The use of herbs throughout history probably started with cavemen watching which plants the animals ate. The Lascaux Cave, in France, contains wall paintings that include pictures of humans with herbs. It is estimated to have been painted between 25,000 and 13,000 B.C. It is widely thought that herbs have been a source of food ever since humans came to be.
Just to put it in perspective, the burial site of the Stone Age man in Iraq, which is about 60,000 years old, had evidence of eight specific medicinal plants tucked around his bones. It is assumed that the plants were to go with him into the afterlife. There was evidence of marshmallow root, hyacinth and yarrow root, which are still used today for relief from illness.
Those young upstarts, the ancient Egyptians, used herbs as medicine at least as early as 3500 B.C., but probably earlier. The Chinese were likely doing the same thing at the same time, but the written proof is from 2700 B.C. “The Classic Herbal,” a Chinese document, lists over 100 medicinal plants used at that time, including cassia, which is like cinnamon.
Not to be outdone, the Sumerians wrote their own explanation of the curative plants they used, on clay tablets, around 2200 B.C. By 1800 B.C., King Hammurabi, of Babylon, advocated using mint as a digestive aid. In 1500 B.C., a found papyri, in Egypt, noted the use of coriander, juniper, thyme, garlic, cumin and fennel to maintain good health. The laborers building the Great Pyramid of Cheops, for the Egyptians, used onion and garlic for health reasons. They needed all the help they could get, certainly.
Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets were found that told of the use of herbs and spices from the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, which were known for their fertile soils.
A quote from the book of Ezekiel, in the Bible, suggests that the fruit of the plant should be used with meat and the leaf for medicine. Another Bible reference to plant use is in the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. She brought gold, many spices and precious stones. Spices really rated, to be offered as gifts along with gold and gems.
India, also up on their herbal medicines, were using black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric as early as the eighth century B.C. They also liked cumin, ginger and mustard seed for healing. Ginger was used by many cultures for healing.
The ancient Greeks had Hippocrates, of the oath, looking out for them, from 460-377 B.C., and he devised a system of diagnosis and prognosis using herbs. He based this on his knowledge of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian use of herbs, and listed about 400 of the medicinal types used by the Greeks. Saffron, marjoram, mint, cinnamon and coriander are listed among them.
Jumping into the year 300 A.D., the Romans were already using poultices and plasters made from herbs, for healing purposes. They used dill to freshen the air. On to the 600 A.D. era, Mohammed himself had a stock of frankincense, myrrh and Asian spices. During the Middle Ages, from about 600 to 1200 A.D., every household had an herb garden for food and medicinal uses.
The Swede, Carl von Linne’, or Linnaeus, established binomial nomenclature, or Latin names, for all the plants he could find, so they could be distinguished by one name each, instead of three or four. This took place in the early 1700s.
Colonial Americans developed numerous herbal teas when it came time to buck the English tea tax. They also had many herbal medicines. During this period, and all through Victorian times, people used white willow bark for headache pain relief. It is now called “aspirin.”
About 25% of all the medications prescribed today contain at least one plant-based ingredient. Western doctors are now leaning more toward herbal and holistic treatment, albeit not quickly.