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The Practical Herbalist

Another Herbalist Named Bock

"Every simple plant remedy is blessed and gifted by God and his handmaiden nature to such an extent that, according to its own nature and way, it has the power to heal, strengthen, allay pain, cool, warm up, purge and sweat..." are the words of a very important herbalist by the name of Hieronymus Bock.

Hieronymus Bock lived from 1498 to 1554 CE in Germany. He was a man of many interests. He was a priest in the Catholic church and also a scientist and physician. Little is known about the details of his life other than his writings on herbal medicine. What we do know is that he was man of progressive thought, who did not always follow the status quo. Bock was an early follower of Martin Luther as he challenged the policies and practices of the Catholic church at that time.

While many physicians of the day were priests. Bock did something very different. While his fellow priests and physicians were calling for the executions of any woman healers on the charge of witchcraft, Bock was preserving their herbal knowledge. This was a time when the church was all powerful. It had a tremendous influence on the practice of all medicine. "Wise Women" healers were being executed at an alarming rate. The herbal knowledge of these illiterate women healers was being lost. Bock was one of very few who saw value in what these women knew. He was a botanist and physician by training and sought out women healers so that he could document what he could of their knowledge of medicinal plants.

In 1539 Bock published the book "The New Kreuterbuch" which is an important book in the history of herbal medicine. In it he not only documented about 700 plants as to their use, but also used very detailed botanical descriptions. Here was one of the first examples of the ancient knowledge of plants being framed in a "modern" scientific construct. Herbal medicine outside the context of Christian thought guiding the medicine was seen as the workings of magic and ignorant folk traditions. Bock treated herbs as the powerful medicine that they are. More importantly his book provides a window into a time in herbal medicine that we know little about. The Wise Woman traditions of healing were an oral tradition of people who had little ability to become literate and preserve this information. This medical knowledge was devastated by the systematic elimination of its practitioners. Very little of the traditions, and methods of these women has been preserved. Bock at least provided documentation of the substances that these women were using. From the scope of what he was able to gather, it is believed that the Wise Women tradition had a fairly systematic empirically based medical system. The loss of which is a sad point of history.

I was surprised to find my own family name so prominently placed in the history of herbal medicine. I would like to think that Hieronymus Bock is one of my ancestors. My family tree is not well researched, but Bock is not a very common name, and until a few generations ago, our family did follow the Lutheran faith. It is possible that he is an ancestor, and I may never know for sure. What I do know is that he seems to be an interesting person who not only cared for a lot of people, but studied and found a way to pass on his knowledge to the rest of the world. That is something for which we should all have a lot of respect.

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