Herbs have been used for food and medicine since the dawn of history. Healers in ancient traditions around the world have always shared their knowledge on how to use plants for health and healing. This knowledge was usually passed down from one generation to the next within families. I have been fortunate to have been accepted as a trusted student and receiver of wisdom, as I have journeyed to remote areas of the world for decades, to interact with traditional shamanic leaders of healing communities, such as the Jamaican Maroon Bush doctors and Curanderos in Mexico, to learn about the use of specific herbs for healing.
No historian really knows the exact time when our ancestors FIRST used herbs to heal themselves from a sickness or injury. Archaeologists have discovered pollen from several species of plants which were dated to be over 80,000 years old in a Neanderthal's grave site in Iraq. Hemp seeds were also found at an ancient birth site from over 10,000 years ago. The mummy known as the Iceman, frozen in time 5300 years ago, had a small amulet bag which contained a fungus , Piptoporus betulinus, which may have been used by people in the alpine region as an antibiotic.
It is presumed that herbal medicine is as old as humanity itself! But how did all of the knowledge on plants co-evolve with humanity? How did people know which herbs to take, and which ones were toxic? The ancient people used many techniques to ascertain and develop their repertoire of medicinal plants. Presumably, trial and error played a major role in discovering medicines. This information was recorded and remembered, usually by the oldest and most experienced community members.
It is well established that many species of animals are instinctively drawn to graze upon a particular plant to soothe their ills. Many of us have personally observed our cats and dogs, feeling under the weather, eating grass to induce vomiting. Chimpanzees (whom biologists believe are a close relative to Homo sapiens) are known to eat certain species of plants only when they are ill with a particular malady. This information is taught to others, handed down through generations, until a huge body of information is amassed on healing. Perhaps, our primordial ancestors observed this in other animals and emulated this practice, known as instinctual dowsing.
Many Shaman's and healers with knowledge of the ancient ways report that the information was originally obtained through communication with the Divine, in a dream state, a vision, or during the Shaman's communion with the spirit world.
Others report that the creator left clues, hints, or a' holy signature' on the plant creations; a type of spiritual instruction manual which indicated the plants medicinal or other value for humanity. This is known by herbalists even today as The Doctrine Of Signatures. An example of this is Ginkgo biloba. Both its leaves and a cross section of the fruit resemble a human brain. Modern Scientific research often confirms traditional beliefs…and has proven that Ginkgo can help brain function, as well as supporting other areas of the body, particularly where we find peripheral vasculature, such as the fingers, toes, lungs and genitals as well as the brain.
Traditional Herbal Medicine seemed to undergo a convergent evolution, developing simultaneously in many of the five cradles of civilization (Along the Nile in Africa, the Euphrates-Tigris, the Indus Valley, the Mayan/Peruvian and in China), as well as among indigenous peoples in North and South American, Australia and everywhere else in the world. Along with the development of medicine came the genesis of the written word, which provided a more uniform means of preserving and transmitting information to other cultures and times. When we study ancient teachings such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is a world class wonder to recognize the safety and efficacy of these clearly recorded prescriptions that are as useful for health stabilization today as they were at the time they were written. Perhaps it was due to the emphasis on ‘wellness’ rather than ‘illness’ that supported the development of an elegant system of advanced pre-symptomatic diagnostic techniques along with using herbs, foods and exercises to bring the system back into balance.
All of this Herbal Lore is still available to us today, if we just take the time to go outside and identify the ‘green friends’ around us! Anywhere that humans lived in past times, before there were grocery stores and shopping centers, is surrounded by natural plants that can be used as food and medicine- all you have to do is learn which ones they are!
In our class at Hippocrates on Jan 28, 2017, we will explore this ancient knowledge.We will also have ‘hands on’ projects in the field, that will support interspecies plant human communication and feature gathering and preparing of herbal infusions and smudge sticks to take home. Join the ancient journey!
Learn more about the workshop HERE. Register by calling (561) 471-5867
By ELLEN KAMHI PhD, RN, AHG, AHN-BC