Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Brief History of Herbalism through the Renaissance



Photo of the Medieval Garden at Turin



This is my  first contribution to my A & S 50 depth project in  period use of herbs.  I am kind of cheating here because this doubles as background handout for the classes I am teaching my mundane apprentices on the history of herbal medicine, but I am trying to perfect the art of killing two birds with one stone as a form of time management.     

I would like to address the misuse of the term "herbalism" in the SCA. The term is not period.  You will not find an  herbal printed before 1600 that uses it to define the professional use of plant medicine. As someone who writes and edits mundane histories on the subject, it drives me crazy that it is used incorrectly in the SCA. I have decided not to do it, any longer.

The term herbalist did arise in the late 1500's specifically referring to people who had also written herbals.  Gerard, for example, was a Master of the Company of Barbers-Surgeons in London, and an herbalist.  In the UK people using plant medicine were  professional physicians, barber-surgeons, apothecaries, ritual folk healers (who went by various names), and women  practicing physick or domestic medicine.   I will post about these various professions later.





Prehistory

The earliest archeological documentation of foraging societies in the United Kingdom is fossilized footprints found near Happisburgh, Norfolk estimated to be some 850,000 to 900,000 years old, probably belonging to the long-extinct Hominid species Homo antecessor.  


Given these dates, we can compute that for well over 90 percent of Homo history, people in the Ireland and Britain lived their lives out in small groups of wandering foragers, consisting of 10-50 people, known as bands. The use of herbs as medicine predates written history. Archeological findings from the Paleolithic period show that plants were being used medicinally as early as 60, 000 years ago. These enturies of trial-and-error experiments lead to established herbal remedies as used by the earliest civilizations.



Neolithic Period


The average life expectancy during the Neolithic was 38 years.   Domestication of animals and establishment of early agricultural societies brings humans in closer contact with one another and livestock. Zoonotic diseases (passed from animals to humans) malaria, polio, cholera and influenza emerge.  


9000 BCE Ireland - Remnants of a settlement have been found at Kilgreany Cave, Co. Waterford.  Evidence of “rituals” used for curing.

8220 BCE Britain - Amesbury (8220 BCE) although the remains of a Mesolithic camp have been found near Thatchum. Again there is evidence of ritual healing.

Antiquity



In most ancient societies disease was attributed to divine causes and evil forces.  Healing practices consisted of a pharmacopeia (plant, animal, mineral-based remedies) as well rituals intended to drive awayevil spirits. Generally herbal agents form only a small part of the repertoire of the healers of early cultures, for it was generally thought serious illnesses were of a spiritual, or supernatural nature, rather than physical causes.


~3180 BCE–2500 BCE. Skara Brae, archeologists determined that a certain puffball mushroom was used medicinally in this Neolithic Village partially due to archeological evidence and partially due to the fact that the practice continued in that area of Scotland until the early 1900’s. It is probably still practiced today.


~3000 BCE Sumerian clay slab from Nagpur, approximately 5000 years old. It comprised 12 recipes for drug preparation referring to over 250 various plants, some of them alkaloid such as poppy, henbane, and mandrake.

2667 - 2648 BCE. Period of time during which the Egyptian Imhotep lived. Imhotep is the first physician of written record. He proposed that disease not to be dealt with solely by magic, but by science: observation, diagnosis, and treatment. This does not mean he didn’t believe that disease sometimes had a supernatural cause.

Imhotep established Egyptian medical codes later recorded in the manuscripts Edwin Smith papyrus (1600 BCE) and the Papyrus Ebers (1550 BCE). These documents mentioned 800 medicinal agents, 700 of which were plant agents including pomegranate, castor oil plant, aloe, senna, garlic, onion, fig, willow, coriander, juniper, common centaury which were compounded sometimes with beer, honey, milk, or wine.

~2500 BCE Shennong pen Ts’ao ching  Chinese medical manuscript mentions 365 dried medicine plants many of which are still part of the Chinese Materia Medica including: Rhei rhisoma, camphor, Theae folium, Podophyllum, the great yellow gentian, ginseng, jimson weed, cinnamon bark, and ephedra.

~1660 BCE Egyptian work Edwin Smith papyrus details, skeletal anatomy and surgical procedures.

~1550 BCE Egyptian work Papyrus Ebers details incantations (charms) and plant remedies.

~1500 BCE- 1000 BCE. The Hindu text Atharvaveda first Indian text dealing with medicine, and containing prescriptions of herbs for various ailments.

~1069- 1046 BCE. Diagnostic Handbook written by the Mesopotamian physician Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa.



~1100 BCE.  Indian Sushruta’s teachings are compiled in the text the Sushruta Samhita. 

500 CE-  Charaka teachings are compiled the text, Charaka Samhita   Caraka claimed that garlic “maintains the fluidity of blood and strengthens the heart” This text combined with the Sushruta Samhit form the basis of Ayurvedic medicine.






Greek Medicine 

The earliest Greek herbals were were to form the basis of medical practice for centuries to come.  The Romans assimilated Greek medical practice the same way they assimilated other Greek knowledge, but it is important to note that there three groups of medical practitioners with different theories. The Dogmatics, The Empirics, and the Methodics.

Turning away from the idea of medicinal rituals, the most important principle of early medical advice was balance and moderation in all things; however other principles put forth by these early physicians still inform modern medical practice. Urinalysis was used by the Greeks although then it was done primarily by using the senses; including taste. The Greeks also developed an energetic diagnostic system based on humors and temperaments that many modern herbalist teach today. I will discuss this more completely at another time.

Notable Greek Scholars
 

Hippocrates - (c.460 -370 BCE) - De herbis et curis - Founder: Hippocratic School of Medicine. 

460 – c. 370 BCE. Hippocrates teaches medicine on the Greek island of Cos. Hippocrates based his medical practice on the four humors and the presence of a vital force in the body called Pneuma (Breath). This vital force is roughly the equivalent to the concept of prana in Ayurvedic Medicine. Hippocrates also gave the name ignis to the heat of metabolism which is equivalent to the term agni in Ayurvedic medicine
 
The Hippocratic Corpus (name of the collection of writings attributed to
Hippocrates) was  written by as many as 19 different authors over the course of many hundreds of years, yet the information in them is attributed to Hippocrates. Most of the writings seem to have been written in last decades of the 5th century BC and the first half of the 4th century BC and are probably those of a physicians college- perhaps the Cnidian school although that is conjecture.


Aristotle (384- 322 BCE) De Plantis 

Aristotle was the first Greek to propose that hot, cold, damp and dry were the qualities that made up all things. For example, fire is hot and dry.   In 330 BCE Alexander the Great established the Empirical School which followed the teachings of Aristotle.


Nicander of  Colophon: (c. 200 BCE) - Theriaca, Alexipharmaca
Interesting because his family was the hereditary line of priests to Apollo.   He wrote extensively on venoms and plant poisons in the pentameter poem Theriaca and his book Alexipharmaca.   I have a French version, but have yet to locate an English version.

Dioclees Medicus - member of the Dogmatici who followed Hippocratic teachings. 

Agnodice of Athens (c.325 BCE)
Female physician put on trial for pretending to be a man to practice medicine.  Her wealthy female patrons banded together and had the law repealed.


Dioscorides - (c. 40 - 90 CE) - De Materia Medica  50-68 CE

Dioscorides' De Materia Medica was probably the most influential herbal manuscript ever written. It contained information on over 600 plants used for medicinal purposes and those uses he described were copied and passed down many medical documents written up until the 17th century.  
 
Galen - (129-215 CE) - On the Natural Faculties, Art of Physick
 

Galen was known to have employed up to 20 scribes to write his works and over 600 treatises are attributed to this group known as the Galenic Corpus. He is probably most famous in the SCA for his Art of Physick as translated by Culpeper, but his work De Temperamentis which introduced the four temperaments was equally influential.

Paulus Aegineta - (625-690 CE) - Medical  Compendium in Seven Volumes
Aegineta was a practicing physician and a Byzantine Greek who documented the practice of medicine in encyclopedic form. The sixth book on surgery was still being referenced by chirurgeon in the Middle Ages.



Notable Roman Scholars
 
A Cornelius Celsus - (ca 25 BCE - 50 CE  ) De Medicina 
Not much is known about him other than the fact that he was a contemporary of Pliny the Elder and Columula  who frequently cites his knowledge of agriculture in  De Re Rustic.  It was unlikely that he was a physician, but Roman nobles were typically well schooled in medicine as it was useful to them in the management of their estate. In fact according to Harvard medical historians domestic medicine accounted "for almost all healing work in Europe until the late 19th century" and domestic medical manuals of this sort were commonly found in literate households.  (Harvard University)

Pliny  - (23-79 CE) - Naturalis Historia
Pliny was one of those typical early polymaths who hung around with the emperor Vespasian.  He was a commander in the army/navy and spent a lot of his free time investigating the flora and fauna of areas he traveled during his service, as well as their uses.  He compiled it all in what was one of the first encyclopedic set of volumes.

Preservation of Greco-Roman Knowledge During the Dark Ages

Medical schools started appearing in the 9th century in Eastern locales such as Persia and the Arab empire, which are basically responsible along with the Irish monastic communities for preserving Greco-Roman knowledge.

Their practices merged Greek medicine and Middle Eastern cultural customs into a system called Unani tibb.
They were alchemists who invented a number of medical tools including the alembic which was used to distill aqua vitae (hard liquor) for medicinal purposes. 


Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (ca.800 - ca 870)
Al-Kindi was a philosopher from Baghdad  who was charged by the Caliph al-Mamun to translate and comment on Greek documents in his possession. Al-Kindi is generally credited with creating the first rose hydrosol through distillation.

Abu-Khasim Abulcasis (936-1030)

An alchemist/physician from Cordoba who wrote a surgical text know as the Tasrif.  He  is thought to have improved the design of the alembic and distillation process to the point of distilling wine and rosewater into "aqua vitae" to be drank for the medicinal purposed of extending longevity. 


Abū ʿAlī al-usayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā (980-1037)
 The Persian physician, Avicenna, wrote his herbal treatise, The Cannon of Medicine, around 1025 AD. It is likely his teachings being passed along in the Al-Andalus cookbook. 
 

Monastic communities were the primary source of Western European herbal knowledge during the early-high middle ages. Especially in Ireland, monks and scribes preserved the Greco-Roman manuscripts by copying them, first in Latin and later in their native languages.
 
 Monks and nuns were prohibited from spilling blood by Papal decree so they often sourced out that sort of work to tradesmen who eventually became recognized as surgeons.
These monks were famous for their  cloister gardens in which they grew most of the herbs they used in their practices. Walafrid Strabo (808-849 CE) wrote a Latin verse Hortulus that described such a garden.

 
The High Middle Ages. 1000-1300 C.E.


This period was noted for its written manuscripts as gathered by monastic scribes or those working for rulers.

Bald's Leechbooks were compiled under King Alfred's reign and recorded by the scribe Cild.The third Leechbook is considered by most to most closely resemble a native English practice.

Herbarium of Pseudo Apuleii ( Old English Herbarium) 
This is a translated version of an earlier Greek work that was in circulation in England as early as the 9th century.   

Lacnunga 1000 CE  (London, BL Harley 585)
The title of this manuscript was given to it by its 19th century translator Cockayne. The unique structure of this manuscript leads scholars to believe that it may be a very early example of what was called a commonplace book, which were basically compendiums of information arranged as it was gathered  popular in later years. I tend to think literate healers kept track of their methods and formulas, regardless of the era. 

Another unique aspect of these Anglo Saxon manuscripts is that they were an interesting mix of what must have been native beliefs such as stories of flying venoms and elf shot as naturalistic (supernatural) causes of illness. They developed a system of ritual methods of delivering medical preparations including the recitation of "charms."  These charms were also  was also seen in Gaelic medical practice and there seems to have been some cross-over as evidenced by Old Irish words used in the Anglo Saxon charms.  


Hospitals generally associated with medical schools begin to crop up, but many were also bedehouses or almshouses where poor people with no means went for care.  
 

c.1107 St Thomas Hospital - England


1255 The Collège de St. Cosmé -Paris.

 
 
The Late Middle Age 1300- 1500

 
The Late Middle Ages began with the Great Famine and the Bubonic Plague. During the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance the professional medical sector consisted of three types of practitioner. 


Physicians- Generally from the upper classes and trained at medical schoools on Greek medical theory. These were general practitioners who examined, diagnosed and prescribed but regardless of what you saw in Merlin, they weren't getting their hands dirty with the actual preparation of medicines or caring for the ill. That was generally left to the women or servants.
 
Chirurgeon/Surgeons- This separate branch of medicinal practice evolved during the time when the monastery hospitals were providing healthcare.  Surgeons would do the dirty work that the monks/nuns were unable to perform due to religious restrictions on shedding blood. The first medical corporation in the British Isles was established in Ireland in 1446 when Henry VI established the Guild of St. Mary Magdalane for the barber-surgeons of Dublin.   The continued to serve this role for the elitist physicians who came from noble families and didn't want to get dirty.

Apothecary-  Members of the Pepperers' Guild and Spicers' Guilds were incorporated as the Worshipful Company of Grocers in 1428.  Some of these tradesmen began to specialize in compounding of medicinal preparations and became known as spicer-apothecaries.  They were trained through apprenticeship and compounded medicines using both herbs and alchemical preparations. They extended their practice to dispensing medical advice and midwifery.  Quite a few were women. In 1421, a group of physicians unsuccessfully petitioned the English Parliament to decree “that no Woman use the pratyse of Fisyk under the same payne” of “long imprisonment” and a fine of forty pounds.” It would be another century or so before that would be successful.



During this period you see more documentation of the physician-family dynasties and translation of texts by monastic scribes. The Red Book of Hergest written just after 1382 contains medical knowledge attributed to a family referred to as the Physicians of Myddvai.   The Book of the O'Lees written in 1443, partly in Latin and partly in Irish detailed that family’s method of treating the common diseases of the time. 

Towards the end of this period Greek theories began to fall out of favor because they failed miserably at controlling the Plague and didn't touch the syphilis epidemic that arose at the same time.



Arnaldus de Villa Nova (c.1240 - 1311)

Catalan physician who studied at the University of Montpellier.  He is credited with being the first to use distilled alcohol to extract constituents from a plant, however some alchemical works credited to him were not published until the 1500's are considered to be falsely attributed.  Proceed with caution when citing him.

The  Early Renaissance 1500-1650

Herbals began to be published in earnest.   Beginning with Banckes herbal in 1525 and The Grete Herbal published in 1529, medical professionals began to write larger and larger tomes on plants and their medical uses.
 

Professional organizations were established by government authorities which defined their scope-of-practice.  In 1540, the fellowship of surgeons merged with the Barber's company forming the company of the Barbers and Surgeons. Elizabeth I granted the Irish barber-surgeons their second charter in 1577. Spicer-apothecaries broke from the Grocers and were granted their own charter by King James in 1617.

Paracelsus (1493-1541) 

Paracelsus introduction of stronger more toxic chemicals to the healing profession marked the beginning of the decline in the use of purely plant materials as medicine. . While he worked primarily with plants, he was the first to introduce chemicals such as mercury as cures, which despite its toxic side-effects, was the cure for syphilis until 1947 when penicillin took over. 


William Turner (1509-1568)
Turner was physician to many English nobles  including the Earl of Emden and theDuke of Somerset He published his first herbal while working for Somerset in 1551and an enlarged edition in 1568.  


John Gerard  (
The Herball or General Historie of Plants 1597}


Gerard was a  but it has been pretty much proven at this point that the herbal was basically plagiarized. The illustrations were from a German botanical guide and the herbal information pretty much came from Rembert Dodoen’s herbal Cruydeboeck published in 1554.



Women and Medicine in pre 16th Century Europe

We know from glosses written in the Brehon Law that both women and men were taught medicine in ancient Ireland.  I am not going to say that it was common, but it wasn't unusual as we have been led to believe.  Salpe was a female physician mentioned by Pliny the Elder.
I mentioned  Agnodice  above.  Aemilia Hilaria was a Roman physician in the 4th Century.  Aspasia of Athens was a 5th century physician who taught Aetius the royal physician of Justinian I.


Jumping to the eleventh century, the medical school in Salerno, Italy, allowed women such as Abella of Salerno and Adelperga daughter of Deisderius, to train as physicians and to teach at the school.   The Trotula is a compendium of their work with women's health.  Both Sarah of St Giles and Stephanie de Montanels practiced medicine in 13th century France.  Monica Green, a noted medieval medicine historian, estimates that  London in 1560 there were approximately sixty women practitioners.


Nuns shared responsibilities of caring for patients in hospitals associated religious communities, for centuries.  Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179) is known to have written on  the subjects of healing and herbal compounding, but there is controversy as to whether the work Physica  which is attributed to her corresponds with the original text.  St. Angela Merici (c. 1474) founded the Ursulines order for the education of girls and care of the sick and needy.

And then we have to look at domestic medicine which speaks to the fact that women  were expected to practice physick and minor surgery as part of their household responsibilities. We know this because as more women became literate they began recording the receipts for those medical preparations in journals with other household remedies.   Examples of women born during the 16th century whose household journals contain "phisical receipts" include:

Lady Grace Mildmay  (ca. 1552–1620) 
Lady Frances Catchmay (ca. 1550- 1629)
Lady Anne Maynard  (ca. 1580 - 1647)

Anne, Lady Maynard  trained the physician  Hannah Woolley who published books of medical receipts in the mid 17th century. 


Early 17th century sources

John Parkinson (1567–1650)
Parkinson was an apothecary for the King of England.  He wrote his gardening book Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris in 1629 and clearly it is based on his work in the late 16th century and should be helpful (along with Thomas Hill's 1577 work) for people interested in medieval gardening techniques.  

His giant herbal the Theatrum Botanicum published in 1640 included over 3000 herbs. It
was very similar to Gerard's Herbal and Cruydeboeck.  I don't see much point going out of period to use it as there are plenty of period sources.

Nicholas Culpeper  (1616- 1654)

After having given it a lot of thought, I have decided  to recommend that you not use Culpeper as a source for documentation.  Culpeper  brought a lot of new ideas to the practice of plant medicine.  He was the first Englishman to incorporate astrology into medicine. It might even be said of him that his herbal's were the transition between the scholarly tomes of the Middle Ages and the colonial almanacks.



Harvard University. “Open Collections Program: Contagion, Domestic Medicine.” Accessed May 4, 2016. http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/domesticmedicine.html.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative!
    It's not cheating; it's resourceful. ^_^

    ReplyDelete