Who discovered the medicinal uses of plants


The history of herbal medicine is as old as mankind itself. The ancient knowledge of the healing power of herbs was written down by scholars from ancient Egypt and Greece and further developed in the monasteries of Europe. Katharina Truninger

People have probably always used the healing power of plants. Even the Neanderthals must have known the positive effects of medicinal herbs: They gave their dead mugwort and other medicinal herbs that are still used today to the grave, and it is assumed today that they have already used these herbs medicinally. The knowledge of the medicinal properties of medicinal plants has evolved over millennia through trial and error and was passed on orally over generations - until the emergence of writing. The traditional transmission of knowledge about medicinal plants played a major role in folk medicine until modern times: many old herbal recipes and home remedies were passed on from generation to generation. Even today, when discovering new, important active plant ingredients, one is still dependent on traditional medicine from non-European cultures and peoples, such as the Indians.

Four humors

Herbal medicine and medicine in Europe go back to the Greek doctor Hippocrates, who lived in the 5th century BC and who in turn was trained by scholars from ancient Egypt and India. Hippocrates and his students assumed that four fluids flowed in the body: blood, mucus, black and yellow bile. An illness was a sign that the four humors were out of whack and heated, cooled, dried out, or moistened each other. The medicinal plants were classified accordingly: It was important whether they had a warming, cooling, contracting, drying or moisturizing effect on the body.
During this time, the first herbal books of antiquity were written, all of which were committed to the theory of juices: The writings of Theophrast von Eresos (372-287 BC), Aristotle's most important student, are famous. In his "Historia naturalis"; Theophrastus not only listed the healing effects of all the plants used at the time, but also arranged them according to botanical criteria. The writings of the Greek doctor Galenus of Pergamon (129 to approx. 200 AD), who recorded important information on the manufacture of medicines, were also important. It is not without reason that the manufacture of herbal medicines is still called "galenics" today; called.
The most important herbal book of antiquity comes from the Greek doctor and botanist Dioscurides. In his pharmacology from the first century AD, around 600 plants and their therapeutic use are described. It is considered the standard work of herbal medicine and a model for all herbal books up to the Renaissance.

Monastery medicine

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe fell into a period of standstill and war for almost a thousand years. It is not for nothing that this time is also called the Dark Ages. Scholars were persecuted and had to flee to the Arab world. There doctors and pharmacists had immense knowledge and a rich assortment of medicines that were far superior to that of medieval Europe. Only in the monasteries could medical knowledge and herbal medicine be sustained and developed. Until the first hospitals were established at the beginning of the 14th century, the monasteries were the only places where sick people were cared for; and behind the monastery walls a medicine could develop that is known today as monastery or monk medicine. As early as 800 AD, medicinal plants were grown in the monastic herb gardens according to a standard plan. One of the most famous healers of the time was Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), whose works are still in the tradition of the ancient theory of the juices.
It was not until the Renaissance that a new epoch of the view of nature began: The doctor Paracelsus (1493-1541), for example, recognized the importance of the correct dosage of a drug for its therapeutic effectiveness. In the course of the natural research and scientific approach that was now beginning, famous herbal books were created, which were often magnificently illustrated. Examples are the "New Kreuterbuch"; from 1543 of the Thybingen doctor Leonhart Fuchs or the "Complete Herba!"; from 1649 by the English pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper. The printing of books made herbalism accessible to a wide audience.
In addition to these official sources, the herbal and medicinal knowledge was always in the hands of women and men who knew herbal and who passed on their knowledge to a select group of students or their descendants. Up until modern times they were not infrequently referred to as "herb witches"; and magicians were denounced, persecuted and even burned during the Inquisition.

New active plant ingredients

The age of science began with the Enlightenment in the 18th century. It was possible to detect and isolate active plant substances. One of the first was the morphine from the opium poppy.
Whereas in the past one relied on observation, trial and error in herbalism, modern analysis devices are available in today's research and development of herbal medicines. New active ingredients from all parts of the world are expanding the European range, others are being rediscovered and reassessed in part due to new research. Today, when selecting medicinal plants, the focus is primarily on rational criteria: the effectiveness and safety of a herbal medicinal product must be proven in clinical studies, for example.