History of using plants as medicine: a look into different cultures that inspire Wilden.herbals Health
Healing with medical plants is as old as mankind itself. Let’s take a look into the origins of herbalism, Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic practices and Italian herbal medicine.
From the beginning of time, humans have searched for cures in leaves, barks, flowers and roots. Archeological evidence indicates the use of medical plants to the Palaeolithic age (60,000 years ago).
The earliest historical records are found in Sumerian (3000 BC) civilization. Later, the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt (1550 BC) described over 800 medicinal plants. The Greeks document recipes for medicines using over 600 plants. The most prominent writers on plants as drugs was Dioscorides (77 AD), known as the father of pharmacognosy and author of “De Materia Medica”, which offers the basic data of medicinal plants and Galen (131-200 AD), a Roman physician and pharmacist, who introduced new plants as Uva ursina, which is still used as an antiseptic and diuretic. But the Mediterranean culture is certainly not the only one that has historically been interested in medicinal herbs, quite the contrary.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the most ancient yet living traditions. Seeds used for herbalism were found in archeological sites of Bronze Age China, dating from the Shang dynasty (2600-1040 BC).
TCM considers the human as the centre of the universe, between the divine and the earthly. The movement of the world and its elements (water, earth, metal, wood and fire) give rise to the yin and yang, which are simply opposites. The yin and yang of the body is balanced by the energies of the bodily humours and the internal organs. Drugs and herbs are used to correct the yin and yang. The focus is then the patient’s balance more than the disease itself.
What are the most used medicinal plants in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
- Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus): for diabetes and circulation
- Angelica / Dong quai (Angelica sinensis): estrogenic effect, used to regulate and balance hormones.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale): treat fatigue, a lack of energy and cold dispositions
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): for gastrointestinal problems, malaria, insomnia, and infections
- Panax ginseng (Panax ginseng) : is considered an adaptogen, meaning it stimulates the body’s resistance to stressors as it balances the energy, stimulates the mind and boosts organ vitality.
What is Ayurvedic or Traditional Indian Medicine?
Ayurvedic medicine contains texts written between 2700 and 1500 BCE. Herbs were commonly used as the treatments for diseases were diet based.
The ayurvedic see the universe as a combination of five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). In humans, the five elements are distributed in three forces, which govern all of life processes. The harmonious state of these forces (doshas) create balance and health. Diseases result from the excess or deficiency of these.
What are the most used medicinal plants in Ayurvedic medicine?
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale): associated with digestion
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): an adaptogen, helps your body manage stress. It improves sleep, memory, muscle growth, and male fertility.
- Cumin (Cuminum cyminum): boosts the activity of digestive enzymes and facilitates liver function, improving risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa): antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It helps improve heart and brain health.
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): help reduce inflammation and fight viruses and bacteria.
Herbal culture and tradition in Italy
Europe holds a significant history regarding the use of medicinal plants for health. The herbal knowledge in Italy and throughout Europe was spread by monks in the Christian monasteries from the 9th through 11th centuries. During the following centuries, plants were documented and the knowledge was shared. With the “discovery” of America began the process of melding American plants into European healing culture, altering the course of herbalism.
Italy has a long tradition of herbalism. It is currently the European country with the fastest growing market as herbs are used in food, novel foods, food supplements and cosmetics.
What are the most used medicinal plants in Italy?
- Gingko (Ginkgo biloba): used for anxiety and balancing mental health, improves circulation and blood flow.
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): used for digestive health: reduces colics, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. Also used for menstrual cramps and to support breastfeeding .
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): used for anxiety, insomnia, stress, pain as well as regulating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause.
- Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) : treatment of digestive ailments, restlessness and insomnia due to nervous disorders. Externally used for inflammation and irritation of skin and mucosa.
- Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus): rich in antioxidants and promoting liver health, artichoke is used for digestion and detoxifying purposes.
Different cultures, same philosophy
Though different cultures approach nature and health from different angles, they all share nature’s wisdom. Plants have undening benefit for our health and body balance. Our new line Wilden.herbals Health takes inspiration from all of these currents. We have studied and learnt from TCM, Ayurvedic and Italian practices to develop a line unified product. Aiming to promote health and help recover our balance, we are currently developing four new products using ginkgo (for anxiety), fennel (for breastfeeding), ginger (for premenstrual syndrome), uva ursina (for urinary tract infections) and about 20 other new plants inspired by these cultures.
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- WHO. WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants. Volumes 1-4. 2009.
- ISMEA: PIANTE OFFICINALI IN ITALIA: “UN’ISTANTANEA DELLA FILIERA E DEI RAPPORTI TRA I DIVERSI ATTORI” Giugno 2013.
- Robin DiPasquale. Herbalgram.”The Aboca Museum: Displaying the History of Herbal Medicine in Italy and Europe” Issue 65: page 50-57. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/65/table-of-contents/article2795/ accessed 13/10/22
- Patwardhan, Bhushan et al. “Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine: a comparative overview.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2,4 (2005): 465-73. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh140