in traditional practices of
healing. Concerned about the high cost of health care, the lack of a personal relationships with doctors, and the concern over
the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs, more and more people began turning to a more natural approach to health care.
In the year 2000, the average waiting time for a patient to see a physician was 46.5 minutes. Injury, poisoning, and the adverse
effects of medical treatment accounted for over 35 percent of emergency room visits. In 2003, the United States spent $1.7
trillion --15 percent of the gross domestic product -- on health care. That works out to $5,671 for every man, woman, and child.
However, the United States still ranks 26th in the industrialized nations for individual health. Almost two-thirds of the earth’s
6.1 billion people rely on the healing power of herbal medicine.

So it appears that in the 21st century, humans are coming full circle and realizing that nature can not be duplicated. The media
and the health care industry have lead us to believe that to surpress the symptoms of ill health through the use of pharmaceuticals and over the counter medications is the key to overcoming poor health and disease. However, 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally. To extract the chemical properties of a plant and synthesize them in a laboratory only leads to a break down of the whole. The plant properties work synergisticly together to heal and to help the body assimilate them as though they are food. There is a place in todays society for modern medicine and procedures, however, nature provides almost everything we need.

Author's Bio: 

Natalie Vickery is a Certified Family Herbalist and a
doctoral student in Naturopathy. Her primary
philosophy is “The Doctor as the Teacher”, as she
works to educate others on the benefits of healing
naturally and taking responsibility for individual health.
Natalie is a member of the American Herbalist Guild
and provides consultations focusing on nutrition and
herbal medicine.