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Exploring the ancient history of Western Herbal Medicine

Written by Vicki Pitman

Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years and has a fascinating and rich history. This article delves into some of Western herbal medicine’s ancient Greek roots.

In the 1990s I delved back into the origins of Western herbal medicine. They can be traced through evidence in texts, artefacts and archaeology primarily to ancient Greek peoples who inhabited areas around the Mediterranean from Marseille and southern Italy to the Greek peninsula and western parts of modern Turkey.

Oral traditions of healing date back some 3,000 years; there are instances of healing with herbs in the epics of Homer. More extensive evidence appears from the 6thc BC. Healing practices were derived from the lived experience of people interacting with and learning from animals and plants and sifting out what worked practically as medicine. Initially such was acknowledged as coming from deities such as Apollo, Artemis and demigods such as Chiron and Aesclepius, who was at first a hero but later raised to the status of a god.

Vicki Pitman is a Western Herbal Medicine practitioner, registered with the URHP. www.urhp.com. She gained her M.Phil. in Complementary Health Studies at Exeter University. Her dissertation was subsequently published as The Nature of the Whole, Holism in Ancient Greek and Indian Medicine. This research combined her deep interests in both history and herbal medicine and traditional healing.

She has been a teacher and trainer in the field of Complementary Therapies and Adult Education. She is also qualified in Ayurveda, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, and Massage. In 1999 she co-organised with Dr. Dominik Wujastyk, a conference at the Wellcome Institute (now the Wellcome Library and Collection) on Precept and Practice in Traditional Medical Systems. She is a founder member of the Herbal History Research Network. www.herbalhistory.org Her writings include books on Herbal Medicine, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, several articles in international journals; and chapters in Reshaping Herbal Medicine, Knowledge Education and Professional Culture (ed. Catherine O’Sullivan, Elsevier, 2005) and Critical Approaches to the History of Western Herbal Medicine From Classical Antiquity to the Early Modern Period (ed. Susan Francia and Anne Stobart, Bloomsbury, 2014).

Vicki Pitman

Vicki Pitman is a Western Herbal Medicine practitioner, registered with the URHP. www.urhp.com. She gained her M.Phil. in Complementary Health Studies at Exeter University. Her dissertation was subsequently published as The Nature of the Whole, Holism in Ancient Greek and Indian Medicine. This research combined her deep interests in both history and herbal medicine and traditional healing.

She has been a teacher and trainer in the field of Complementary Therapies and Adult Education. She is also qualified in Ayurveda, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, and Massage. In 1999 she co-organised with Dr. Dominik Wujastyk, a conference at the Wellcome Institute (now the Wellcome Library and Collection) on Precept and Practice in Traditional Medical Systems. She is a founder member of the Herbal History Research Network. www.herbalhistory.org Her writings include books on Herbal Medicine, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, several articles in international journals; and chapters in Reshaping Herbal Medicine, Knowledge Education and Professional Culture (ed. Catherine O’Sullivan, Elsevier, 2005) and Critical Approaches to the History of Western Herbal Medicine From Classical Antiquity to the Early Modern Period (ed. Susan Francia and Anne Stobart, Bloomsbury, 2014).

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