In primitive cultures, people often learned to use medicinal herbs by watching the local animals. For example, tortoises eat marjoram after suffering snakebite, and certain types of birds drop the juice of the flowering plant Chelidonium majus , also known as Greater Celandine, into the eyes of their hatchlings to help clear cloudiness.
During the Middle Ages, herbs and spices were considered a vital, even crucial, part of masterly cooking. Why? The strong herbal additions covered the unpleasant (and frequent) flavor of tainted met and fish.
The origins of many herbal remedies are shrouded in legend. For example, the healing secretes of the herb called Prunella vulgaris , or All-Heal, were supposedly passed to Hercules from the Greek centaur-god, Chiron. All-Heal has been used for centuries in an attempt to treat conditions as diverse as gout, toothache, severe itching, and even dog bites!
Many of the potent painkillers that we now manufacture synthetically originally came from plants. The opium poppy, for example, produced morphine and codeine; and curare, which was employed by primitive tribes to poison darts in the jungles of South America, is now used as a muscle relaxant during surgery.
There are more than two thousand plant-based herbal remedies used in China today.
Lavender, an essential oil extracted from the flowering plant of the same name, is believed by herbal healers to be an effective remedy for itchy insect bites, insomnia, and headaches. In ancient times, herbs were often assigned mythological, astrological, and planetary associations.
The particular association did much to explain the herbís attributes. For example, an herb assigned to Mars, the Roman god of war, was hot and biting and often functioned as a remedy against poison, whereas one assigned to Mercury, the messenger god, was more subtle and often used to ease headache pain.
Allium sativum, better known as garlic, is famous the world over for a variety of reasons Ė including its powers against vampires! Few people know, however, that British doctors during World War I credited this strong-smelling herb with saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Battlefield medics diluted raw garlic juice (a natural antibiotic) with water and spread it over sterilized sphagnum moss (a super absorbent peat moss) to control infection in open wounds.