Written records for Chinese herbal medicine date back over 3,500 years.
The first known Chinese herb book lists 365 medicinal plants and their
uses - including ma-huang, the shrub that introduced the drug
ephedrine to modern medicine. One-fifth of the world's population
still relies on this healing system for primary care. Chinese doctors
treat the whole person by examining his or her medical history, birth
constitution, living habits, and home environment. According to the
Chinese, most health problems are caused by deficiencies in some system of
the body, whether the digestive system or the reproductive system. Chinese
doctors help rebalance an individual's entire body by strengthening the
system that is weak. The Chinese also use tonic herbs like astragalus,
ginseng, and foti to prevent health problems altogether.
This 5,000-year-old philosophy and healing system from India is based
on each person's unique constitution, body type, personal habits,
emotions, and behaviors. According to this philosophy, each one of us is
made up of varying amounts of the elements earth, water, fire, air, and
ether that determine our individual constitution. Ayurveda is about
balance and inner harmony. Once you have identified your constitutional
"type", you can choose the herbs that will balance your entire being:
your body, mind and spirit. The fascinating art of ayurveda includes the
medicinal powers of culinary spices and herbs that play an important role
in creating the flavors of Indian cuisine.
This tradition started when prehistoric people learned through trial and
error to treat physical complaints with plants. The basis of modern
medicine in the West dates back to Greek herbal medicine and its famous
doctors like Hippocrates and Galen. While Hippocrates advocated the use of
a few simple herbal drugs (along with fresh air, rest, and proper diet) to
help the body's own life force in eliminating the problem, Galen believed
that direct intervention with large doses of complicated drug mixtures
(often accompanied by some magical incantations) was necessary to correct
bodily imbalances that caused disease.
The Greek physician Dioscorides compiled the first European treatise on
the properties and uses of medicinal plants De Materia Medica in
the first century A.D. The compendium of more that 500 plants remained an
authoritative reference into the seventeenth century. Similarly important
for herbalists and botanists of later centuries was Theophrastus'
Historia Plantarum. This book founded the science of botany and
was written in the fourth century B.C.
Though the 1400s through the 1600s are officially referred to as the
"Golden Age Of Herbalism", the golden age never disappeared in countries
like Germany and France. Native American Earth-centered healing has played
a key role in the American herbal tradition and has given us such
important roots as echinacea.