Herb Basics: Herbal Medicine History

| July/August 2002

Although most cultures have their own herbal remedies, three major healing systems have had the most widespread influence.

Ayurveda: This holistic science from India is more than 6,000 years old. Health is seen as a balance between the emotional, physical, and spiritual. Treatments include yoga, meditation, exposure to specific sights and smells, changes in diet and herbs. Representative herbs include turmeric (Curcuma longa), ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), mustard, triphala, black pepper and ginger.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): The earliest written records of TCM date to about 3,500 years ago. The underlying world view of TCM is Taoism, which conceives of everything in the universe as interdependent. Healers evaluate the whole person, including constitution, living habits, and environmental conditions. Remedies may involve herbs (a category that includes some animals), acupuncture, and diet. Representative herbs include ginseng (Panax spp.), angelica (Angelica archangelica) and dong quai (Angelica sinensis).

Traditional European Medicine: This began with the Egyptians and traveled through the Greeks, Romans, and Persians to medieval Europeans and up to modern-day practitioners. Now the European community combines traditional knowledge and modern science. This tradition is still a major influence in such countries as Germany and France.

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