The History of Ancient Herbal Medicine
I've been researching and writing my first novel, and a lot of my research has drawn me back to herbalism. Herbalism is an ancient practice that dates back to the beginning of our civilisation. Our ancestors were busy cultivating and foraging for different plants that would heal, uplift and nurture. What we don't often realise is this practice is heavily tied to shamanism.
Herbalism dates as far back as the neolithic era. After reading several chapters into Graham Hancock's Magicians of the Gods it is apparent that the practice of herbalism stems from further back into history - information passed down from an advanced civilization after the devastation of the Younger Dryas. This knowledge was carried on by the survivors of the Younger Dryas period, through oral tradition and through mysticism.
In a tribe, the head shaman would travel to distant worlds to meet with ancestral spirits, usually via the means of hallucinogens, or experiences that induced a hallucinogenic state. The shaman would ask the spirits which plants would be useful for the condition of another tribe member, or in general. Shamans also connected with nature in their waking life, where nature spirits would point out particular herbs that would be useful. Another way to connect with helpful herbal remedies was for the shaman to tune into the energy of a plant, as our ancestors saw that everything in nature had a soul. This is also how our ancestors rarely got poisoned from herbalism. Today in the Amazon rainforest, this practice continues today.
In medieval times, many people had a herb garden in their village square, or on their farm, for medicinal uses. It was considered a human right to have access to medicinal herbs. In European languages, the allusion to herbalism remains even today. German pharmacies are called, 'apotheke' meaning 'apothecary' - referring to the process of preparing herbs into tinctures, salves and teas for healing. We know today that the herbs used in the past do have significant healing properties, that can help us with any condition that we face.
Here are my favourite herbs that inspire me on every level of my being.
Classified as a 'living fossil' horsetail is thought to have been around since the Paleozoic era. This herb has been used in civilisations around the world, from Japan to Germany. The herb is known to clear the bladder, increase circulation and prevent against urinary infections. It is also high in silica - perfect for hair, skin and nails. Silica helps repair body tissue and make bones stronger, while increasing collagen production.
In medieval times, people used the whole plant to clean metal pots and other instruments. Energetically, horsetail is a 'clearing' herb. Just like we used to use it literally to clean pots, so too does horsetail work to clear the body of toxicity. This explains why horsetail is a diuretic. Brew a tsp of horsetail with licorice or raspberry leaf to make a delicious drink that will make your face glow and keep your body clear.
Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae)
Sea buckthorn started to become widely used in ancient Greek and Roman times to make horses stocky and make their coats shine. In Ayurveda, sea buckthorn is used to promote circulation, aid digestion and relieve pain. Applied topically, sea buckthorn smooths skin and heals any kind of skin scaring or abrasions - it works best when it is extracted as an oil.
I love using sea buckthorn oil on my skin, it feels like the ocean is washing away all my skin problems. I believe that the healers long ago knew the gentle power of the plant, and called it sea buckthorn not because it came from the sea, but because it acted in the way the ocean does. The herb gentle washes away and smooths the skin, blood and digestive tract - just like the waves and sea foam smooth the sand.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow has been used throughout history to heal wounds, physically and mentally. A tough herb, that grows wild throughout the northern hemisphere. Yarrow was used to soothe the nervous system and clean the blood.
In medieval Europe, yarrow was not only used medicinally, but also for spiritual purposes. Yarrow was hung in houses to keep away negativity. We can see that today, yarrow helps to reinforce healthy boundaries, stop absorbing negativity from others, retain the energy of our essence and feel confident in following our path.
Angelica root (Angelica archangelica)
Found in northern Europe, angelica root is used to heal bloating and gas, heart burn, circulatory problems and insomnia. Angelica provides all round protection; acting like a barrier against negativity. Once the negativity has been cleared, the herb boosts self-confidence, calms the nervous system and provides inner strength.
In bygone times, villagers would grow angelica root outside their home, mainly in front of windows, in order to protect their homes. They sometimes hung bundles up inside the home too as an amulet.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is a herb that grows wild in forests, and often looks like a weed. Its prickers makes it a herb that many people avoided due to the itching pain it causes. Nettle does have amazing medicinal and healing properties that could be easily overlooked. The most common application for the nettle plant was arthritis relief as it stimulated the circulation in the joint. When nettle is dried, beaten and taken in tea, it is good for cleansing the kidneys and bladder, and getting extra iron.
Nettle is a strong cleansing herb, that will detoxify the body and nourish the cells. In medieval times, nettle would be used mostly in Spring as a clearing herb. Villagers would put nettle into their pottage and teas to cleanse their whole mind, body and spirit for the coming year. Nettle can also be hung in front of doors or windows for protection. A common practice was to hang nettle near the back door to prevent negative energy slipping in.
I love working with herbs and learning more about them. One of my favourite things to do is buy a few different dried herbs, then grind them and make healing teas. One day, I would love to grow plants like yarrow and dry them myself. You can also put them in your Vitamix dry grains container and grind them into a fine powder, to sprinkle on your food, in bliss balls, or in a smoothie. Another use is to burn your herbs safely in a space you would like to energetically clear. You'll feel so connected to nature by using herbs daily, and appreciating their energetic properties.
Herbs connect me to nature. They remind me that nature has infinite healing wisdom which was can tap into at any time to heal. Connect yourself with nature and experience the magic of herbs.