Cover image for Wild about herbs
Title:
Wild about herbs
Author:
Tabor, Roger K.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Pleasantville, N.Y. : Reader's Digest Association, Inc., [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
176 pages : color illustrations, color maps ; 26 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780762103072
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
SB351.H5 T23 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Searching...
Searching...
SB351.H5 T23 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Gardening
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

In this companion to the PBS series, renowned biologist Tabor spotlights more than 150 universal and abundantly useful garden herbs and their myriad uses. 250 full-color photos and illustrations.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One The Use of Herbs in History Archeology has provided evidence of the use of herbs by the earliest cultures. In Iraq, a Neanderthal man was buried some 60,000 years ago surrounded by herbs including yarrow and ephedra (Ephedra sinica) . The ancient Egyptians are known to have used herbs extensively in burials. They made offerings of incense and fragrant oils, cleansed the body with spices and herbs (including cumin, anise, marjoram, and cinnamon), and used herbs in ointments for embalming. Ancient Egyptians also used herbs in cooking and in fumigation.     The earliest known writings on the use of herbs are from Assyria, on clay tablets from around 2500 BC; these list some 250 plants. The remarkable Ebers papyrus from ancient Egypt, of about 1500 BC, describes some 700 medicinal herbs including the opium poppy, garlic, castor oil plant, elderberry, wormwood, and aloe.     The Vedas, Indian epic poems dating from about 1500 BC, contain rich material on the herbal lore of that time. The medical treatise Charaka Samhita , preserved by oral tradition from around 700 BC and written down in the first century AD, mentions some 350 herbal medicines. This ancient knowledge is the basis of the Ayurvedic medicine still practiced today.     In the first century BC, Pliny the Elder wrote a remarkable encyclopedia, Naturalis Historia, with fascinating insights into herb use in the Roman world--in ointments and perfume as well as for medicine. He recommended dill to "cause belching" (dispel gas) and anise as an aphrodisiac. Roman formal gardens, built by the fashionable elite, included herbs such as bay and rosemary and often a hortus , an enclosed space for the cultivation of vegetables. The Roman landowner Columella brings to life the first-century Roman herb garden: Now is the time, if pickles cheap you seek, To plant the caper and harsh elecampane And threatening fennel; creeping roots of mint And fragrant dill are spaced out now, And rue, which the olive's flavor Improves, and mustard which forces tears.     In Greece and Rome and the lands of the north Mediterranean, locally grown scented plants such as branches of dried rosemary were burned at religious festivals. The Romans would also cascade rose petals over guests at meals and use the scent of roses in the bathhouse.     During the Roman Empire, the Romans took Mediterranean herbs to Britain and the rest of northern Europe. Among the herbs they introduced, both as food and as medicine, were garlic, onions, and chives, as well as summer and winter savory, parsley, spearmint, sweet marjoram, calendula, anise, and rosemary. Trade between southern Europe, India, and the East added to the European diet exotic spices, including ginger (used for cooking and to settle the stomach), pepper, and cinnamon.     After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, the greatest advances in herbal medicine occurred in Arab lands. The Arabs studied the classical Greek and Roman medical texts and also researched plant medicines from India and the Far East. The excellence of Arab medicine was extended to medieval Europe early in the eighth century AD when Islamic forces conquered Spain, where they were to retain power for hundreds of years. Arab medical texts and herbals were translated into Latin, the common European language of educated men at that time. For example, versions of a work that became known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis , by the Spanish Arab doctor Ibn al Baytar, have been found in historic libraries across Europe. The most significant medical text of this period was the Al Qanun fi Tibb (the "Canon of Medicine"), written in the beginning of the eleventh century by Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna. One influential Arab contribution was the separation of essential oils from herbs by distillation. Avicenna gets partial credit, as he improved the design of the still.     During the Middle Ages and beyond, villages and communities for the most part relied on local "wise" men and women, who gathered herbs from the woods and hedgerows to use in folk remedies. Although there was much superstition attached to herbs, there was also a widespread local knowledge of their uses. Such knowledge is illustrated by the remedies of a tenth-century Saxon doctor described in the Leech Book of Bald , the earliest European medical herbal in the vernacular.     People could also seek medical help from monasteries, which spread across Europe with Christianity. Monasteries were the only hospitals at the time, and they grew much of their own medicine in "physic" herb gardens. These physic gardens echoed the enclosed courtyard gardens of the Romans; the cloister's rectangular area was divided by paths into four or more intensively cultivated beds. A plan that has survived in the ninth-century monastery of St. Gall, in Switzerland, shows a physic garden containing, among other herbs, mints, rosemary, rue, pennyroyal, sage, fennel, tansy, and savory, as well as a larger kitchen garden that includes chervil, coriander, dill, garlic, and onions. Fragments of medieval glass and ceramic stills that have been excavated from a number of monastic sites across England suggest that the distillation of essential oils and alcohol was quite common.     With the Crusades and the expansion of trade routes in the Middle Ages, many new seasonings became available to Europe. By the fifteenth century imported herbs and spices including cardamom, nutmeg, and turmeric were being used by those who could afford them to add flavor or mask it. Garlic, mustard, and fennel were easy to cultivate locally and so became quite widely available. When European explorers began to reach the Americas in the late 1400s, they were excited to find a rich flora that was entirely new to them, whereupon they sent many plants back to Europe.     Apothecaries were quick to make use of any newly discovered herbs. By the end of the Middle Ages, apothecaries had become skilled professionals. They served a seven-year apprenticeship to acquire the botanical expertise to make up herbal medications and treat patients, as prescribed by a physician. Apothecaries bought ingredients from "herb women" and root gatherers; they also grew herbs in their own physic gardens. They made perfumes from flowers and herbs. These were used to overcome foul odors and deter insects and other parasites, as people rarely bathed and rarely washed their richly made garments. Apothecaries also used herbs to spice wines, to make candies such as "cumfyttes of aniseed and sweet fennel," and as ingredients in cosmetics.     Private households from great houses to small cottages used home-grown herbs for a wide range of purposes besides seasoning and medicine. Herbs such as meadowsweet were strewn on damp earth floors to release pleasant smells when walked upon; herbal scents were thought to purify a home and help keep out pests such as fleas and lice. Sweet-smelling herbs were added to straw used in mattresses and pillows. Herb mixtures including dried lavender and rose petals were hung in cupboards in small bags to perfume the contents; herbs such as wormwood or mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) might be included to help deter insects. Dried herbs placed with flowers in small boxes or bags ("pomanders") or small bouquets ("tussie mussies") were carried into foul-smelling places where there might be a risk of infection. Herbal oils were used in scented candles to mask the smell of burning tallow.     Until the fifteenth century, European herbals were manuscripts written in Latin and copied by monks, and therefore available only to a narrow elite. However, with the invention of the printing press, the switch from Latin to the local vernacular in written texts, and increasing literacy, knowledge of herbs and their uses became available to a wider range of people. Women in particular used the advice in herbals to help them in their household duties.     In the sixteenth century, a physician by the name of Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus, was a significant influence in the development of Western medicine. He lauded the use of local herbs and folk remedies, while advocating the study of exact dosage and the pharmacologically active principles of plants as well as chemical cures. Paracelsus also revived interest in the Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient theory that crops up in many different eras and cultures. According to this theory, when making each species of plant, God left a sign that identified which part of the body it could treat. For instance, it was thought that the blotches on the leaves of lungwort looked like a section of lungs, indicating that the plant could be used to treat bronchial conditions.     Paracelsus' call for the close observation of plants helped inspire the golden age of English scientific herbals. These works mention many species recently brought back to Europe from the Americas by explorers and traders. The best known of these is the Culpeper herbal, originally published as The English Physitian in 1649 by physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper. He was castigated by the medical establishment because he drew upon the Doctrine of Signatures and included astrological advice. Still, he based his herbal on extensive experience, and it became one of the best-selling herbals of all time. It is still in print today.     The settlement of the Americas promoted the exchange of plants and herbal knowledge between the Old and the New Worlds. In Europe the unfamiliar herbs from abroad were studied at the new botanic gardens such as the Chelsea Physic Garden in London and the Jardin du Roi in Paris. Exotic imports like nasturtium were incorporated into existing ornamental gardens. Among the fashionable set, utilitarian herb gardens were becoming more ornamental. In Europe the seventeenth century saw the heyday of the knot garden, a pattern of low clipped hedges of scented evergreen herbs such as germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) , lavender, hyssop, boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) , winter savory, sweet marjoram, and thyme.     As well as sending new plant discoveries back to Europe, settlers took culinary and medicinal herbs to the Americas. For example, in 1631 John Winthrop brought and then cultivated forty-eight herbs including rosemary, thyme, and clary. Initially, through lack of knowledge of American plants, settlers relied on the tried-and-trusted herbs they had brought with them. Gradually, however, they adopted some herbs used by Native Americans. For example, bee balm became a substitute for imported black tea, fevers were treated with boneset, and bloodroot was used to produce a rich red dye.     In time Native American foods--such as the potato--and medicinal plants were introduced to Europe, Asia, and Africa. One of the many introductions from South America was Peruvian bark ( Chinchona spp.), first recorded by a Spanish Jesuit missionary in 1633 and better known by the name of the alkaloid it contains, quinine. Used for centuries by the native peoples to treat fevers, quinine remained the most effective treatment for malaria worldwide until the First World War. Another South American discovery was ipecacuanha ( Psychotria ipecacuanha ), taken to Europe in 1672. Better known as ipecac, this plant contains an alkaloid (emetine) that kills amoebas and formerly was a key drug in the treatment of amoebic dysentery. Ipecac is still used to induce vomiting in some cases of poisoning.     In North America popular interest in herbs, as well as reaction against orthodox medicine and its excessive use of mercury and bleedings, inspired movements to amalgamate European and Native American traditions of herbal medicine. At the end of the eighteenth century Samuel Thompson developed a therapeutic regime based on native herbs and Native American remedies, in particular the concept of using herbs that induce sweat to treat disease. The popular Eclectic School, founded in the 1830s by Dr. Wooster Beech, blended Native American herbal treatments with those of the European tradition and mainstream medicine.     Thompsonian and Eclectic medicine owed some of their popularity to the Shakers, who were responsible for making plant medicines widely available. This communal sect developed the first large-scale wholesale herb business. In the 1820s they began selling dried herbs gathered from the wild and soon gained recognition for the purity and quality of their products. To meet increasing demand, they began to propagate and cultivate herbs on a large scale. They also began to process some of the herbs as extracts, ointments, and patent medicines (including formulas specified by Samuel Thompson). By the 1830s they were shipping herbs, seeds, and herbal medicines around the world. The Shakers also sold a few culinary herbs (sage, summer savory, sweet marjoram, and creeping thyme), essential oils, and flower waters. Rose water, the best-known flower water, was popular for cosmetic purposes and also as a flavoring. In the nineteenth century, rose water was used in desserts the way that vanilla extract is used today; the Shakers used it in apple pie.     At the end of the eighteenth century, active components from medicinal herbs began to be identified and isolated. One of the first plants to be studied in this manner was foxglove. In the second half of the eighteenth century Dr. William Withering learned of the medicinal uses of foxglove from a village woman who, to his astonishment, cured dropsy by prescribing an herbal tea. He deduced that foxglove yielded an active principle, digitalis (a glycoside), which helps the heart. Morphine was isolated from the opium poppy and identified in 1803. Other alkaloids were similarly extracted--quinine from Peruvian bark, aconite from monkshood (Aconitum napellus) , and atropine from deadly nightshade.     In the 1830s salicylic acid was identified in willow bark and extracted from meadowsweet. It was subsequently the first active ingredient to be synthesized. In 1899 the German pharmaceutical company Bayer produced a modified form that was to become the world's first proprietary drug, aspirin. The use of isolated herbal components (principally essential oils, alkaloids, and glycosides) plus other drugs synthesized in the laboratory launched a different approach to medical treatment. Up until then exact herbal prescription had been impossible because of the varying strength of the active principles in individual plants; now it was possible to make the isolated principles, or synthetic equivalents, into exact doses.     These developments, together with significant advances in medicine such as the discovery of antibiotics, led to a decline in herbal medicine in the West during most of the twentieth century. However, recent years have seen a change in attitude. The high cost of pharmaceutical drugs, a growing awareness of potentially serious side effects, the failure of conventional medicine to combat some chronic illnesses, and health problems associated with environmental pollutants are some of the factors that have led to renewed public interest in natural treatments. Herbal medicine's popularity has been boosted by modern research, which in many cases has validated traditional uses--for instance, St.-John's-wort as a treatment for depression. Research has also shown that it is sometimes more effective to use the whole plant rather than the extracted constituents prescribed by conventional medicine. Herbal medicine of various ancient traditions--including Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine--is being sought out to complement, or to provide an alternative to, conventional medicine.     Over the past quarter century, interest in all facets of herbs has grown tremendously. Herbs are now widely available, and they are included in everything from foods and beverages to crafts and cosmetics. They are grown, in both commercial herb farms and private gardens, more widely than ever before. Herbs remain integral to our lives, as they were to those of our ancestors thousands of years ago. Excerpted from WILD ABOUT HERBS by Roger Tabor. Copyright © 2002 by Frances Lincoln Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.