In an archeological dig at a 60,000 year old Neanderthal burial ground, discoveries were made that indicated these early people used marshmallow, yarrow and groundsel, which are still in use today.

An ancient papyrus believed to have originated in the 16th century BCE before common era), lists over 800 recipes which refer to 700 plus herbs used medicinally, including wormwood, peppermint, myrrh, aloe, henbane and castor oil. The papyrus also notes the used of moldy bread on sores and wounds to prevent infection.

We know from the cuneiform writings of the ancient Sumerians, that by 400 BCE, opium, licorice, thyme and mustard were commonly used as medicinals. The Babylonians used them also as well as senna leaves, saffron, coriander, cinnamon and garlic.

Prior to 372 BCE, most herbal knowledge was passed verbally - much of these herbal "secrets" were forgotten or misconstrued. Then Theophrastus (372-287 BCE) and Discorides (1st century CE) compiled detailed volumes identifying the medicinal herbs and giving formulas and recipes which detailed the proper usages (Inquiry Into Plants and Growth of Plants - Theophrastus, De Materia Medica - Discorides). These volumes provided fundamental knowledge, much of which has been proven quite valuable to this day.

Another major collection of herbal information was the 37 volume compilation Natural History written by a Roman named Gaius Plinius Secundus or Pliny (the Elder) as he is known today. Much of Plinyís information, however must be taken with a grain of salt, for it relied heavily on legend, fabrications and superstitions. It makes fascinating reading but itís not something one would want to base a medicinal formula on.

Another common modern medicine was written about by poets of the Dark Ages during the 5th century. These sad poems chronicled the Willow Tree, which according to legend, had bitter bark because the Christ child had once been beaten with one of itís branches. Tea made from the bark eased many kinds of pain, colds, fever, malaria and various other maladies. Today we know that the active ingredient in Willow bark is Salacin, which we have synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid - aspirin.

700 years ago Foxglove was prescribed by physicians to their patients who suffered from chest pains and heart trouble. Now, we know that Foxglove contains digitalis, which is still used to treat many heart patients.

Christianity had its own contributions to herbal history, even though the church itself made a point of discrediting much of what non-Christians were teaching. One of which was the hospital, first established in Byzantium by charitable Christians. Another was the founding of the first of the university medical schools. Students of this school actively experimented with the medicinal aspects of various plants.

In the 12th century, the German Abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, wrote her Book of Healing Herbs. As a Benedictine nun, Hildegard was taught the ancient doctrine of humors; she also was very intuitive and had a broad knowledge of folk cures gathered on her own. All this information was put together in her book.

The ancient Aztec Emperors encouraged their people to learn about all varieties of the regionís plants. When Cortez and the Conquistadors invaded Mexico in the 1500ís, they found the Aztecs quite learned in herbal knowledge and lore. Fortunately, some of this knowledge survived the destruction of the Aztecís civilization. King Phillip II of Spain, sent his personal physician to catalogue and describe the Aztec plants.

Francisco Hernandez wrote down this information, which was to serve as the basic text on the plants of Mexico for years to come.

A European doctor, visiting Peru in 1638, who observed a puma with a fever chewing the bark that relieved itís fever, discovered quinine. This bark was originally called "Peruvian Bark". 200 years later Pasteur found that the bark contained quinine.

Probably the most famous herbal of all, was Nicholas Culpepperís The English Physician, which was published in 1653.  However, it is debatable whether Culpepper really did any favors for herbal medicine.  Though much of his information was factual, his belief in Astrology was considered a discrediting factor by some physicians. 

Another problem was his translation into everyday language the Latin Pharmacopeia, which threatened the monopoly that the College of Physicians held, making medical knowledge accessible to the masses. The physicians attempted to discredit Culpepper by calling many of his herbal formulations and preparations quackery.

In the early years of this century, Seminole Indians used to grow Water Hyacinths to clear fouled swamp water, we now know that Water Hyacinths destroy pollution in water. Midwives of many Native American tribes used an herb called Calvacin Puffball to prevent infection in freshly cut umbilical cords. Research at Michigan State University has proven that an extract of the same herb has stopped many forms of cancer in animals.

The Chinese used the stems of a low growing shrub to relieve asthma, colds, congestion and coughs. The Chinese called this herb Mahuang.  We call it Ephedra, the source of Ephedrine, which is in many of our over-the-counter decongestants.

Native Americans had a vast storehouse of knowledge regarding medicinal plants. They instructed the early settlers in healing wounds, safe childbirth practices and setting fractures. The aspiring medicine-men of the Chippewas were extensively educated in the various plants, then they specialized in one disease or related group of diseases. We can thank our Native American brothers and sisters for the vast knowledge of many herbs that we use today, like cascara sagrada, American ginseng, joe-pye weed, goldenseal, sassafras and witch hazel.