Egyptian Herbal Medicine
Egyptian medicine was widely respected throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.
The earliest written records of its practices are to be found in the Ebers Papyrus, dating from the sixteenth century BC. This is historically of value since in itself, it represents a compilation of earlier works that contain a large number (877) of prescriptions and recipes. Once again we see how many of the plants currently used by herbalists are mentioned, including opium, cannabis, myrrh, frankincense, castor oil, fennel, cassia, senna, thyme, henna, juniper, linseed, aloe and castor oil. Cloves of garlic have been found in Egyptian burials, including the tomb of Tutankhamun and in the sacred underground temple of the bulls at Saqqara.
In a somewhat cryptic statement about the pyramid builders by Herodotus (since there are no inscriptions relating to the affairs of mortals involved with this monumental enterprise), it is claimed that to aid endurance, they consumed large quantities of garlic and onions. Garlic was an important healing agent to the ancient Egyptians just as it still is to the modern Egyptian Copts and in all Mediterranean countries. At a later time, Pliny, the Roman, devotes a lengthy section of praise to the use of garlic. Raw garlic was routinely given to asthmatics and for those suffering with other bronchial-pulmonary complaints.
Fresh Garlic cloves can be peeled and mashed and macerated in a equal parts vinegar and water. This can be used to gargle, rinse the mouth, or take internally to treat sore throats and toothache. Another delicious way to take garlic both for prevention as well as treatment is to macerate several cloves of mashed garlic in olive oil. This can be used as an external liniment or taken internally for all bronchial and lung complaints including colds. A freshly peeled clove of raw garlic wrapped in muslin or cheesecloth and pinned to the undergarment will protect against infectious diseases such as colds and flus. Besides these, garlic has many more uses when applied externally or internally to relieve pain, promote healing, stimulate digestion, stimulate sexual libido, treat insomnia and to eliminate and prevent parasites. In fact, it has been said that garlic is able to effectively treat all diseases except the ones it causes. If this is a problem, one can use parsley to alleviate the strong smelling breath, or use deodorized or fermented enteric coated garlic products that are currently commercially available.
Other herbs used by the Egyptians include:
Coriander (C. Sativum): commonly used by the ancient and modern Egyptians (Copts). It is considered to have cooling, stimulant, carminative and digestive properties. Both the seeds and the plant are used as a spice in cooking to prevent and eliminate flatulence, they are also taken as a tea for stomach and all kinds of urinary complaints including cystitis. Coriander leaves are commonly added fresh to spicy foods to moderate their irritating effects. Coriander was one of the herbs offered to the temple by the king, and seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and in other ancient burial sites.
Cumin seeds (Cumin cyminum): is an umbelliferous herb indigenous to Egypt. The seeds are considered to be stimulant and carminative. They are often used together with coriander for flavoring (especially in curries together with turmeric). Besides its use as a condiment it has many medicinal uses. Cumin powder mixed with a little wheat flour as a binder, mixed with a little water can be applied to relieve the pain of any aching or arthritic joints. Powdered cumin mixed with lard or pork fat can be inserted as an anal suppository to disperse heat from the anus and stop itching. A teaspoon of powdered cumin seeds mixed with a little honey can be taken along with warm milk to calm a cough.
Cyperus (C. esculentus): this plant belongs to a family that has many species growing through widely diverse areas of the world, the most famous being Egyptian papyrus, which was commonly used as a pulp for the manufacture of paper. There are several small varieties that grow wild as weeds in North America. A Chinese species known as “zhang fu” (C. rotundus) is used as a carminative and energy and hormone regulating herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Currently, the North American cyperus grass is merely regarded as another obnoxious weed, however, historically its small tuberous rhizomes were used both as a food and medicine by the Native Americans. Even today, the Egyptians cultivate a native species of cyperus in moist soils or sandy shores for their edible tubers. These are called “tiger nuts” and are first dried, then soaked in water. Reportedly, the taste is similar to hazelnuts. It was another species, the famous papyrus (C. papyrus), that the Egyptians used to make paper, sails, cloth, mats, ropes or plaited into sandals. I personally learned from a trip to the Peruvian Amazon jungle of a native species of cyperus that has had widespread use by tribal women as a natural contraceptive. Botanist, Dr. James Duke attributes this to a certain mold that grows on the root of the Amazonian species that has oxytoxic (abortive properties) similar to Ergot, a fungus that grows on rye.
The Egyptians were also well known for other healing techniques. They practiced various methods of spiritual healing, color healing, massage and surgery as well as the extensive use of therapeutic herbs and foods.
One interesting section in the Papyrus Ebers describes several charms and invocations that were used to encourage healing. One is used before taking an herbal remedy as follows: “Come Remedy! Come thou who expellest (evil) things in this my stomach and in these my limbs!” Obviously the ancient Egyptians had no problem utilizing the psychological aspect of healing to best advantage whenever possible
The most reknowned figure of Eqyptian healing was Imhotep. Honored as the first physician known by name, he evidently was an Egyptian physician and vizier (prime minister) to King Zoser of the third Egyptian dynasty. His fame was so great that after his death the Egyptians elevated him to the stature of a god and worshipped him for his healing powers.
He was the architect of Zoser’s step pyramid at Saqqara. This is located a relatively short distance from the more famous great pyramids outside of Cairo. Despite the fact that the older pyramid in Saqqara is in a more advanced state of sandy ruin, its surrounding environs offers proof of a possible open sports and ceremonial arena, once verdant arbors and walkways, small niches for worship and meditation along the fragmented wall that encircles the enclave.
It is hard to imagine amidst the sand, that probably in ancient times, before the ravages of erosion from over cultivation, these sacred areas where once fertile and green. At Saqqara, there is evoked a sense of wonder as we conjure images of King Zoser and his chief philosopher and physician, Imhotep, contemplating and holding discourse on the mysteries of the universe.
The Egyptians believed that disease and death were neither natural nor inevitable, but was caused by some malign influence which might use any agency, natural or invisible, and very often was part of the spirit world. Often a god, a spirit, or the soul of a dead man was responsible for cunningly entering the psyche of a living person, or blamed for inflicting some irresistible violence or disease.
The Egyptian Shaman-physician had two important functions. First, to discover the nature of the particular entity possessing the person and then attack, drive it out, or otherwise destroy it. This was done by some powerful magic for which rituals, spells, incantations, talismans and amulets were used. Physical medicines such as herbs were only expected to assuage the pain while magic alone was expected to effect the cure.
The art of divination was first known to be used by the Mesopotamians (now occupying the area roughly encompassed by Iraq) along with the use of astrology to determine the influence of the stellar constellations on human welfare and medical ethics. The contributions of Crete were hygiene, temple medicine and the cult of the serpent deity. The symbol of the serpent was pervasive throughout ancient Mediterranean civilizations. It was positive when associated with healing rites and apparently negative as it is depicted assuming the form of Satan in the first book of Genesis.
Egyptian, along with other Mediterranean and Indian medicine was therefore strongly magico-religious even though there were many practical cures and remedies using herbs, minerals and various animal parts. Historically, hygiene (named after the ancient Greek goddess, Hygeia) has been one of the most decisive elements of health and with the ancient Egyptians, a high level of personal and social hygiene was attained.
Despite their tendency to worship strange animal headed deities, the Egyptians also tended to deify their outstanding physicians. Thus temples were erected to honor the humanized physician-god, Imhotep. Bronze statues of him have been preserved and found in burial cites as evidence of their deep respect. It is said that the Greeks later identified Imhotep with their own humanized god of healing, Asclepias. As the first historically recorded physician, a statue of Imhotep standing in the Hall of Immortals, is to be found at the International College of Surgeons in Chicago.
Greek Herbal Medicine
Through the process of exploration, conquest and more important, the desire to aid the sick, ancient civilizations tended to borrow and adopt the skills and knowledge of medicine and healing of various cultures to their own. When Alexander the Great conquered and encompassed virtually all of the known world — Persia, Egypt, India and the rest, — he did so with the intention of extolling the humanizing glory of Greece. All the nations brought under the wing of Greece, however, brought with them their own traditions and customs including their healing knowledge.
One year before his death in 323 BC, Alexander founded the city of Alexandria. It was here that the exchange of knowledge between all countries of the ancient world occurred. Ptolomy Soter, Egypt’s ruler for almost forty years after Alexander’s death, founded the huge Alexandrian library where up to seven hundred rolls of papyri were eventually collected and housed. Legend states that any stranger arriving there with a work not represented in the collection was detained until it was copied and placed in the library. One of the great intellectual tragedies was the destruction of the Alexandrian Library that at the time housed all the accumulated knowledge of the ancient world.
This tendency to fuse and build new empires upon the knowledge and remnants of the old can be seen in all areas of knowledge and artisanship down to the very disassembling of stone pillars and temples for use in their own buildings. Certainly it was of primary concern in terms of medicine and pharmacy. As Barbara Griggs points out in Green Pharmacy, “the drug inventories of the three great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and India show such remarkable similarities that there was obviously a continual exchange of discovery and information among the professionals.”
Following are a few representative examples of 100’s of herbs and their uses common to India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome:
Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis), while the plant is poisonous, the expressed thick, viscid oil is used as a powerful laxative and purgative. Dose: one teaspoon to two tablespoons in the evening.
Fennel Plant (Foeniculum vulgare), a member of the umbelliferae family, the stalks are eaten like celery while the seeds are used as a stomachic, carminative for the relief of intestinal colic and gas. It is also very beneficial for the liver, aiding regeneration of liver cells and therefore making it a pleasant flavoring addition to formulas with the many bitter herbs customarily used as cholagogues for the liver. Dose: 1 tsp. steeped in a cup of water; of the liquid extract, 20 to 30 drops; of the oil, one to two drops.
Linseed or flax seed (linum usitatissimum) is used as a soothing demulcent, emollient, laxative, antitussive and pectoral. It is applied externally as a poultice for burns, scalds, boils etc. and also made into a soothing cough medicine.
Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida), which is the gum resin of the roots, has antispasmodic, expectorant and carminative properties, making it a good substitute for garlic and very useful to prevent and eliminative colic and gas and aiding digestion and assimilation. It is also used as an antispasmodic nervine to calm hysteria and nervousness and emotional symptoms associated with PMS, food allergies and candidiasis. Dose: 0.3 to 1 gram two or three times daily.
Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) used similarly to ginger as a carminative, stimulant for dyspepsia. It is widely used as a condiment especially in Thailand. A paste of the root mixed together with bloodroot has been used topically for periodontal disease such as gingivitis and to cure skin cancer. Dose of the powder: 1 to 2 grams or a teaspoon; of the liquid extract, 20 to 30 drops.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) the berries are used as a diuretic, antiseptic, carminative and anti-inflammatory. For chronic cystitis, backache and rheumatism, a teaspoon of the crushed berries are steeped in a covered cup of boiling water until cool enough to drink. Three cups are taken daily.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) this consists of the three filiform, deep orange-red stigmas attached to the upper part of the style. They give the appearance of loose threads. The flavor is aromatic and pleasantly bitter. It is used as a carminative, diaphoretic, and emmenagogue or blood moving herb. A small pinch is typically added as a coloring and flavoring to food. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses saffron for shock, depression and menstrual difficulties.
Not only were the actual herbs commonly shared and used between these civilizations and cultures but aspects of the theoretical basis for their use and application were also adopted. Most notably we see a common thread of evaluating herbs according to their atmospheric energies, hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold and their flavors spicy, bitter, sweet, sour, salty and bland. The dynamics of physiological holism was expressed through the various humoural theories which were common to countries as far distant as India, China and eventually Greece and Rome.
The Four humors of the Greeks and Romans consisted of:
1. Sanguine (air), hot/moist 3. Phlegmatic (water, cold/moist
2. Melancholic (earth), cold, dry 4. Choleric (fire) hot/dry
Sanguine qualities in an individual exhibited symptoms of heat and moisture, ruddy complexion, cheerful, confident and optimistic, with a tendency towards feverish, inflammatory diseases.
Melancholic qualities had opposing qualities of cold, dryness, pale complexion, heightened sensitivity and visionary tendencies. These were more susceptible to nervous and reproductive disorders.
Phlegmatic qualities were cold and moist, duller, slower and less sensitivity than the sanguine. Theirs was a tendency towards diseases associated with congestion, stagnation, rheumatic and mucus conditions.
Choleric qualities in an individual being hot and dry were the opposite of phlegmatic. They would tend to have a hot and fiery temperament and thus more easily angered. They tended to develop liver diseases, high blood pressure, rashes, sun sensitivity, burns and fevers with little perspiration.
The humoural system is elucidated in a treatise called “Affections” in the Hippocratic Corpus which states: “In men, all diseases are caused by bile and phlegm. Bile and phlegm give rise to diseases when they become too dry or too wet or too hot or too cold in the body”; and the author goes on to state how such derangement’s are precipitated by imbalances in food and drink, exercise, injuries, “smell, hearing and sight”, sexual excesses and “hot” and “cold” themselves.
Such theories, common to most ancient civilizations, point out the essential difference in perspective between the holistic objectives of traditional medicine of diverse countries, in contrast to that of contemporary Western medicine. The traditional approach tends to be more integrative, emphasizing the attainment of health through a combined holistic integrating body, mind and spirit, using diet, exercise and lifestyle changes as well as ritual, chants and prayer. The contemporary Western medical approach tends to be disintegrative and myopic, viewing the body more mechanically as a conglomerate of separate physiological organs and molecules. The emphases is in merely relieving symptoms rather than maintaining health, While the ancient approach provides a wider, more far sighted view. Both have their respective strengths and weaknesses.
The two great personalities in ancient Greek medicine were respectively divine and mortal. Hippocrates being the human and Asclepias the immortal god of medicine.
The great legacy of the ancient Greeks was their veneration for thought and beauty. This is especially reflected in their raising the human form to the level of divinity, in dramatic contrast to the animal headed gods of the Egyptians.
By regarding Asclepias as a later manifestation of the Egyptian physician of the 3rd dynasty, Imhotep, the Greeks attributed greater human compassion to their god of medicine. Asclepias, the healer of healers, sprang from the union of the god, Apollo, with a mortal maid of Thessaly, named Coronis.
Legend states that the young demigod, Asclepias was presented to Chiron, a wise old centaur who took him under his tutelage in a cave on Mount Pelion. Other revered protégés of Chiron included a pantheon of Greek heroes including Jason, Hercules and Achilles. Chiron, being master of both the art of war as well as that of medicine instructed his gifted students accordingly. Eventually his students excelled their master. As for Asclepias, sufferers throughout Greece came to him to be healed their infirmities and injuries.
Most of the gods from great Zeus himself to Apollo, Helios the sun god, to Athena were revered as having healing powers. Legends, however, sprang up and abounded about Asclepias’ magic powers making the other gods jealous with envy. Asclepias was even credited with restoring the dead to life. This enraged Pluto, the god of the underworld, who bitterly complained to Zeus at being shortchanged in his supply of souls. Zeus, deciding that the power over life and death should be his alone, slew the healer with a thunderbolt.
Being of mixed divine and mortal parentage, Asclepias seems to have exhibited practical qualities. He is credited with evolving dietetic cures, surgery and pharmacology along with various techniques ranging from mundane purges to tooth extraction. Two of his offspring, Machaon and Podalirius are to be found as mortal army surgeons in the works of Homer. Some of his other children ranked celestial status with their names becoming bywords.
Panacea, a mythological daughter of Asclepias became the personification of medicinal herbs while Hygeia, her sister, was the embodiment of preventive health. Hygeia is often depicted with her father, the healer, representing the appreciation by the Greeks of the two aspects of health, the cure and prevention of disease. A son, Telesphorus, is also shown with his father. Being small of stature, garbed in his mantle and pointed hood, Telesphorus is taken as the symbol of youthful vitality with the power of “recovery” being his special domain.
One indication of the Greeks’ human affinity with Asclepias is that he is depicted partially draped, never completely naked. The other gods, more lofty in Greek mythology, Zeus and Apollo are always depicted in their full blown glory, nude.
In almost all civilizations, the serpent is represented as a symbol of healing. Because it lives close to the earth, it is credited with the knowledge of all healing substances. The shedding of its skin has been interpreted as the ability to renew its life and to live eternally. As such, Hindu mythology describes one of the aspects of Vishnu, the God of Preservation, as the snake of eternity called Ananta. Snakes were once prayed to by the sick and were eaten by ancient doctor-magicians to enhance their healing powers. The very name of Asclepias may be derived from the Greek, askalabos, or serpent. Since that time Asclepias’ knotted staff, the origin of which can be traced to the magician’s wand used by the Egyptians and by Moses has a single serpent entwined around it. For centuries this staff, known also as the caduceus, the winged staff of Hermes-Mercury, the messenger of the gods, is depicted with two entwining serpents and has been the symbol of the medical profession.
In the fourth century BC, temples of healing, venerating the god Asclepias were erected all over the Grecian world from Epidaurus to Tricca, from Pergamon to Corinth. They were lavishly graced with art treasures and often erected over some healthful sight with an inspiring view perhaps near a mineral spring. Commonly, these also had a snake nursery where snakes were bred for use for the healing ceremonies. Patient sufferers would come to the temple to be healed. If the temple was small, they were instructed by the priest to sleep near the statues to encourage the god to appear to them in their dreams and hopefully either cure them of their malady or instruct them of a cure.
So as not to be in competition with the gods, the priests laid no claim to healing knowledge. They were often merely officiators and groundskeepers, attempting to provide a suitable environment were the aid of Asclepias could be suitably invoked. To maintain a spotless record of “no-patient-ever-lost, the critically ill along with pregnant women were forbidden entrance.
Upon admission, the patients were attended by priests, stretcher-bearers, bath masters, torchbearers, caretakers of the sacrificial alter and eventually an audience with the head priest himself, who offered words of counsel before each of his freshly bathed, white-sheeted charges laid down for their fateful, healing sleep. The dormitory became a necessary part of the temple as increasing numbers of patients awaited the revelation of their healing dream.
Before reclining for their haunted sleep the sacrifice was offered in accordance with the patient’s financial status. The poorest gave their shoes, while others brought barley cakes sweetened with wine, the wealthy offered swine and sheep. The most acceptable sacrifice was a cock. In Phaedo, Plato quotes Socrates last words as “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepias, discharge this debt for me.”
The preparations and sacrifices over, the poet Aristophanes describes the scene from apparently first hand observation:
“soon the temple servitor
Put out the Lights, and bade us fall asleep,
Nor stir, nor speak, whatever noise we heard.
So down we lay in orderly repose.”
In the hushed flicker of dimming lights and rustling priests, the hopeful patients sleep. Perhaps in their dreams and imaginings, they sense the presence of Asclepias with his sacred dogs and gentle serpents. The soft touch of his hand cools a feverish forehead, his kiss calming a restless body or raging mind as his healing presence glides back and forth amongst the dreamers.
With dawn, the patients arise. Those feeling that they have been fully cured, make their payment and leave but not without sharing their visions and success with others. This adds to the excitement and creates a healing mood of hopeful optimism within the others who often stay on, often for days or weeks in anticipation of the day when they will awaken whole and well.
Their is no doubt that remarkable cures were effected, perhaps through auto-suggestion, just as they are in other holy places such as Lourdes and in a similar Native American Vision Quest ritual of a time of solitude in nature, prayer and fasting. The priests, without any deceitful intent, aided the process by burning opiate laden incense whose fumes were wafted over the sleepers to heighten the fantasies. Aristophanes, in one of his comic dramas, depicts how the tallest of the priests, impersonating Asclepias would softly walk among the drugged and drowsy.
The serpents of Greece were extensively used in Asclepian worship. Some were often placed in cradles with newborn babies. At Epidaurus, the center of the Asclepian cult, a large snake nursery was maintained which supplied not only its own needs but that of neighboring temples as well. The staff of Asclepias, which can be traced back to the magic wand of the early Egyptians and Moses, depicts a single serpent twined around it. Up until recent times, this was the symbol of the medical profession. The caduceus, which is a winged staff with two serpents entwined is a further variation of the staff of Asclepias and the symbol of Hermes-Mercury, the god of trade and the messenger of the gods. This same symbol was used by the Romans and is worn by medical personnel of the United States Army Medical Corps to indicate noncombat status in war.
Stone slabs from temple walls found at the temple of Epidaurus and other Asclepian centers offer eloquent testimony of the wondrous “cures” effected at these centers. Often they resorted to psychological trickery such as planting a seeming dumb boy to come as a suppliant to the temple and then to recover his voice. When asked by the temple priest “do you promise to pay within a year the fees for the cure, if you obtain that for which you have come?” The young boy suddenly spoke out “I do.”
Evidence that surgery was occasionally practiced in the Asclepian temples is shown in the following: “A man with an ulcer in his stomach. He incubated, and saw a vision: the god seemed to order his followers to seize and hold him that he might incise his stomach. So he fled, but they caught and tied him to the door-knocker. The Asclepian opened his stomach, cut out the ulcer, sewed him up again and loosed his bonds. He went away whole, but the floor of his chamber was covered with his blood.”
Despite the aura of mysticism surrounding the Asclepian temples, the priests were evidently hard-fisted businessmen when it came time to be paid for cures effected. As with many religious institutions today, a goodwill offering was expected but since these were relied upon to sustain the temple, it was unlikely that they were as voluntary as the officiators pretended.
Time payments were available but for no longer than a year. The offerings of the rich were automatically expected to be more than the poor. An ironic story crops up where an unbelieving temple visitant who left cured, despite her disbelief, was requested to leave as her offering a silver pig “as a testament to her stupidity.” A small boy offered his ten jackstones while Alexander the Great, visiting the temple at Gortys, left his spear and breastplate. For those who were of lower income status, perhaps only a song of praise or a lock of hair was offered.
The Asclepian temples survived for centuries, extending into the Christian era. While the same general approach (sleep, dream, recovery) remained, there was a gradual shift of emphasis. While Asclepias was still consulted in the second century AD, the remedies were often herbal. There is further evidence that in the fourth century, the temples offered some common sense herbal prescriptions. Nevertheless, even as the early Christian church forbade the use of rational medicines, relying primarily upon the divine healing of Christ, the emphasis of the Asclepian temples similarly remained focused on a mystical reliance on the power of the gods.
Hippocrates (460?-377? BC), considered the father of medicine. His principles formulated 400 years before the birth of Christ, attempted to weed out various aspects of superstition which dominated people’s minds at the time in favor of applied logic and reason. Since the 18th century medical students would, upon graduating from their studies recite aloud the following Hippocratic oath.
The Oath of Hippocrates
I swear by Apollo, the physician, and Aesculepius and Health and All-Heal and all the gods and goddesses that according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this oath and stipulation:
To reckon him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him and relieve his necessities if required; to regard his offspring as on the same footing with my own brothers, and to teach them this art if they should wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation, and that by precept, lecture and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons and to those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath, according to the law of medicine, but to none others.
I will follow that method of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; I will not give to a woman an instrument to produce abortion.
With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my art. I will not cut a person who is suffering from a stone, but will leave this to be done by practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter I will go into them for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and further from the seduction of females or males, bond or free.
Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I may see or hear in the lives of men which ought not to be spoken abroad I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men at all times but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.
We know practically nothing of Hippocrates’ life except that he was born on or around 460 BC, on Cos, an island close to the Asiatic mainland. He settled eventually in Thessaly; he died an old and honored man, at Larissa.
The earliest and most reliable authorities are Plato, Aristotle, and Aristotle’s pupil, Meno, the historian of medicine. These established that Hippocrates was a historical personage of great esteem who nevertheless taught medicine for a fee. There are few definite known facts about either his methods or doctrines. Despite the centuries of scholarly attempts to define the authentic writings and teachings of Hippocrates, the voluminous works ascribed to him as the Hippocratic corpus are all apparently anonymous.
The Hippocratic Writings consists of sixty treatises, some of which are in several books, varying widely in subject-matter, style and date. These include subjects on pathology, diagnosis and prognosis, methods of treatment, preservation of health, physiology, embryology, gynecology, surgery and medical ethics. While a formidable body of work, it is impossible to identify which are the actual authentic writings of Hippocrates. Therefore, the Hippocratic treatises must be viewed as the collective efforts of many individuals and schools over a period of 3 centuries who made anonymous contributions.
Hippocrates lived during the fifth century BC, a time of great auspiciousness as there seemed to be a flowering of thought and wisdom that occurred throughout in all corners of the world. Giants walked the earth including Buddha, Socrates, Xenophon,Phidias and Plato.
Hippocrates practiced a system of holistic medicine focusing his treatments on the person rather than the disease. From early Greek philosophy, he based his understanding of medicine on natural laws in which the course of disease was seen to exhibit a discernible pattern as opposed to being divinely inflicted. A headache, according to him, could be one thing if it afflicted a stoneworker in Corinth and quite another if it plagued a philosopher of Athens.
Plato articulated Hippocrates’ credo: ” to heal even an eye, one must heal the head, and indeed the whole body.”
Just as the Greek universe was ordered according to the principles of four dynamic elements (fire, water, air, earth), Hippocrates saw the body governed by four corresponding “humors,” as described previously. Health and disease was seen as a question of humoural balance or imbalance with foods and herbs classified according to their ability to effect natural homeostasis.
Of his many aphorisms the three most memorable are: “above all else, do no harm”, — ” Let your medicine be your food and your food, medicine.” — “The body heals itself.” He was a patient, keen observer, carefully noting down the course of a disease as part of the process of healing, seeking for precisely the right moment to support the patient with some mild forms of physio-therapies, massage, baths, a few herbs (not more than 200) and most importantly, mild foods.
Hippocrates was seemingly opposed to blind dogmatic belief either in religious or superstitious arguments or apparent medical theories. The classification of herbs as “hot, “cold”, “wet”, “dry’ for instance was not thought to represent absolutes in the scientific sense, but rather aspects to be utilized as part of the art of medicine. In the most remarkable treatise entitled Tradition in Medicine, he says,” They have supposed that there are but one or two causes; heat or cold, moisture, dryness or anything else they may fancy.” Later he states, “I am utterly at a loss to know how those who prefer these hypothetical arguments and reduce science to a simple matter of postulates, ever cure anyone on the basis of their assumptions. I do not think that they have ever discovered anything that is purely `hot’ or `cold’, `dry’ or `wet’, without it sharing some other qualities”. The writer further states in chapter 16 that hot and cold are “the weakest of the forces which operate in the body.”
Later however, despite his criticism of hot, cold, wet, dry and other postulates as being in themselves too simplistic, the writer advances his assumptions which are considerably more complex. In chapter 14 he states, “There exists in man saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, sharpness, astringency, flabbiness and countless other qualities having every kind of influence, number and strength. When these are properly mixed and compounded with one another, they can neither be observed nor are they harmful. but when one is separated out and stands alone it becomes both apparent and harmful.”
The Greek Doctor
The practice of medicine in ancient Greece was typically a middle class profession and generally did not occupy the high esteem it does in our own time. The normal Greek doctor was regarded as somewhat of a craftsman — probably lower than a goldsmith and only slightly higher than a shoemaker. He might be considered as somewhat of a more formalized version of the village healer or herbalist.
Many doctors were itinerant wanderers — Hippocrates among them. Such a wandering doctor might temporarily set up shop in the market place of a town, treating those who choose to consult him. In this way, there was opportunity for an exchange of practical trade secrets either voluntarily or surreptitiously by spying on the work of others.
Referring to the proverbial doctor’s medicine bag, Hippocrates stated a gentle note of warning for those who tended to grow a little careless: “Keep your bag clean and well arranged. Lack in these matters means helplessness and harm …. the physician cannot possibly go through everything.”
There was a different style of treatment between those doctors who were itinerants and those who set up more permanent shop in cities. The itinerant doctor, in order to prosper, had to be able to quickly and accurately tell the patient the nature and course of their disease. The city doctor practiced either in their homes or they worked in the public clinics or “iatreions” as they were called. These were often run communally with patients being treated together in a common room. The official town doctor had to demonstrate that they had been under the prior tutelage of an acknowledged practitioner. Hippocrates was one who, according to Plato, trained young doctors “for a fee.”
The iatreion was usually supported by the community through a special tax. It had well lit rooms, stocked with all necessary surgical instruments, and served as both a consulting and surgical room. Usually the doctor had apprentices who would work with him and therefore learn the art of medicine through hands-on experience. Hippocrates had advice both for the doctor’s surgical assistants as well as the novices learning the various surgical operations. To the assistant he says, “Let those who look after the patient present the part for operation as you want it, so as to be all steady, keeping silence, obeying their superior.” To the novice surgeons he states, “Perform them with each hand and with both together, your object being to attain ability, grace, speed, painlessness, elegance and readiness.”
In exchange for freely treating the poor and indigent, the communal doctors who headed the iatreia received a number of practical benefits. They were exempt from taxes, showered with endowments and received free tickets to athletic games.
Outstanding doctors were especially honored. Empedocles (495?-435? BC) was both a noted philosopher, the first to delineate the principle of the four elements, as well as a celebrated Sicilian doctor. He ordered the nearby swamps and marshes in the city of Salinus to be drained, in order to prevent an unknown pestilence, probably malaria. To honor him, his grateful neighbors ordered special gold coins to be minted, twelve of which are preserved in the British Museum. A stone found at the Acropolis in Athens tells of the bestowal of a crown of green olives upon Evenor, the physician “for his good will toward the people of Athens.” Others doctors were similarly honored for their great zeal and generosity in treating the sick.
Not all schools agreed with the prevailing Hippocratic ideal of holism. In Alexandria, Eristratos was one doctor who was scornful of the general Hippocratic concept. “Why bother with the whole body,” he claimed, “if only part of the man is sick?” It is said that he went so far as to open the abdomen of a patient with kidney disorders to apply direct medication. As an anatomist, Eristratos was the first to distinguish between the sensory and motor nerves. He also compared the heart to a blacksmith’s bellows, thus developing a discovery some 2000 years before Harvey in the 18th century, concerning the circulation of blood.
Also in Alexandria, adjoining Egypt, the land made famous for its embalming practices, Herophilos, a staunch advocate of the Hippocratic model, spent much of his time dissecting cadavers. He later became known as “Herophilus the Butcher” as a result of the emperor Tertullian later accusing him of opening the body cavities of six hundred living criminals! Herophilos nevertheless made a number of brilliant medical contributions. For one, he was the first to explain the function of the brain, dispelling the Aristotelian idea that the heart was the center of thought (an idea still, however, supported and maintained in Traditional Chinese Medicine).
Poisons: the Foundation of Pharmacy
Being a powerful ruler or aristocratic figure in the ancient world was not without a certain level of risk. Most commonly, being poisoned by an envious relative or another dissenting member. This was a time when poisoning was raised to a high art, and in turn spurred dazzling efforts to discover or create effective antidotes. Thus the art of Greek pharmacy was strongly supported and encouraged by the wealthy.
Mithridaticum was a shotgun antidote containing no less than 54 ingredients developed for Mithridates, King of Pontos during the first century BC Living in mortal fear of poisoning, his remedy consisted of small amounts of various poisons which taken over a period of time was supposed to make one immune to their fatal effects. He died at around the age of 70 but not before, as legend has it, he first tried to poison himself unsuccessfully because of his self immunized body. He was eventually killed by his son’s henchmen. Ironically, Mithridaticum eventually became known as a health giver and was still in use up to the sixteenth century. As the Roman Juvenal states, “If your liver is getting impatient, buy the composition of Mithridates, and you will live to eat figs and gather roses another year.”
The Roman’s, famous for incorporating the best of their Greek forbears, attempted through the efforts of Andromachus, Nero’s physician, to improve or at least enlarge upon Mithridates’ shotgun anti-poison by increasing the number of toxic ingredients from 54 to 70. Under the name “Theriacum” it was described in pharmacopoeias for centuries up through the European Renaissance.
Apart from the development of royal poison antidotes, there was increasing demands for a wide range of non-poisonous plants from all parts of the known world. As today, a combination of unwitting ignorance along with calculated unscrupulousness caused a plethora of confusion as bogus species and fraudulent imitations of compounds were widely traded.
There were also customs and regulations concerning when and how certain plants were to be harvested. Some of these ideas became laden with superstitions. Some included picking certain plants only with the left hand.
“Do not look behind you as you pluck; this will deprive a plant of medicinal value.”
“Be sure to stand to windward, to avoid poisonous effluxions from the plant.” And:
“Beware of the woodpecker when plucking peony.”
Such strange admonitions extended to actual mixing of medicines. Many Greek pharmacists insisted that stirring medicines with the fourth finger was the best for maximizing effectiveness. The finger was thought to contain a vein that communicated directly with the heart, an idea which may also account for its long-accepted use as the ring finger in marriage.
Originally most Greek doctors collected and mixed their own drugs. When the drug trade became world-wide, however, they began to rely upon wholesalers for raw materials and upon pharmacists for compounding them. As Greek pharmacists found that there was more money to be made in compounding and mixing cosmetics, physicians were compelled out of necessity to return to making their own drugs.
To this day Jupiter’s symbol, which was put atop most prescription forms as a kind of invocation, survives in the modern physician’s statement “Take thou….,” and is actually traceable back through the Jupiter sign to the Eye of Horus itself.
Roman Herbal Medicine
One of the most significant virtues of the Romans, responsible for the long lasting success of their civilization, was their practicality. This is best seen in their ability to adopt local customs, religions and cultural mores, along with incorporating the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of foreign cultures under Roman dominion. Being great administrators, they soon saw the value of hygienic principles such as forbidding the burial of the dead within city limits, providing a minimum space of two feet between neighboring buildings, water transport via aqueducts, refuse and sewerage disposal. The Cloaca Maxima, which was a sewer built by the Etruscan Tarquins in the sixth century BC was first used to drain the marsh close to the Roman Forum and went on to serve the City of Rome for centuries to follow.
While private medical practice continued, the Romans were very instrumental in evolving group medicine in the form of hospitals. This was especially important to serve the needs of the military. Each Roman legion, numbering from seven to eight thousand men, were divided into ten to twelve cohorts, and to each, Augustus Caesar assigned four doctors with a supervising legionary physician. In addition, the soldiers themselves were well versed in first aid.
Army hospitals called valetudinaria were used to receive the soldiers. The remains of these hospitals are to be found throughout the Roman Empire. One located on the old Roman road to Cologne, called Novaesium was typical. It contained forty sick wards, administration buildings, large kitchens, and a well-stocked apothecary shop.
What the Romans contributed to practical organization and medical care, they lacked in human sensitivity. The hospitals operated on a strictly military basis with physicians taking orders from military commanders. Soldiers shocked by the brutal combat of war, stationed 100’s of miles from their family with inevitable concomitant mental suffering were nevertheless expected to maintain a strict code of discipline even while hospitalized. An order issued by Emperor Aurelius indicates the type of discipline:
“Let each soldier aid and serve his fellow; Let them conduct themselves quietly in the hospitalls… and he who would raise strife, let him be lashed.”
It is no wonder that due to previous Roman lack of compassion, the new religion of Christianity was able to make significant headway, despite its early emphasis on faith healing. This occurred with the evolution of monasticism and a renewed spirit of humane compassion, exemplified by the tradition of maintaining a medicinal herb garden and a monastic pharmacy, available to its reclusive residents as well as to the local people.
One of the most important steps in Roman medicine occurred in the year 46 BC when Julius Caesar granted citizenship to foreign doctors. Since the best doctors along with the best philosophers were Greek, this meant that the couple of centuries previous, wrought with suspicion and distrust associated with Greeks generally, and Greek doctors in particular, was lifted. Again this was a wise and practical decision on the part of the Romans, since by the second century AD, Rome with its vast army was sprawled over an empire ranging from Africa to England. Such expansiveness is often subject to squalor and disease for which trained medical personnel were required.
Previous to this edict Greek doctors were maintained as skilled and knowledgeable slaves. In part, due to the skill of one such doctor slave, the emperor Augustus in 23 BC went so far as to exempt doctors from taxes. Augustus had been a sickly man, suffering with rheumatism that effected his left leg that caused him to limp, arthritis, which had stiffened his right hand, chronic insomnia and frequent severe colds which in winter caused him to wear four tunics along with a heavy toga. No doctor had been able to alleviate his suffering until Antonius Musa, a freed slave diagnosed his problem as inflammation of the liver and prescribed cold sulfur baths. In gratitude for his cure, Augustus ordered Musa to be sculptured in the form of Asclepias.
The two most important medical figures of Rome whose contributions remained the uncontested “standard” for botany and medicine were Dioscorides and Galen. Dioscorides, was born in Anazarbus which is a town presently part of Turkey. Living sometime in the first century, his most significant contribution was the five botanical books entitled De Materia Medica. This became the foundation for all subsequent materia medicas for the next 1600 years throughout Europe.
Approximately 80% of Dioscorides’ materia medica consists of plant medicines while the remaining 20% is divided more or less 10% mineral and 10% animal. This approximates a 1976 report describing the sources of Western drugs as follows: (a) chemically synthesized 50 percent; (b) higher flowering plants, 25%; (c) minerals, 7 percent; (d) animals, 6 percent. If we consider that many chemically synthesized drugs were once derived from plant products, the percentages of Dioscorides is remarkably similar to today’s.
The organization of Dioscorides’ work, especially with plants follows an organized pattern of one plant, one chapter. The description of the plants themselves are laid out as follows:
1. plant name, synonyms and picture
3. botanical description
4. drug properties or actions
5. medicinal usages
6. harmful side effects
7. quantities and dosages
8. harvesting, preparation and storage instructions
9. adulteration and methods of detection
10. veterinary uses
The most significant aspect of his work which he, himself described as “new and superior”, despite his surmise that it would be immediately apparent, seemed to escape the understanding of scholars for centuries. Instead of grouping various plants according to botanical families, or treatment of specific diseases, or even according to the organoleptic criteria of flavors and energies (hot, cold, moist, dry), he arranged them according to their physiological effects. Being first and foremost an empiricist, Dioscorides sought to classify drugs according to broad physiological categories of action. These include the following:
2. Mollifying and softening
3. Astringent, bitter, or binding
9. Making thin
12. Sleep inducing
15. Stopping of pores
16. Causing thirst
19. Cleaning thoroughly or emetic
By so doing, Dioscorides raised herbal medicine beyond the purely empirical principle of finding a specific herb for a specific disease. It presupposed a corresponding system of diagnosis for which the above physiologic actions would be useful. Separating the diagnostic “system” from the treatment or the temptation to name a specific disease and treatment regardless of the holistic evaluation of the patient and the symptom complex, does not allow one to perceive either the meaning or the value of Dioscorides’ “new and superior” method of organization.
In fact, his method as set forth in De Materia Medica is not at all unsimilar to methods used in the organization of traditional Chinese materia medicas. A materia medica such as that described in Planetary Herbology or in subsequent lessons of this course is organized according to functional intention and use in clinical practice.
A traditional Chinese materia medica includes the following:
1. relieving the surface
2. purging Heat
3. lubricating dryness
4. heat clearing
6. dampness dispelling
7. clearing phlegm dampness
8. internal warming
10. calming the spirit
11. blood regulating
12. chi regulating
…..and so forth.
How are these different from the pharmaceutical classification of substances as diaphoretics, laxatives, alteratives, stimulants, sedatives, nervines, emmenagogues, carminatives, etc.? Certainly both materia medica’s include these elements as well as the organoleptic classification according to flavors as well as organs effected and so forth. The difference is in the idea that an expectorant can be either cooling or heating. For instance, coltsfoot and elecampane are both classified as expectorants. Where coltsfoot is more suitable as an expectorant for a hot cough with accompanying feverishness and yellow phlegm. While elecampane (Inula helinum) root is better used for a cold or cough associated with coldness, weak digestion, low energy and whitish to clear mucus discharge.
As another example different nervines and sedatives will be more appropriate for certain kinds of nervousness. Some forms of nervousness are caused by a toxic or stagnant liver for which skullcap (scutellaria lateriflora) is more suitable, other forms of anxiety (associated with food allergies and diseases such as candidiasis) are caused by depressed circulation and digestion for which asafoetida taken with food will be more appropriate. Skullcap will probably not be very effective for the individual with weak digestion and internal coldness while asafoetida will probably not be effective for the individual with a toxic, stagnant liver. Valerian (V. officinalis), is a nervine with a warm, acrid flavor. This suggests that it might not be so effective for an individual with a tendency towards liver congestion and hypertension as skullcap might be, for instance. Finally, extreme nervous restlessness, mania or breakdown, may require a heavier substance to lower the energy such as calcium carbonate from oyster shells, abalone or pearls decocted in a tea. These are very cold and would not be appropriate by themselves, for the individual suffering from internal coldness and associated weak digestion.
Since one plant, such as Red clover (Trifollium pratense), usually has more than one property, its placement as an alterative with cooling properties in a materia medica is merely a reflection of its primary use by one or a consensus number of practitioners. Its placement as a cooling, anti-inflammatory herb however also allows the practitioner to access its primary therapeutic effect. In actual usage, red clover could be used not only for fevers and infections but to help dissolve blood clots and thus aid circulation, calm the nerves and relieve hot bronchial conditions. It can also be used to aid the metabolism of protein and thus be useful in the treatment of certain forms of cancer.
One may also mistakenly assume herbal traditions as settled matters. In fact, the history of herbalism shows a quite different state of affairs. What has come down to us as tradition is really the current expression and distillation, in most instances, of centuries of opposing views and opinions.
Tradition is useful when it provides continuity and a point of departure for understanding. It is useless when it inhibits our ability to act and respond to the demands of the moment. According to John M. Riddle, the most modern translator of the only English version of De Materia Medica and sad to say, a work that has been long out of print, he says, “By Dioscorides’ time medical practitioners were neither unified about the nature of disease and illness nor in agreement on a set principle on which to organize experiences and to approach therapy.” Regarding the notion that the humoural theory was a universally accepted concept among Greeks and Romans, he further says, “there was never complete agreement about the number, designation, or even existence of humours. Among the dissenters was Dioscorides, who did not accept so few as four humours and largely ignored the whole matter.”
Parallels can be drawn today between the theoretical basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine with its Yin-Yang and Five element theories or the theoretical basis of East Indian Ayurvedic medicine with its sacrosanct Tridosha (Three humour) and other theories compared with clinical practice. The same can be said for any theoretical concept of Western scientific medicine and the pragmatic reality of what works. What may be gained from theoretical study has much value including developing some intangible attitude or way of approaching a condition that may inspire greater confidence within the practitioner involved in the enterprise of healing, a fundamentally imprecise and therefore artful science.
What Dioscorides was attempting in the organization of his materia medica was to create a definitive and practical clinical manual. The fact that he had differences conforming to strict traditional theoretical precepts such as the flavors as absolute indicators of medicinal properties or the humors shows the limits of theory. Rather, Dioscorides, the successful clinician, sought to treat disease according to the complex of its symptoms and what was empirically most effective. Like other Greek physicians of his time, he integrated “diet, exercise, and baths” as being “preferable to harsh drugs and surgery.” Being the great herbalist that he obviously was, he sought “to cure, safely, swiftly, and pleasantly.” Just as he rejected the hard theoretical humoural line of the Hippocratic practitioners of his day, he also rejected the more psycho-spiritual Asclepians. While he chose not to tell why, one can only surmise that such methods of healing, again tending towards a dogmatic methodology, was contrary to Dioscorides thought process.
European Herbalism From the Middle Ages to the Present
Dioscorides and were two of the most important doctors of the late Roman Empire living approximately at the same time. Their work became the foundation of European herbalism through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Dioscorides, who lived sometime around 50AD, was a physician in Nero’s army. He traveled extensively through Greece, Italy, Germany, Gaul, Spain and other countries, detailing the properties of around 600 plants, giving the name, habitat, directions for use, properties and indications. His definitive herbal, De Materia Medica, was actually a compilation from many works including Hippocrates, Theophrastus, Andreas, Niger, Crateuas and other scientific botanists and herbalists. His work was the primary source of herbalists of all nations for over 1500 years.
Galen who lived around 130 AD was the last of the important Greek herbalists. He learned anatomy at the Greek School in Alexandria. He is the most distinguished physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. He authored over 400 works, of which 83 are extant. His major herbal, De Simplicibus represents the fruit of his extensive travel and research. Galen described the European humoural system which prevailed throughout the middle ages.
The early Christian church discouraged the formal practice of medicine with the avowed intention to imitate Christ, and thus, they encouraged the use of faith healing. As a result of this tendency, there was an attempt to destroy and suppress the ancient knowledge of herbs and natural medicine. Fortunately, it was preserved forever in the form of hand copied manuscripts which were secretly handed down through the centuries. The monasteries, however, did become centers of simple herbal folklore and practice, storing a large number of herbs in their herb storeroom called the “officina”, giving rise to the Latin “Offinalis.” Some plants with the name officinalis are: comfrey-symphytum officinalis; calendula officinalis; vervaine-verbena officinalis; dandelion-taraxacum officinalis. These same monasteries became famous for maintaining their own herb gardens.
During the Middle Ages which lasted from AD 400 to the 1500’s, the Muslim Empire of Southwest and Central Asia made significant contributions to medicine. Rhazes, a Persian-born physician of the late 800’s and early 900’s wrote the first accurate descriptions of measles and smallpox, Avicenna, an Arab physician of the late 900’s and early 1000’s, wrote a vast medical encyclopedia called Canon of Medicine. It represented a summation of medical knowledge of the time and influenced medical education for moth 600 years.
The Middle Ages was wracked by a series of devastating plagues. Outbreaks of leprosy began in the 500’s and reached their peak in the 1200’s. In the mid-1300’s the deadly bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, killed about a quarter of Europe’s population. Throughout the medieval period, smallpox and other infectious diseases attacked thousands of people.
The primary medical advance of the Middle Ages was the founding of many hospitals and university medical schools. Christian religious groups maintained hundreds of charitable hospitals for victims of leprosy. In the 900’s a medical school established in Salerno, Italy, became the primary center of medical learning in Europe during the 1000’s and 1100’s.
Some of the important herbal’s of this period were as follows:
Herbarium of Apuleius
A translation of this work connected the English with the herbal medicine of Southern Europe.
During these years many of the old herbal’s and Books of Simples were destroyed. Norman invasions resulted in the destruction of Saxon works and Danish invasions destroyed most of the written works of the continent. Druidic uses of plants were mostly lost.
Leech Book of the Bald, the oldest existing leech (doctoring) book was written in the vernacular. It is the first medical treatise of Western Europe. It is probably a copy of an older book, The Leech Book, a manual of a Saxon doctor. It is largely secondary knowledge and includes much herbal lore as well as superstition.
Hildegard of Bingen (St. Hildegard), With the recent revival of interest in the music of the visionary 12th century mystic, Hildegard also wrote widely on devotion, mysticism and healing. Hildegard claims her knowledge is derived from visionary sources. Nevertheless, she utilizes the four-element and four-humour system that dated back to the ancient Greeks. Her approach integrates, body-mind and spirit with specific descriptions of diet, herbs and gems. She recommends the use of psyllium for constipation, aloe for jaundice and horehound for cough. She employs many spices from the orient. One that she recommends frequently is galangal (alpinia galana) which she uses to treat indigestion, stomach pain, arthritic pain and heart pain (angina). She also uses some uncommon remedies such as geranium for colds and columbine for scrofula. Many of the common herbs she describes include fennel, parsley and nettles with descriptions of preparing them as wines, teas, syrups, oils, salves, powders and smoking mixtures. She also describes how to make herbal eggs and herbal cookies. As their use in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, Hildegard also integrates the therapeutic use of animal parts. Hildegard’s balanced diet describes the dangers of cold or raw food as well as the shortcomings of too much meat and fat. Her diet includes some meat, much seafood, vegetables, grains, (spelt, a variety of wheat which is her favorite). She also prescribes beer and wine for certain conditions as well. Some of her more unusual prescriptions is the use of the chestnut as the ideal food for the brain and nerves. Hildegard also uses other healing modalities including fasting, bloodletting, cupping and saunas.
A history of dominated by prominent male figures, who served as both the players and authors, we know little of the contribution of women in the history of medicine. Hildegard, therefore, assumes an important figure in the history of women healers.
The Herbarius and in 1491 AD, Ortus Sanitatus both have some of the best woodcuts prior to the new period of botanical illustration beginning in 1530.
In France, Le Grand Herbier is important because of its later English translation in 1526 as Grete Herball.
During this period, new political independence from the church and a renewed interest in the classics fostered a flowering of scientific, medical and cultural achievement that is unparalleled in human history. Many of the great herbal’s were written, compiled and printed during this time. Some of these were as follows:
Bancke’s Herbal was the first printed herbal.
Grete Herball printed by Peter Treveris had the highest reputation of the earlier English herbal’s.
Turner’s Herbs, by the physician and divine, William Turner (1510-1568). He was regarded as ‘˜the father of British Botany,” because he was the first Englishman who studied plants scientifically.
At the same time, the German, Fuch’s Herbal by Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566) was written and became another landmark work with beautiful illustrations.
Aztec Herbal, published in 1552 is the earliest treatise on Aztec pharmacology. Written by Martin de la Cruz, an Aztec doctor, it was later translated by Juan Badiano, an Indian doctor from Xochimilco. It was discovered in the Vatican library in 1919 and has become known as the Baliano Codex.
Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) was a Belgian botanist. His herbal called Histoire de Plantes incorporated many of Fuch’s woodcuts along with some new illustrations. His most important book, The Pemptades, became the basis of the English herbal known as Gerard’s Herbal.
1597 & 1633
Gerard’s Herbal by John Gerard (1545-1612) is the second of the three greatest English herbalists, Turner, Gerard and Parkinson. Gerard was a surgeon, well traveled and a dedicated gardener. He grew over 1000 plants mostly for seed. His herbal is largely based on the early Pemptades by Dodoens and was probably translated into English on commission by a Dr. Priest. Gerard altered the classification of plants and added a great deal from his personal observations. First published in 1597, it was later corrected and reprinted in 1633. Even to this day, amateurs calling themselves, “herbalists, freely plagiarize material from Gerard’s herbal.
In his work we see the old belief in the efficacy of herbs to treat not only physical diseases but those of the mind and spirit. This belief is shared by the greatest civilizations of antiquity. Gerard also describes methods of aromatherapy involving the inhalation of volatile oils, the absorption of these through the skin into the circulatory system.
1629 & 1640
John Parkinson (1567-1650) was the last of the great English herbalists. His books include Paradisi in Sole Terrestris (A Garden of Pleasant Flowers) published in 1629, and Theatrum Botanicum (The Theater of Plants) published in 1640 at the age of 73.
Parkinson’s monumental Theatrum Botanicum describes over 3800 plants and was the most complete and aesthetically beautiful English treatise on plants of the day.
Nicolas Culpeper (1616-1654) expounded on the relationship of astrology and herbs and the older belief in the “Doctrine of Signatures”. This belief extending deep into the distant past herbal traditions of the world maintains that there is a relationship between the way a plant appears and the condition for which it is indicated.
Culpeper was the most loved by the people and hated by his professional colleagues herbal doctor of his day. It was the custom of the time for official medical knowledge to be printed and discussed only in Latin. In Culpeper’s opinion, this was simply an elitist ploy to keep the knowledge of herbs and healing from the masses and thereby ensure the vested interests of the medical profession. There was also some sense, that this would protect the masses from possibly mistreating themselves. Medical elitism, of course, continues to this day in many forms and the many branches of medicine and with the American Medical Association (AMA) and other countries such as the British Medical Association (BMA).
Always the physician of the people, Culpeper was the most hated by his professional colleagues because he violated a solemn oath of London’s College of Physicians by translating from the Latin some of the elitist works of the time, notably the Pharmacopoeia which he retitled A Physicall Directory. Some of this information eventually found its way into his ever popular Culpeper’s Herbal.
He was the most loved because by translating the works of his greedy and paranoid colleagues, he was able to empower common folk with the knowledge of self treatment. Always a man of the people, Culpeper charged small fees, had an unaffected manner and was especially loved by his poor London West-end patients. The result is that he continues to be honored in the minds of the people with Culpeper’s Herbal being reprinted through countless versions and editions up to the present.
William Coles (1626-1662) authored two books, The Art of Simpling and Adam in Eden. Like Culpeper, he also wrote in colloquial English but he was severely critical of Culpeper and described him as being, “ignorant in the forme of Simples” and “transcribing out of old works only what was useful”. Cole was also critical of Culpeper’s astrological botany and the association of plants with planetary influences. Cole is regarded as a major exponent in English of the Doctrine of Signatures.
Because medicine tended to be the official domain of either the church or the state, folk medicine throughout the Middle Ages, developed and was relegated to the practice of herbalists and healers who utilized non-official healing methods associated with previous pagan religions to attend to the needs of the those who were unable to afford the ministrations of the wealthy medical elite. This included women who were branded as witches (see the following section, Women and Healing), men who were called warlocks and other social outcasts who rebelled against the domination of Church and state and sought to rediscover their ancient so-called pagan religious customs and healing with the use of herbs and various charms. In the name of preserving Christian values, the Inquisition and witch-hunts became a convenient method to suppress and denigrate the efforts of unofficial lay healers.
Today, some may still look disdainfully on the witches’ strange use of animal and mineral substances described in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, this only alludes to the outlaw status of many women healers and their use of bonafide and potent remedies, however strange. Interestingly Shakespeare’s son-in-saw and next door neighbor, John Hall was a great herbalist of the time whose official medical armamentarium included various animal parts, herbs and minerals much as these even today are also part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The psychological aspects of healing through the use of rituals, prayers, charms and talismans represent another aspect of traditional herbal shamanism. It was not the power and validity of such methods of healing with which the Church took issue, for priests similarly employed various religious relics, specially consecrated ‘˜holy’ water and the symbol of the cross in a similar way. Rather is was the question by whose authority the healing was achieved. If, therefore, an individual was healed with a non-Christian symbol, it must have been by the power of the devil.
During the 17th century, the Swiss physician, Philippus Paracelsus advocated the use of minerals. These included methods of purifying and using minerals such as copper, sulfur, arsenic, mercury and iron. Because of his emphasis on the importance of Chemistry, Paracelsus holds two seeming contradictory distinctions as the “father of alchemy” and the founder of a system of mineral drug medicine that has ultimately resulted in the primacy of plants used for medicine.
Women and Healing
It may be noticed that thus far, that other than mythological figures such as Hygeia, Hepatica and other ancient goddesses, the only prominent historical woman described in this overview of the history of herbal medicine is Hildegard. While there were undoubtedly others, little seems to be known about them and they certainly do not play a prominent role in the chronicled history of medicine with the exception of a few in comparatively recent times. Certainly this is not because women, as a group, had no interest in healing. Quite the opposite.
With the preponderant numbers of women who enroll in our course and attend our various seminars, women as a group, in my opinion are the most apt healers, with a natural tendency of compassion required for healing. Further, unlike men, their monthly and cyclic physiological needs (menses, childbirth and menopause) involve them directly on a regular basis with healing. We can only assume, therefore, that women have always had a lively and direct involvement with health and healing but were, along with other disadvantaged groups of peoples such as native people, blacks and Jews, simply overlooked in the chronicles of history.
Before the great holocaust of the 20th century with the execution of 100’s of thousands of Jews, gypsies and other ethnic groups by the Germans during the 2nd world war, another holocaust involving perhaps even greater numbers of women healers occurred between the 14th and 17th centuries with the systemic torture and executions of millions of women as witches. According to Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English in their very important booklet entitled Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (Glass Mountain Pamphlets, P. O. box 238, Oyster Bay, N.Y., 11771), “The great majority of them were lay healers serving the peasant population, and their suppression marks one of the struggles in the history of man’s suppression of women as healers.”
They go on to say that “The witch-hunts represented well-organized campaigns, initiated, financed and executed by Church and State.” They came about coincident with the evolution of the European medical profession and the apparent need to suppress any attempts by the lay people to minister to their own medical needs.
‘¦.. Because of the Medieval Church, with the support of kings, princes and secular authorities, controlled medical education and practice, the Inquisition (witch-hunts) constitutes, among other things, an early instance of the ‘˜professional’ repudiating the skills and interfering with the rights of the ‘˜nonprofessional’ to minister to the poor. (Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness)
As Ehrenreich and English state, “Witch hunts did not eliminate the lower class woman healer, but they branded her forever as superstitious and possibly malevolent. So thoroughly was she discredited among the emerging middle classes that in the 17th and 18th centuries it was possible for male practitioners to make serious inroads into that last preserve of female healing — midwifery. Nonprofessional male practitioners ‘” “barber surgeons” ‘“ lead the assault in England, claiming technical superiority on the basis of their use of the obstetrical forceps. —- Female midwives in England organized and charged the male intruders with commercialism and dangerous misuse of the forceps. But it was too late ‘“ the women were easily put down as ignorant “old wives” clinging to the superstitions of the past.”
Ehrenreich and English’s book goes on to describe the male take over of the roles of healing from the 1800’s through the early 20th century throughout all European countries and in the US.
It is difficult for us today to conceive of the profound lack of personal rights and the historical repression of women that has been so characteristic of the history of both Western and Eastern countries of the world. Rather than to over simplistically condemn men as a group, since I believe that ultimately both men and women suffer from female repression, the cause seems to coincide with the rise of warlike civilizations where physical strength and brutality became more of a necessity for survival and highly valued by both sexes. Witness our own time, that as war is becoming more technological and mechanized, it is less the exclusive domain of men as women are admitted into the military. Concomitantly, women’s rights are emerging more strongly to the fore in all sectors of society.
It is valuable to study more feminine oriented ancient civilizations such as the Mycenaean civilization of Crete which existed from around 1500 to 1100 B.C that made many important contributions to the evolution of civilization.
The following section of describes the rise of the Eclectic medical system in the US. Among the many unique achievements of the Eclectics was the recognition, admission and graduation of women and blacks into the medical profession.
The American System of Medicine
David Winston, Herbalist A.H.G.
In the early part of the 19th century medical practice in the United States was in a dismal state. General lack of medical knowledge, poor, hygiene, and allopathy’s adherence to worthless theories and toxic remedies made going to a physician both a frightening and dangerous experience. The overuse of bleeding, mercury, arsenic, opium, emetics, and purgatives weakened patients almost as much as the diseases of the day.
As an alternative to this cruel hoax, a poorly educated farmer, Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) was driven to create an herbal alternative: Thomsonian Medicine. This system, which borrowed heavily from Native American herbal remedies and sweat baths, was quite heroic but substantially less toxic than the orthodox medicines commonly used.
Major tenets of Thomsonian Medicine included the Jeffersonian belief in “every man as his own doctor” and “heat is life and cold is death.” The materia medica of the botanic practitioners utilized a limited number of medicines including stimulant diaphoretics (capsicum, achillea, hedeoma, zingiber), astringents (myrica, quercus, commiphora), emetics (lobelia, Eupatorium perfoliatum), sedatives (scutellaria, cypripedium, symplocarpus) and bitters (chelone, populus, berberis). Thomson’s system usually included several “courses” of steamings purging with lobelia emetics, and sweating, followed by tonification of the stomach, lungs, and bowels. While unpleasant in its pronounced activity, this protocol very successfully treated many common scourges of that time, i.e., typhus, typhoid fever, influenza (la grippe), yellow fever, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, and malaria.
The best known of Thomson’s formulas was Composition powder (formula #2) which was used to allay dysentery, stomach and bowel pain, and to increase vital heat:
o Bayberry root bark, 2 lbs.
o Hemlock inner bark, 1 lb.
o Ginger, 1 lb.
o Cayenne, 2 oz
o Cloves, 2 oz.
One of the many failings in this system was Thomson’s total aversion to further medical education; he had a profound anti-intellectual attitude to medical elitism.
In response to Thomson’s rigidity and dictatorial nature, one of his assistants, Alva Curtis (1797-1881), created his own professional group of physicians, the Physio-medicalists. They founded their own sectarian medical schools and focused on the use of a large materia medica of nontoxic herbs. In addition, they developed a very complex (some would say obtuse) theoretical basis for their practice. Part of the Physio-medicalist theory included an energetic diagnostic system somewhat similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Patients’ constitutions and organ systems were seen as either Asthenic (hypoactive, deficient) or Sthenic (hyperactive, excess). Herbs were then prescribed according to information ascertained by pulse, tongue, and other physical diagnostic procedures.
This system never developed strong support in the United States; at their height of popularity in the 1880s they only numbered 1000 practitioners. Interestingly enough, this system was transported to England where it flourished and was taught at the four-year College of Herbal Medicine until the 1970s.
Another sectarian group of “herbal” physicians was started in the 1830s by Wooster Beach, MD (1794-1868). Beach founded the Reformed Botanic movement (or the “American System of Medicine”) to create an effective, professional medical system emphasizing indigenous vegetable (herbal) materia medica. He founded the Reformed Botanic College in New York which later relocated in Ohio (Worthington, then Cincinnati). Eventually Beach’s presence faded, and the movement chose a new name: Eclectic Medicine. The Eclectics introduced many herbs into common use. Following is an outline of a few important ones:
Purple Coneflower root — Echinacea, spp. — Acute viral and bacterial infection: colds, flu, bronchitis, urethritis, septicemia
Goldenseal root — Hydrastis canadensis — Boggy, atonic mucus membranes with tendency toward infection – strep throat, cervicitis, conjunctivitis
Blue Flag root — Iris versicolor — Enlarged thyroid, clay-colored stools with Lymphatic congestion
Black Cohosh root (Macrotys) — Cimicifuga racemosa — Muscular neuralgia – fibromyalgia, uterine pain, post-partum pain
Culver’s Root (Leptandra) — Veronicastrum virginica — Sluggish liver with constipation, liver tender to touch, frontal headaches
Gelsemium — Gelsemium sempervirons — Nervous irritation – flushed face, contracted pupils, facial neuralgia
Wild Indigo — Baptisia tinctoria — Tissue that is purplish with infection and impaired circulation – septicemia, gangrene, putrid sore throat
Cactus — Selenicereus grandiflorus — Functional irregularities of the heart, valvular murmurs, feebleness of old age
The Eclectic philosophy allowed physicians to select therapies from other medical sects such as Allopathy, Homeopathy, and Hydrotherapy that would benefit the individual patient. By the late 1850s the Eclectics were flourishing; Eclecticism and Homeopathy were the two primary alternatives to medical orthodoxy. The maxim that “in success are the seeds of failure and in failure are the seeds of success” proved true for Eclecticism. Constant internecine fighting, “the Eclectic resinoid craze” ‘ and declining enrollment in the Eclectic Medical schools during the Civil War left the Eclectic Movement in near collapse by 1865. From the ashes of disaster John Milton Scudder (1829-1894) almost single handedly resurrected Eclectic Medicine.
In his books, Specific Medication and Specific Medicines and Specific Diagnosis, Scudder proposed a new model for practice. In this system small doses of high quality single herbs replaced large quantities of often nauseating polyherbal preparations. Each herb was carefully studied to find its “specific indication” in clinical practice. A system of differential diagnosis was developed to give the practitioner clear insights to effective prescribing. In short Scudder took the best of Eclectic Medicine, Homeopathy, Rademacher’s Organ Remedies, and vast empirical experience to create a “Unique System of Herbal Practice.” Initially many Eclectics balked at the new system (called Scudderism or Neo-homeopathy by critics) but experience proved its value and effectiveness. The Golden Era of Eclectic Medical Practice, 1875-1895, found over 10,000 Eclectic physicians practicing throughout the United States. There were eight legitimate eclectic medical schools and the “American System of Herbal Medicine” seemed secure in its place.
Changing centuries, new ideas that the Eclectics were reluctant to embrace, the onslaught of the American Medical Association and foundation money (Rockefeller and Carnegie, the Flexnor Report), and the deaths of many Eclectic giants (Scudder, King, A.J. Howe), led to the gradual decline and eventual disappearance of Eclectic Medicine. The Eclectic Medical College, the last school of Eclectic Medicine, closed its doors in 1939.
During the waning days of Eclectic Medicine, three men stand out as successors to J.M. Scudder and his Specific medication. Each of these physicians helped to evolve Scudder’s philosophies closer to the ideal he initiated.
Harvey Wickes Felter (1865- 1927) was editor of the Eclectic Medical Journal and Eclectic Medical Gleaner, co-author with John Uri Lloyd of King’s Dispensatory, 19th edition (1983 reprint Eclectic Medical Publication) and author of The Eclectic Materia Medica. Pharmacology, and Therapeutics, a manual for clinical practice.
The history of Eclectic Medicine could not be told without mention of one of the greatest geniuses of herbal pharmacy, John Uri Lloyd. The Lloyd brothers pharmacy made it their primary focus to produce the highest quality herbal extracts and other Eclectic products to serve the 1000’s of Eclectic doctors throughout the United States. Upon closing of the Lloyd brothers’ pharmacy, a grant was bestowed in perpetuum to maintain an Eclectic library in Cincinnati, Ohio, the site of the last and most important Eclectic Medical college. The library, as a result of the Lloyd grant, remains open today and continues to be funded. It is the Vatican for any serious herbal student and practitioner of North America. It houses the entire Eclectic medical library as well as some of the most outstanding books on herbalism and botany collected by the Lloyd brothers and donated to the library.
Finley Ellingwood (1852-1920) was publisher of the Chicago Medical Times and Ellingwood’s Therapeutist He was author of American Materia Medica and Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy (11 th edition 1919, reprinted by Eclectic Medical Publications, 1995), one of the greatest works on specific medication ever published.
Eli G. Jones (1850-1933) authored Definite Medication (1985 reprint Jain, New Delhi) and Cancer, Its Causes, Its Treatment, and Its Cure. Jones created a synthesis of Eclectic, Homeopathic, Biochemic, and Physio-medicalist systems that utilizes tongue, pulse, and facial diagnosis to precisely ascertain which remedies are appropriate for each specific patient’s unique symptom picture. Felter’s, Ellingwood’s, and Jones’ books are so useful that they are still in print and are the best guides we have to effective practice of Specific/Definite Medication
While few herbalists, M.D.s, or N.D.s are fluent in this system of practice, the textbooks and their authors’ accumulated wisdom are available to learn from, synthesize, and utilize to make herbal practice more effective, precise, and safe.
1. These active constituent resins, discovered by John King, MD (1813-1893) – podophyllin, irisin, macrotin, and leptandrin – were stable and active resins precipitated out of liquid extracts. Unfortunately, the drug companies of the day used the same idea to produce “resinoids” from the entire materia medica only to belatedly discover these products were totally inert.
2. The new sciences of bacteriology and pharmacology are prominent examples.
Boyle, Wade. The Herb Doctors. Buckeye Naturopathic Press: East Palestine, Ohio. 1988.
Griggs, Barbara. Green Pharmacy. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont. 199I.
Haller, J.S. Medical Protestants. South Illinois University Press: Carbondale. Illinois. 1994.
Wilder, A. The History of Medicine. Maine Farmer Publications: Augusta, Maine. 1904.
Wood, Matthew. The Magical Staff North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California. 1992.
Books on Specific Medication:
Ellingwood. American Materia Medica and Therapeutics. 1919.
Felter. The Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. 1911:
Jones, E.G. Definite Medication. 1911.
Rademacher, J.G. Rademachers Universal and Organ Remedies. Boericke and Tafel: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Scudder, J.M. Specific Medicines and Specific Medication. Cincinnati, Ohio. 1874.
Scudder, J.M. Specific Diagnosis. Cincinnati, Ohio. 1874.
Outline of History of Chinese Medicine
As with all traditional cultures, the Chinese knowledge of the therapeutic properties of plants is primarily based upon trial and error. The earliest recorded Chinese herbal was the Shen Nong Pen T’sao Jing or Emperor Shen Nong’s Classic Herbal. Shen Nong, the God-Farmer was one of three legendary kings of ancient Chinese history. He was also known as Di Huang, King of the Earth while the other two were Tian Huang, the King of Heaven, and Ren Huang, the King of Humans.
Before Shen Nong, Chinese society was based on hunting and gathering. Legend states that to encourage greater social stability and continuity, Shen Nong was the first to teach farming and agriculture to the Chinese and the first to discover the knowledge of medicinal herbs. Because of his compassion for the sick, he would go into the countryside and poison himself a hundred times by tasting various plants and substances, each time finding a natural antidote. The results of Shen Nong’s discovery was recorded in the Shen Nong Pen T’sao, meaning Shen Nong’s Herbal.
Out of myth and legend, Chinese herbalism evolved and every official herbal has since been titled ‘˜Pen T’sao’ in honor of Shen Nong’s contribution. The first Shen Nong Pen T’sao published in 200 BC was lost but subsequent references inform us that it contained 365 herbs. These were subdivided as follows: 120 emperor herbs of high, food grade quality which are non- toxic and can be taken in large quantities to maintain health over a long period of time, 120 minister herbs, some mildly toxic and some not, that have stronger therapeutic action to heal diseases, finally there are 125 servant herbs that have specific action to treat disease and eliminate stagnation. Most of those in the last group are toxic and are not intended to be used daily over a prolonged period of weeks and months.
The earliest known and most important document of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the Huang-ti Nei-ching (The yellow Emperor’s classic of internal medicine, written in the 3rd century BC. It’s authorship is ascribed to the fabled Yellow Emperor, Huang-ti and expounds on the theoretical concepts of Yin Yang, Five Elements and other principles related to health and healing that have been the cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Medicine down through the ages.
Hua Tuo (100-208) is regarded as one of the greatest acupuncturists and surgeons of Chinese medical history. He is famous for the discovery and use of a special set of accessory points along the spine which are called ‘˜Hua-Tuo’ points. He was also a highly skilled herbalist.
There is a famous story that bespeaks the psychological aspect of healing that was part of his practice. It involved a famous governor who, having been sick for a prolonged period, bestowed generous gifts on his renowned physician, Hua Tuo, in expectation of treatment. The governor eventually became increasingly frustrated and angry because despite his lavish endowments, Hua Tuo did not give him any medicine to relieve his malady. In fact, he would further taunt and scoff at the governor. This eventually resulted in Hua Tou fleeing the district for his life to escape the governor’s wrath. Fortunately, the governor was unable to apprehend the exiled Hua Tuo. His anger, however, rose to such a pitch of intensity that he vomited dark bile and blood, after which he completely recovered.
Between 220 and 589 China was once again wracked by civil wars. As a result the Shen Nong Pen T’sao Jing was threatened by abuse and neglect. During this time Buddhism was promulgated throughout the Northern and Southern Dynasties of China. Northern Chinese society was strongly influenced by the cultures of the steppe and the Sino-Tibetan frontier region and tended to lack strong central direction and was warlike and illiterate. In contrast, the Southern Dynasty situated around the Yang Zi basin was aristocratic and sophisticated. During this time famous Buddhist caves with giant carvings were created as natural sanctuaries and the emperor was regarded as the ‘˜living Buddha’.
There was a wide dissemination of knowledge between distant cultures as Chinese monks such as Faxian during the 5th century ventured into India and Indian monks during the 6th century disseminated Indian culture throughout China. Because of commercial trading, there were also influences to and from Japan, Korea and far-off Arab lands.
During this time alchemy was further developed. Taoism links medicine and alchemy. The Taoist quest for longevity, begun in earlier times, persisted with research and experimentation in the consumption of cinnabar. Unfortunately this led to a plethora of characteristic symptoms of mercury toxicity.
With the interest in alchemy came the development of pharmaceutical science and the creation of a number of books including in 492, Tao Hong Jing’s (456-536) compilation of the Pen T’sao Jing Ji Zhu (Commentaries on the Herbal Classic) based on the Shen Nong Pen T’sao Jing. In that book 730 herbs were described and classified in six categories: 1) stone (minerals), 2) grasses and trees, 3) insects and animals, 4) fruits and vegetables, 5 grains and 6) named but unused. This has become the most influential and oldest herbal found in the Tun Huang District, northwest of Kansu Province.
Because of frequent wars, medicine developed which led to the creation of the first Chinese text on surgery being written during this time. Another contribution of the Chinese ‘˜Middle Ages’ was the establishment of the first formal Chinese medical school created in 443 by the Emperor’s physician Qin Chengzu during one of the Southern Dynasties. Before this time medical knowledge was exclusively passed down from master to pupil.
During the 2nd century, Wang Shuhe compiled all previously known knowledge of the pulse in his famous Maijing (Pulse Classic). This in turn led to the introduction of pulsology into Arabic medicine.
During the Sui (589-618) the study of herbal medicine blossomed with the creation of specialized books on plants and herbal medicine. Some of these set forth the method for the gathering of herbs in the wild as well as their cultivation. Over 20 herbal’s were chronicled in the Sui Shu Jing Ji Zhi (Bibliography of the history of Sui). These include the books Zhong Zhi Yue Fa (How to Cultivate Herbs) and the Ru Lin Cai Yue Fa (How to collect Herbs in the Forest.
The most important clinical manual of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the Shang Hang Lun (Treatise On the Treatment of Acute Diseases Caused by Cold). It was written by Chang Chung-Ching (Ad 142-220) and describes the Six Stages of acute disease caused by the invasion of Cold. It was written as a result of Chang’s tragic experience of losing three-quarters of his family from a plague. During that time, he observed the ineffective treatment of many of the herb doctors of the time with their inability to effectively respond to the changing character of acute disease. The Six Stages, presented in a later lesson in this course, offers an approach to diagnosis and treatment of acute diseases and common colds, influenza, allergies, coughs, and other communicable diseases.
The fame and reputation of the Shang Han Lun as well as its companion book, Chin Kuei Yao Lueh (Prescriptions from the Golden Chamber) both by Chang Chung Ching, is the historical origin of the most important classical herbal formulas that have became the basis of Chinese and Japanese-Chinese herbalism (called “Kanpo”). The formulas described in these texts have since been extensively studied and their use expanded to treat a wide variety of both acute and chronic diseases.
The Tang (618-907) is regarded as the greatest dynasty in Chinese history because of the many contributions to art, medicine and the sciences made during that period. The Tang Xin Pen T’sao, (Tang Materia Medica) the official materia medica of the Tang Dynasty was China’s first illustrated herbal and contained 844 entries. Besides officially sanctioned herbal’s, many works created by independent citizens were also created during the Tang including the Yue Xing Pen T’sao (The Book of Herb Properties) by Zhen Quan. It was when Zhen Quan was 120 years old that Emperor Tai Zong (629-649) visited him and the aged herbalist bestowed his work upon the Emperor.
Sun Simiao (581-682) regarded as the “King of Prescriber” was perhaps the most popular figure in Chinese medicine. Having steeped himself in the three pillars of Chinese wisdom based on Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, Sun, being of fragile health decided to dedicate his life to the study and practice of medicine.
Because he refused many tempting offers of wealth and prestige from various emperors of the time to live the life of a humble country doctor, Sun Simiao has since been revered and respected as a great humanitarian. His actual practice and knowledge are known only through two works, Qianjin Yaofang (Prescriptions of the Thousand Ounces of Gold) and Qianjin Yifang (Supplement). Because Sun regarded human life as precious, the term ‘˜gold’ reflects his regard for human life.
Sun regarded the integration of acupuncture, moxibustion and the use of drugs as a complete system of medicine. Relying solely on the Four Methods of Diagnosis (observation, listening, interrogation and palpation), he considered that the pulse should only be studied after listening to the patient and observing the tone of voice and complexion. He also strongly advocated prevention and pre-diagnosis to be superior than the treatment of disease. The ideal physician, Sun Simiao’s interest and influence extended to his incorporation of the principles of the Shang Han Lun, proper harvesting of medicinal plants, the causes of disease and his enthusiastic advocation of maternal and infant care.
In Qian Jin Shi Zhi, Sun said: “In the old days, herbalists collected herbs themselves at the right time and in the right place, and they processed the herbs properly. That is why they were able to cure nine out of ten of their patients. Nowadays, doctors only know how to prescribe. Most of the herbs they are using were not collected and processed properly so they can only cure five or six out of ten of their patients.” More than any of his contributions, Sun Simia has come to represent the exalted embodiment of integrity, compassion and benevolence.
During the Song dynasty (960-1279) the first herbal that was officially published was the Kai Bao Pen T’sao (Kai Bao was the name of the emperor of that time) in 973. It was later revised and enlarged by the Taoist, Liu Han and others and published as Kai Bao Zhong Ding Pen T’sao (Revised Kai Bao Herbal).
In 1552, during the later Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Li Shi Zhen (1518-1593) began work on the monumental Pen T’sao Kan Mu (Herbal with Commentary). Li, dedicated his life to travel throughout the distant reaches of the empire to consult directly with people in many places regarding local remedies. He further consulted 277 herbal’s as references, the classics, histories and many other books — a total of approximately 440 in all. After 27 years and three revisions, the Pen T’sao Kan Mu was completed in 1578. The book lists 1892 drugs, 376 described for the first time with 1160 drawings. It also lists more than 11,000 prescriptions.
Li’s compilation of the Pen T’sao Kan Mu represents an attempt to correct the errors of his predecessors regarding the names and descriptions of medical substances. He also carefully noted the time and methods of harvest and the preparation and use of drugs. He derided as foolish the belief that the mushroom Lingzhi or Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) could prevent death. Besides his monumental materia medica, Li Shi Zhen was also the author of the Binhu Maixue (A Study of the Pulse) and Qijing Bamai Kao (An Examination of the Eight Extra Meridians). During his lifetime he was also regarded as a great physician who set forth the hitherto unique concept of the ‘˜brain as the location of the principal vital influence’ i.e. mental awareness. Li relied heavily on the classics, the Huang-ti Nei-ching and the Shang Han Lun yet maintained a fresh critical stance whenever he personally observed in practice situations and conditions that were at variance with tradition. Among his many contributions to pathology was his observation of cholelithiasis as a disease distinct from mere hypochondria or epigastic pain. He also promoted the use of ice to bring down fever and the technique of disinfection which involved soaking patient’s clothes in a steam bath to protect family members from contamination. To protect patients from epidemic disease, Li advocated the burning of Atractylodes lancea (Cang Zhu) as a fumigant.
As with Sun Simiao and other great Chinese physicians, Li attributed greater significance to prevention than cure following the approach of the Neijing which states:
“To cure disease is like waiting until one is thirsty before digging a well, or to fabricate weapons after the war has commenced.” Thus the Pen T’sao Kan Mu lists more than 500 remedies to maintain and strengthen the body, with over 50 of these created by Li Shi Zhen himself. He described the use and preparation of a wide variety of preparations including ointments, pills and powders and recommended the preparation of various medicinal broth’s with herbs including wheat, rice, chestnut, radish, garlic, ginger and vital organ meats of various animals.
Li Shi Zhen was a great pharmacognocist, pharmacologist, physician, zoologist, botanist and mineralogist and made a profound and lasting contribution to humanity as well as the Chinese people in particular. Like Sun Simiao, he was also a great humanitarian with high Confucian-inspired medical ethics, promoting all to the care and welfare of their fellow humanity. The most popular image we have of him is observing the flower of the Datura.
During the Qing dynasty beginning in 1644 to the first Opium war in 1839-42, more than 20 herbal were published. These included the Pen T’sao Kan Mu Shi Yi (Herbs Not Listed in the Pen T’sao Kan Mu) . During this period European influence gradually spread into China, the Huang Ti Nei-Ching (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) became recognized as the ‘˜bible’ of Chinese medicine with wide interest from commentators extending from the 17th to the 19th century. The fame and reputation of the Shang Han Lun as well as the companion book, Chin Kuei Yao Lueh (Prescriptions from the Golden Chamber) both by Chang Chung Ching, also grew during this time. One of the most important evolution’s that occurred was the theory of diseases caused by Heat, in distinction to the Shang Han Lun (‘˜cold induced diseases’). While the notion of Heat as a pathogenic influence was first formulated by Liu Wansu, it became more firmly established as a pathogenic influence during the 17th century with Wou Youxin who postulated and observed the effect of epidemic pestilence and plague as Heat diseases entering through the mouth and nose.
From 1842-4 various treaties, missionaries and foreign doctors established hospitals, treaty ports and the translation of western medical works. Chinese doctors began to be educated in Western medicine and even sent abroad to study. With the influence of Western medicine the practice of Chinese medicine, based on time honored tradition, continued to evolve throughout the period from 1840 to 1911. The physician Zhu Peiwen, author of Huayang Zangxiang Yuezuan (1892) conceptualized a comparative understanding of the organs based on Chinese and Western concepts. He decided that there were both advantages and disadvantages to Chinese and western approaches.
From 1911 to 1949 with the establishment of the People’s Republic the nationalist government under Sun Yat-sen declared in 1924 that China must ‘˜grasp the initiative and not remain backward’. Since Sun Yat-sen received western-styled medical training, he probably was a strong advocate of establishing western medicine as the premiere medical approach. There were considerable benefits in improved public hygiene, especially in urban areas with clear running water and the establishment of a central bureau to help combat epidemics. In rural China, however, traditional Chinese medicine continued to be practiced by itinerant Barefoot Doctors whose training was on the basis of student apprenticeship.
It was the vision of Chairman Ma Zedong who declared Traditional Chinese Medicine a national treasure and stated that ‘˜we must strive to explore it fully and raise it to a higher level’. As a result Traditional Chinese Medicine represents an attempt to rationalize Chinese Medicine with western scientific medicine, by initiating state sponsored research of herbs and treatments and downplaying the role of Taoist-Buddhist psycho-spiritual practices. With the introduction of TCM in the west there is currently a renewed interest in the value and reintegration of psycho-spiritual orientation for the treatment of disease.
Brief Background & History of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the term for the traditional medicine of ancient India. Ayur means life and veda means the study of, which is the origin of the term. The Vedas are the earliest sacred books of India of which there are four: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharva-veda. While there was really no Veda called Ayurveda, Susruta, one of the earliest and most celebrated doctors of Ayurveda and the author of one of the classic texts, the Susruta Samhita, calls Ayurveda an upanga or minor Veda of the Atharva-Veda.
The earliest Vedic texts, dating from 1500-1200 BC were especially concerned with aging, various afflictions, the prescription of cures involving prayers and herbal medicines. Later Ayurvedic concepts and descriptions derive from the early Vedic perspective of the make-up of the human being.
As with all medical knowledge, Ayurveda is originated from the combination of empirical knowledge handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next and the meditation of learned sages. The Caraka Samhita, the classic text of Ayurveda, depicts the gathering of famous healers and sages with the Indian god of healing, Dhanwantari, expounding on the principles of health and healing.
Ayurveda may well be the source for universal Planetary principles of healing throughout the ancient world based on balance and harmony with nature and the utilization of therapeutic diet, herbs, rituals, various physio-therapies. These principles were accordingly modified as they became modified by the different cultures, customs and geographical conditions. In Tibetan medicine, for instance, we see an obvious blend of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, with the use of herbs, the principles of Five Elements, the Three Humours, acupuncture and moxibustion, all characteristic of Traditional Chinese Medicine and found to a varying extent in Ayurveda.
Today, with the growing appreciation of traditional Asian culture and spiritual disciplines such as Yoga and meditation, there is a general renewal of interest perhaps because many consider that Ayurveda, represents a much closer connection to spiritual principles of healing. This, in contrast to Traditional Chinese Medicine, from which the overtones of spiritual Taoism has been expunged by the communists in recent times, and in the materialistic orientation. As Traditional Chinese Medicine reintegrates its Taoist orientation, and Western holistic medicine reintegrates body-mind principles of healing, there is a path where all systems of medicine are once again rediscovering their psycho- spiritual roots with physical holistic medicine.