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The Practical Herbalist

The Early Days of Herbs

Looking over the vast array of colored plastic bottles on the supplement section of a store can make it easy to forget where herbal medicine came from. Herbal history is full of legendary figures like Qi Bo, Galen, and Hildegard of Bingen. They understood herbs and passed on that knowledge and helped shape the modern use of herbs as medi- cine. But where did they learn their medical craft? Where does this knowledge come from?

The answer is that the knowledge developed over time out of cooking traditions. The roots of which, I believe, are in the curiosity and observation qualities that have helped man to survive. I think the start of herbal medicine went something like this.....

Long ago, a tribe of hunter-gatherers sat around their "village" campfire. The fire is being tended by the eldest woman in the tribe, who is the chief cook. A hunter comes up to the fire and lays down. He was out last night in the cold, and now, he has pain in his neck and back, his nose is draining water like a cold mountain stream. His face looks pale in the fire light. The old wise woman asks what he wants. He replies blankets to keep warm and he is hungry. When she offers leftover cold meat he refuses, but he does want soup made with meat and the yellow root that he normally doesn’t like, in fact once he tastes the soup he asks for more yellow root for in the soup.

A Gatherer also comes to the fire not feeling well. She also was out last night. She however is red in the face like fire and her stomach hurts. She does not want food or blankets. Her nose produces a thick yellow discharge, much like it had been cooked thick.

The wise woman looks at her patients, and notices something. The hunter is acting as if the spirit of cold has taken over his body. The gatherer looks like she has been taken over by the spirit of fire. She remembers the last time she saw the cold signs was when a young boy ate too much of the grassy plant at the edge of the village. He had a tight stomach ache and was cold and pale in the face. Then she remembers kids using yellow root to “burn” the mouths of their friends and how they would get red faced and sweat when they ate too much yellow root.

The wise woman begins to think that maybe the spirits of heat and cold reside in those foods, and maybe fire could fight cold and cold could fight fire. So she gives more yellow root to the hunter and picks lots of the grassy plant and gives it to the gatherer. In a short time each is feeling better, and the wise woman begins to pay attention to how foods make people feel and what that might mean for helping her people survive. Thus was born Herbal Medicine and we lived happily ever after.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066