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Herbalism in ancient civilizations

Medicinal herbs are a important part of modern civilization. Many of the drugs that we use today for healing various conditions have their roots in herbs, either because the drug itself is based on a herb, or because an active compound was discovered first in herbs, and was later researched to find more substances that work in a same or similar way.

However, medicinal herbs are not a recent discovery, they have been used since ancient times. One of the first civilizations that extensively used plants for healing, were the Sumerians, over 5000 years ago. They were known to use herbs like caraway and laurel very often.

Ancient Egyptians also used many medicinal herbs like mint, coriander, opium, garlic and many other. Even the Old Testament mentiones the use and cultivation of medicinal herbs like mandrake, caraway, rye, wheat and barley.

Indian and chinese civilizations were also known to use many herbs. The Indian Sushruta Samhita, which is a Sanskrit redaction text on all of the most important factors of ayurvedic medicine mentions over 700 different medicinal herbs, along with preparations from mineral and animal sources. The first Chinese book concerning medicinal herbs, Shennong Bencao Jing, mentioned even more plants – around 365 different plants, along with their uses.

For the western civilization, the most important literature was written by ancient Romans and Greeks. Theophrastus left the most important Greek book concerning medicine based on herbs called Historia Plantarum. Even more important was a compendium called Materia Medica, written by Dioscorides, that had more than 500 plants described and remained as one of the most important literary works regarding medicinal herbs.

The ancient civilizations already set the basics of this interesting field of science, and thanks to them, today we have many medications that are based on knowledge that they set thousands of years ago.

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