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  • Writer's pictureAegean Herbs

Humans and herbs. A long story short.

All over the world and in all historical periods, man explored the healing properties of herbs.

This is recorded by both written history and tradition.

Doctors, shamans, priests, alchemists (and many charlatans) tried to discover the healing properties of herbs.

Pharmacology owes much to these researchers.

Many medicines in the world today are composed of ingredients derived from herbs.

The first written texts about medicinal plants come from the Sumerians, around 3,000 BC. who accurately described medicinal uses for thyme, bay leaf, cumin, and peppermint.

Yet it is evident that the practice of herbal medicine goes back even further in China, India and Mesopotamia.

The ancient Egyptian Papyrus of Ebers was written about 1550 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep. It is still one of the oldest and most important medical essays in the world. It deals in detail with gynecology, dentistry, and even psychiatry. It is the first work that describes the circulatory system, and the role of the heart and blood vessels with great precision. This papyrus lists more than 700 herbal remedies, which shows that the Egyptians had studied the use of herbs.

In India, plant resources were used to treat diseases as early as 2,000 BC. There is literature from 600 BC , both in Sanskrit and other Indian languages, that describes diseases and their treatment, using therapeutic and medicinal methods.

The earliest references to using plants, minerals and animal products for medicinal purposes are found in the Vedas, the Indian sacred collection of Sanskrit hymns.

Bhava Prakasha, written by Bhava-Mishra, is the most important text on herbs and modern Ayurvedic practitioners highly regard it.

According to myth, the Chinese emperor Shen-Nong, in the 3rd millennium BC, tried all the herbs in one day.

He found more than 70 that had medicinal value and recorded their properties. This work is said to be the Shen-Nong-Ben-Cao-Jing, the first known manual of Chinese pharmacology that was written in the 1st century BC.

The work lists 365 medicinal preparations of which 252 are composed of plant parts, 67 of animal parts and 46 of mineral species. Besides, and describes their therapeutic effects.

In Greece, herbs had a significant role in people's lives.

Evidence is found in inscriptions of Minoan Crete, in mythology, in Homeric epics, in folk songs and tradition. The recording of herbs started in ancient times. Hippocrates from the 5th BC century in "Dietetics" refers in detail to the preventive and therapeutic use of herbs. Later, Theophrastus writes “About plants history” (nine books) and "About plants causes” (six books).

In the 2nd century BC, Nikandros wrote "the Beasties".

In this work, he recorded the plants that heal animal bites, and "the Antidotes", which refers to those that deal with food or other poisonings. At the same time, Kratevas wrote the first book of botany. This book recorded the plants in alphabetical order. It also included their properties, together with color pictures of roots, stems, leaves, and flowers so that one can identify them.

ΣIn Late Antiquity (1st century AD), Dioskouridis wrote his five-volume work "On the Matter of Medicine".

He recorded the therapeutic and medicinal properties of the plants of the Mediterranean.

Pliny the Elder in "Natural History" attempted the largest botanical record up to that time. For this, he collected and reproduced scattered earlier Greek and Latin writings.

These works became models for later medieval and later illustrated botanical books in Byzantium and the Arab world.

At the same time in Western Europe, practical healers were experimenting with herbal extracts. They are our familiar druids, something between doctors and priests of the scattered Celtic races. Unfortunately, we have no written record of the knowledge and research of Panoramix and his colleagues.

The Arabs saved ancient and current knowledge during the years of Byzantine decline. They translated many of the works on herbs and aromatic plants. They also continued to study herbal medicines and aromatic substances. In the 8th century, they were the first in history to separate medicine from pharmacology. The first pharmacies in the world were established in the Arab world in 750 AD in Baghdad. Some drug formulations invented at that time can be found in pharmacies even today.

During the 10th century AD, the great Persian philosopher and physician Ibn Sina, known to us as Avicenna, incorporated a series of Chinese herbal preparations in his book "Pharmacopeia". In this book, he developed the process of distillation and production of essential oils.

From the 12th century AD, onwards corsairs and crusaders opened trade routes with the east. this helped spread the knowledge of botany and distillation to Europe.

European pharmacopeia was based until the 19th century on Muslim writings and manuals. These writings adopted ancient medical practices, originating in Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, India, Persia and China.

In the 17th century, the English botanists John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper brought together all this recorded knowledge, as well as that of China, India, and Tibet.

They played the foundations of modern pharmacology. Pharmacology isolates the active from the inactive ingredients of herbs. This is essential for making safe and effective formulations.

We can find bout 7,500 species and subspecies of plants on Greek soil and almost 1,200 of them are endemic. About one in five of them are aromatic or even medicinal.

This floral wealth is a result of the geographical location and the variety of ecosystems in Greece

Greek herbs display superior qualitative characteristics. Some of these are ahigh percentage of essential oils and the content of active substances. These are decisive for their action when used for therapeutic purposes but also their taste and aroma.

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