18 February, 2011

Before There Were Pharmacies

It seems one cannot watch television or read a magazine without being assaulted or, insulted, by ads for prescription drugs.  Anything that ails you been be controlled by some new wonder drug. Some of the ads do not even say what the symptoms are just ask your doctor if snake oil is right for you. Snake oil is right. The traveling salesman of your peddled mysterious liquids in clear bottles laying claim to kill all sort of ills. problem was there were not enough real doctors to ask if Barnacle Bill's Bone Elixir was right for you. And if it was not right for you too bad. The snake oil man never returned to fulfill the satisfaction guaranteed part of the deal. In fact his elixir was right for you for a little while at least. The many potions and elixirs often had a good dose of alcohol within to alleviate most any symptom until the next morning. 
Today major drug companies push their product direct to the consumer because they realize it is the best way to reach mass consumption quickly. Magazines and TV are happy to take the ads since cigarettes and liquor are often taboo if not illegal to advertise. These drugs are heavily regulated. What is not regulated are the dietary supplements that also lay claim to magic cures for whatever ails you. the problem with the supplement market is lack of regulation. This lack of regulation does a lot of damage to actual plant and herbal cures that do work or at least help somewhat.
Before there were  pharmacies and drug companies there were plants mostly herbs that cured the ills that ailed you. In fact the Bible is chock full of references to herbs and spices for various medical uses
Hyssop was often referred to as the herb used in purification: read PSALMS 51:7 It was also used to prevent blood from coagulating which may explain why the Jews in Egypt were told to use it at the time of the Passover: read EXODUS 12:22The medicinal use of Hyssop can be found in read JOHN 19:29-30 Hyssop called hyssopus officinalis- is native to southern Europe and not the bible lands. This is a perfect example of how plant names change over time. The Hyssop in the bible may have been something like sorghum or perhaps even marjoram.
Mint is considered by some Biblical scholars to be part of the "bitter herbs' mentioned in  Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11. Along with mint the bitter herbs concoction included
endive, chicory, lettuce, watercress, sorrel, and dandelions all used as a form of digestive aid. Mint at first cools down hunger pangs but shortly after heightens appetite.
Frankincense, also called Olibanum was  used in Old Testament religious rites. It is mentioned often in the first five books of Moses. Frankincense was used for intern al and external ailments and to help with breathing problems. The oils were used to induce a calming affect. Modern herbalists suggest placing the oil in vaporizers to help induce deep slow breathing.
Comfrey often used to today as a compost starter due to it's high concentration of nitrogen in the leaves. In the times of the Bible comfrey was used to help alleviate the pains and bruising of sprains. An ointment was made from the crushed leaves of comfrey.
One could depend on drinking rosemary water to help soothe upset stomachs. In addition ginger root was chewed to achieve the same results. Today ginger ale is often suggested for easing stomach pain even though carbonated!
Headaches were treated with Sweet marjoram oil rubbed on the forehead. rosemary leaves and mint when crushed and rubbed on the forehead treated headaches in Moses time as well. In addition coriander has been used as a mouthwash and aid to digestion. coriander is the seed of today's very popular cilantro the smokey parsley like leaves used in Tex-Mex recipes.
The manna God sent to Moses and his  flock as they wandered around the desert for forty years tasted like coriander according to Old testament readings. Coriander is one of the oldest herbs used in medicinal form.
So there you have a short round up of herbs and spices used during Bible times to treat everyday maladies. In fact many of today's pharmaceuticals come from plants. Aspirin being made from the bark of willow is among the most important contributions of the plant world to modern medicine. While there is a lot of controversy over how and if herbs are useful in the medicinal world one cannot argue their importance in the old world. There usefulness today has been thwarted by highly questionable late night infomercials.
I suggest the way to look at herbs is not in their medicinal aspects but as part of your regular diet. If for instance carrots are known to be good for eyesight why can't the same be said for some herb in the garden? My point is that if herbs have beneficial properties such as anti-oxidants, oils, vitamins and minerals then treat them as food and not some holistic ritual from the Dark Ages.
Learn how to grow herbs for whatever use Saturday Feb 26th at Adams Kingston location. At 1PM on the 26th I will be lecturing on the topic of growing herbs. Learn about starting herbs from seeds, cuttings, and divisions. Also learn when to harvest and take cuttings for new plants as well. 

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