The Ancient Fathers of Herbal Medicine

For centuries, the medicinal qualities of herbs and plants were mainly confined to the treatment of wounds, since anything chronic was believed to have a divine explanation. But then suddenly, everything changed..

Hippocrates (460-370 BC), a humble individual from the island of Kos who is today remembered as the Grandfather of Medicine, overturned everything. His surviving works include references to 237 plant species categorized on the basis of their medicinal qualities. His writings indicate that saffron should be used for wound cleansing, mallow for cataplasms, oregano to aid menstruation, and pomegranate for ailments of the liver. They continue with prescriptions of sage for uterus infections and gastrointestinal diseases, Cretan dittany to aid laboring women and be used on wounds, quince to alleviate pains of the uterus, and basil as an antiemetic, among many other suggestions.

The next individual to substantially influence the world of medicine was Theophrastus (372-287 BC), the Greek philosopher and scientist. His work "On the History of Plants" lays the foundations of modern botany, providing invaluable information concerning the pharmaceutical and aromatic qualities of a wide range of plants. Centuries later, botany experienced its next considerable leap via the ideas of Dioscurides (c.512 AD), whose knowledge of plants and herbs is truly astonishing, even when compared to modern standards. In his book "De materia medica," Dioscurides identified more than 500 plant species, 40 of which are currently used in pharmacology.

Greek writings regarding herbs and plants were later systematized by Claudius Galinus (Galen, 131-109 AD), a Greek physician and medical writer from Pergamum in Asia Minor. He recorded a total of 304 medicines that were produced from herbs, wild greens, trees and fruits.