Herbal Medicine in the Middle Ages

Herbal medicine had been used for thousands of years to treat different kinds of diseases and ailments. The written records of the use of herbs date back to over 4,000 B.C where people would use different types of plants to heal themselves. The ancient Egyptians, Indians, Chinese and Sumerians have ancient records of such studies in our history and the use of such medicinal herbs are still widely accepted today even when modern medicines are abundant and killer diseases of the past, such as tuberculosis, are no longer considered lethal but treatable.

castle, sunset

During the Middle Ages, the uses of herbs as medicine had very minimal changes from the earlier eras. The Greeks and the Romans had ancient writings from the Middle Ages that gives details about how they brew and make medicinal potions. These ancient writings are preserved by copying them into manuscripts and are kept in monasteries. Thus, the monasteries back in the Middle Ages became shrines of herbal medicinal knowledge and studies. The nearby garden filled with different herbs became their source of material to use for treatment.

It was during the Middle Ages that herbal medicine was combined with chants and spells to ward off the evil that went into the body of the patient. They call these herbalists as wise women which were later called as witches. These wise women would brew different herbs and would create different spells and they became popular at that time. In the late Middle Ages, that fame became a curse as they were then branded as witches. These witches that once were appreciated and people would go to them for treatments were then hated and burned alive as punishment for their witchcraft.

The Arabs, who were considered as a trading culture during that era, began studying herbal medicines by translating different texts from other cultures, particularly the Greco-Roman Culture, and they gain access to the different types of plants as they travel around to trade. The Arabs went to China & India and there they learned about herbal medicines even further. The mix of several types of herbal medicine studies were translated to Arabic and their knowledge became broader. Thousands of herbal plants were recorded.

It was the Arabs who did the experimental study with scientific methods to test the herbs. Arab botanists such as Al-Nabati would test and identify the materials and he would make his observations. The unverified reports would be discarded while those that are supported by his test results would still be practiced and used. It was the beginning of the evolution into what we know now as pharmacology.

Herbal medicines continued to be used after the Middle Ages. It was at this era that copies of the thousands of herbs were published when printing was first invented. The ancient documents were translated and compiled and authored. Books were then printed and distributed and this paved the way for the study of the modern medicines we enjoy today.