The European herbal tradition was handed down orally from generation to generation and was the main source of healing for many thousands of years. While many herbs used were native to Europe, there has been extensive trading with other parts of the world for over two thousand years and plants from elsewhere entered the European pharmacopoeia.
Knowledge of the different plants to use in healing lay largely in the hands of “wise women” who were called upon by family and neighbours to heal the sick. There was undoubtedly a large element of magic or astrology attached to this practice and a folklore grew around when and where to gather herbs e.g. when the cock crowed or when the moon was dark.
Recent analysis has shown that at least some of these “superstitions” are valid. For example, the active cardiac glycosides in the foxglove leaves decompose at night but are reconstituted in the morning. Much of the healing that women carried out was based on common sense solutions i.e. using those plants that worked best for particular illnesses.
Today, herbal medicine, as it always has been, is practised holistically. The initial consultation with the herbalist lasts for at least one hour. The herbalist will take a full medical history and may need to carry out a physical examination as well. When considering the best treatment, the herbalist will not only make up an individual herbal remedy, she will also give advise on lifestyle including stress and emotional factors, diet and exercise.
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