by Kate McCreight, guest blogger
People have been using herbs and botanicals for cosmetics and medicinals for millennia - even before the written word. Honey, henna, cucumber, frankincense, verbena, sage, melaluca (or, tea tree oil), garlic, ginger, chamomile, and lavender have been in use for thousands of years all over the world. Evidence exists in ancient graves holding bodies buried with medicinal plants and cosmetics, and the Lascaux Caves give us the first images of herbal medicine, dating back to 13,000-25,000 BCE.
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In 65 AD, a Greek scholar, Dioscorides, wrote Matera Medica, a complete text detailing the medicinal use of more than 600 plants, complete with full color illustrations. Matera Medica remained in heavy use through the 17th century.
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Monasteries of the Middle Ages were also places of healing and kept extensive medicinal gardens. Many nuns and monks possessed extensive herbal knowledge.
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As early as the 16th century, the new medical professionals, physicians, discredited herbal knowledge as unreliable and dangerous folklore and superstition. More than one herbalist was prosecuted for witchcraft, including Agnes Keith of Kent, who was burned at the stake in 1590 for using herbs to ease childbirth pains.
The gradual push to move away from herbalism has several causes. One is financial - physicians could not gain clients if said clients had access to all their medical remedies in their back garden. Another is urbanization - an increasing number of people were living in increasingly populous cities, without access to gardens.
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In America, oral traditions relay histories of Native American herbal use, which they learned from observing animals in the wild. The Native Americans then passed their herbal knowledge on to the European settlers.
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