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Fascinating account of our history with medicinal plants

Green pharmacyAnyone who has an interest in the development of medicine, philosophy of healing, or the politics of who is allowed to heal and why, cannot help but be uplifted and angered by this book.

Barbara Griggs is an excellent writer, and she has given a clear and sobering account of mankind’s relationship with medicinal plants from pre-history. She looks at developments of a philosophy of healing, and charts the unfortunate history of conflicts between those who sought to empower their patients, and to demystify healing (oftenBarbara Griggs a female tradition) and those who sought to make a lot of money out of ‘healing’. This latter group had a vested interest in making ‘healing’ something which only they could ‘do’ for someone else, and therefore the methods of healing had to be difficult, rare, costly – and often downright dangerous.

Culpeper WikiCommons

Culpeper WikiCommons

She contrasts the philosophy of herbalists such as Nicholas Culpeper, and his use of ‘simples’ with apothecaries who were using a whole range of far flung exotic substances, often engaged in ‘heroic’ practices such as bleeding, purging, cupping etc.

There is a sobering account of the outlawing of herbal treatment in the UK during part of the twentieth century – and of course many many parallels to be drawn between the earlier conflicts between ‘wise women/’witch’ herbal practitioners and ‘educated’ professionals with often some pretty newfangled, untried remedies – and the modern conflicts between herbal medicines and the big pharmaceutical giants.
chamomile-pictures_2Parallels suggested themselves between the vilifying of herbal practitioners by the ‘professionals’ with their new ‘mainstream’ use of mercury and arsenic in large (not homeopathic doses) in the 17th/18th century which often killed the patient, and, today’s big pharma.touting heroic, similarly ‘newfangled’ medicine which is often without the long term in the field use herbals have had.
For example, unopposed oestrogen being put on the market as the absolute to be desired for menopausal women – and 10-15 years down the line, the link between ORT and endometrial cancer becomes evident. And then a replay with HRT and the years and years before a truly large scale longitudinal study verified what various complementary practitioners – and indeed some medics – had been saying about long term use, and breast cancer. Drugs coming onto the market and being withdrawn from the market whilst a gentler medicine is often mocked if not deliberately hounded out, is a history which has been replayed.
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