Herbalism is the study and use of plants for medicinal purposes and is the earliest form of medicine. One of the earliest texts to be discovered was the Ebers Papyrus, written about 1550 B.C., in which the ancient Egyptians wrote down many of their prescriptions and showed their standards of medicine to be surprisingly high. Later their knowledge was to influence Greek medicine to a considerable extent.
The first physicians were all herbalists, as evidenced by the valuable description of herbs used in medicine set down by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C. Hippocrates firmly believed that the treatment of a specific complaint should be carried out only as a part of the treatment of the whole person. He stressed the importance of diet to a person’s health as well as their habits and the environment in which they lived.
In the first and second centuries A.D. two eminent men figured prominently in the advancement of herbalism, Dioscorides and Galen. Dioscorides was a Greek physician and botanist who lived in Asia Minor yet travelled extensively throughout Europe studying the flora and fauna and recording the special properties of many new plants.
He wrote the Materia Medica, a detailed list of plants and the drugs to be obtained from them, which is said to be a valuable source of information on the botany of the ancient herbalists.
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