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The Chinese, the Egyptians, and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine
The Greeks
The East and the West
The Physiomedicalists and the Eclectics
The Lore
Astrological Botany

The East and the West
With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the center of learning shifted to the East in Constantinople and Persia. The most influential Arab text of the time was The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna. It was based on Galen's principles, and by the 12th century had been translated into Latin and brought back to the West to become one of the leading texts in Western medical schools.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church copied faithfully Galen's and Dioscorides' texts. Monks cultivated "physic gardens" and introduced new herbs. Medicinal knowledge spread beyond the cloister and became part of folk medicine and herbal remedies passed on through the generations. The Saxon herbal, The Leech Book of Bald, which dates from the first half of the 10th century, includes remedies and treatments and lots of superstition. Herbs of common use internally, or that were worn as amulets to ward off evil or disease at the time, were wood betony, vervain, mugwort, plantain, and yarrow. Healing was as much a matter of prayer as medicine.

By the 1530's, Paracelsus was revolutionizing European attitudes toward health care. Condemning the complex and often fatal purgatives prescribed by crooked physicians, he advocated a return to simpler medicine inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures. This doctrine maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the ailments it would cure. At times, the theory was surprisingly accurate. Today, some herbal books still refer to the Doctrine of Signatures when giving background information about the herbs they are describing. Examples: the leaves of lungwort were said to resemble diseased lungs, so the plant was used for bronchitis and tuberculosis. Yellow flowering plants were like jaundice and so were used for liver problems. (Dandelion is still used to improve liver function). Nutmeg and walnuts were compared to the brain and thought helpful for strengthening mental ability.

The Age of Herbals
It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that the herbals of Gerard, Parkinson, and Culpepper were written. An herbal is a book that describes plants and shows how to use them. During the time when doctors were as scarce as they were expensive, the herbal held an important place, second only to the Bible, in the literate household. In 1597, John Gerard, an eminent Elizabethan herbalist, published The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants. He had come upon an unfinished translation of an herbal entitled Cruydboedk written by Dodoens. The translator, Dr. Priest, had died before completing the translation from Latin to English. Gerard cribbed Dr. Priest's work, altering the arrangement of the herbs, adding his own comments, while describing the rare exotics he had growing in his own garden (he was an avid gardener and grew over 1,000 species), along with English flora and botanico-medical lore and his own remedies. After Gerard died in 1612, this work was revised by Thomas Johnson who corrected much of Gerard's misinformation, enlarged the output to cover 2,850 plants, and illustrated it with woodcuts from the most prestigious botanical publisher of the day. This text is still in print today.

John Parkinson, who called himself the "Apothecary of London and the King's Herbarist", wrote Theatrum Botanicum. It was as much a gardening book as an herbal and covered 3,800 plants, the largest work of its type in English. It groups plants into 17 categories including "Venomous Sleepy and Hurtfull plants and their counter poisons," "Hot and sharpe biting Plants," "The Unordered Tribe," and "Strange and outlandish plants." Like Gerard, some of his work perpetuates follies that seem quite amusing now. On the title page was an illustration of a small plant that existed only in the mind. This fantastic plant called a "vegetable lamb" bore a fruit that looked like a lamb which grazed on the grass around it and then died. In spite of this, his work is distinctive and comprehensive .

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