It’s important to remember in embarking on an exploration of herbal or botanical medicine is that at first, it was the only medicine. And modern medicine is not all that far removed. At times remedies direct from earth are referred to as “alternative,” yet both choices being interrelated, both branches have value.
The vast majority of plants are edible, medicinal or both, from seaweeds to the common dandelion. Plants provide dense vitamin and mineral content, protein, antioxidants and many useful compounds. In fact, it can be said if people allowed themselves to eat all edible plants, nobody would starve. That said though, our modern palettes have become very particular.
Early humans learned amongst and as an offshoot of fellow creatures, which plants to eat and which to avoid. Cataloging and different traditions then grew from there. Archeological excavations have revealed that as far back as 60,000 years ago in Sumeria or modern Iraq, primitive humans were using medicinal and even psychoactive plants.¹ And one of the earliest records of medicine came from that same area roughly 5,000 years ago in the form of 1,000 cuneiform tablets, which are purportedly astute by modern day standards.²
Among other ancient and well-documented traditions are Chinese medicine, including the influential text “Huangdi Neijing” connected with Taoist philosophy,³ and Indian Ayurveda, of which the first known text was “Charaka Samhita,” connected with Hindu philosophy.⁴ Both are holistic or whole body systems that inseparably connect bodily well-being to mind, spirit and Earth. Ayurveda, part of extensive teachings, connects its origin to the providence of Brahma(n), or Universe, God. The teachings flow as consciousness through every organism, and develop with each one.
It should also be recognized that both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda are alive and well, and popular in the United States. The pendulum of Western medicine has swung from Hippocratic integrative medicine towards overly compartmentalized and impersonal. Today, there is a need for balance.
There are also numerous tribal and shamanic traditions, both documented and undocumented, that contribute to the compendium of global knowledge of the Earth’s remedies. Two examples among many are Native American and Amazonian. From Native American medicine came “salicin,” for example, derived from willow bark and the main ingredient in Aspirin.⁶
The Matsés of Brazil and Peru live right next to the forest for easy access to its therapies.⁷ In both these cases and others, environmental conservation is vital. And what serves humanity in the bigger picture is the not only the preservation of these traditions, but also respecting them more — in the form of study, responsible cultivation and supporting sustainable agriculture.
The reality is that many medicines are plant derived on some level, with either direct or synthesized ingredients, and food as medicine — like turmeric. What was “natural” or “supernatural” once caused a schism long ago. People even became alarmed at geometric forms. Nowadays we can know better. What the Earth provides is as natural and truly conventional as it gets.
1. How Long Have Humans Used Botanicals? | Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing | Dennis McKenna, PhD | https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-long-have-humans-used-botanicals
2. Historical Perspective of Traditional Indigenous Medical Practices: The Current Renaissance and Conservation of Herbal Resources | Si-Yuan Pan, Gerhard Litscher, […], and Kam-Ming Ko | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020364/
3. The Su Wen of the Huangdi Neijing (Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor | https://www.loc.gov/item/2021666312
4. Medical geography in Charaka Samhita \ K.R. Bhavana and Shreevathsa| https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492020/
5. Holistic Medicine and the Western Medical Tradition | Sneha Mantri | AMA Journal of EthicsIlluminating the Art of Medicine | https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/holistic-medicine-and-western-medical-tradition/2008-03
6. 7 Native American Inventions That Revolutionized Medicine And Public Health | Nicole F. Roberts | Forbes | https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/11/29/7-native-american-inventions-that-revolutionized-medicine-and-public-health/?sh=b4c6f101e73b
7. Amazon tribe creates 500-page traditional medicine encyclopedia | BY JEREMY HANCE ON 24 JUNE 2015 | Mongabay, News & Inspiration From Nature’s Frontline | https://news.mongabay.com/2015/06/amazon-tribe-creates-500-page-traditional-medicine-encyclopedia/