The History Of Herbs
By June Summers
Five hundred million years ago, the earth’s crust was a smorgasbord of herbs, plants and germs. Two hundred million years ago, the dinosaurs developed arthritis. When Man showed up, he sampled the smorgasbord, as well as contracted disease. In his search for food, he tried everything, but did not get around to recording his lore until about 400 B.C.
Hippocrates became the first herbalist. He treated disease with herbs, and recorded the plants he used as medicine. Pliny, in his Natural History (15 B. C.), says of Hippocrates, “…He verily had this honor above all men that he was the first who wrote most perspicuity of Physicke, and reduced the precepts and rules thereof into the body of art; howbeit, in all his books we find no other recipes but herbs…”
Hieronymus Bosch and Brunfels, German botanists, wrote Materia Medica, a classification of plants and their uses as medicines, and the herbalist world spun merrily around until about 1500 A.D.
Then one Dr. Hohembein appeared on the scene. He conducted public burnings of Hippocrates’s books, and started to treat disease with chemicals. Modern-day doctors are the successors of Hohemhein. Today, herbalists are a rarity in the western world.
But not in Mexico. Here, medicinal herbs have never fallen from favor. At Lakeside, one has the feeling that nothing ever changes. Things are added on, but nothing is left off. Herbs, witch doctors, and hechiceras (love doctors) are still doing a thriving business.
This tradition was well established long before Cortez and his conquistadores conquered Mexico. The De La Cruz-Badiano Aztec Herbal, written in 1552, classified plants of therapeutic value. Later it was translated into Spanish by Jesuit priests.
The Aztecs wore amulets, nose ornaments, bracelets and talisman to protect them against disease. Their medicine was intertwined with magic, religion and herbs. They believed that disease was caused by unseen powers.
Aztec witch doctors first treated disease with herbal steam baths to purify the body. They then massaged the patient, trying to find and extract the “fairy dart or stone” causing the illness. If that did not work, the god who had been offended was offered sacrifices. If that also failed, a narcotic was given to the sick person, in the hope that while in a trance, he might reveal the cause of his illness.
Some of the following herb remedies were used as a last resort.
Tlatl-Anquaye- for boils. The leaves of the plant were made into a poultice and applied twice daily. The boil was washed with urine after each application.
Xiu-Amolli- for loss of hair. A lotion was made by boiling the herb in dog or deer urine, and then massaged into the scalp.
Wormy earth-mixed with blood and egg white, it was used on fractured skulls. Matlal-Xochitl–a poultice, mixed with mother’s milk—was applied to bloodshot eyes, tumors and cataracts. Warning: one suffering from such ills had to abstain from sex, wear a red crystal on his neck, and the eye of a fox on his right arm!
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