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Published on March 11, 2008

Author: Ubert

Source: authorstream.com

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Slide1:  Medicine in Early Europe Slide3:  Herbs and their medicinal faculties were a part of all ancient cultures. Used to cure illnesses, ward off evil spirits and sanctify rituals, plants which were discovered to have beneficial qualities were treasured by early societies. An herb is technically any non-woody plant, but can be more commonly defined as any usable part of a plant. The practice of herbology is the study of herbs, and the powers that these herbs have. Before pills and shots, our ancestors were dependent on their own ingenuity to discover and then effectively use plants as medicine. This presentation gives an overview on the role of medicinal plants in early Europe--focusing mainly on Northern Europe. The Celts, Saxons, Teutons, Norse men and all other tribes occupying this area were pagan, worshipping an array of nature gods. In accord, all these cultures were rich with folk lore regarding medicinal herbs and what they could contribute to society. Even after Christianity, which brought down all the major pagan religions, herb lore--in a modified form--was still practiced in Europe. Today, almost all our pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic versions of plants discovered to have healing properties centuries ago. Slide4:  In examining medicine in the tribes of pre-Christian Europe, it is necessary to understand what role herbs played in these societies. Unlike today, medicine was not it’s own separate practice. Healing was inextricably tied up with spirituality, and often administers of healing herbs were priests. Also, plants were not only used to cure visible maladies, but were as well agents of superstition. Plants were used rarely by themselves, but as parts of spells and potions. If someone was sick, they would not just swallow some herb, but be fully treated with prayers, incantations, and a cleansing of the spirit. Potions from this era would be used to cure eye infections, increase the harvest and avoid the bad affects of elves. Plants, as allies of the Europeans, gained a mythic quality in many cultures. Each god and goddess had a sacred plant, and these plants were often used in rituals which did not deal with health. In short, medicinal herbs entered almost every aspect of early European societies. Slide5:  Celts and Druids The Celts arrived in modern France, Northern Spain, and the British Isles between 1500 and 800 BC, and prospered until the coming of Rome. Although a warrior society, the Celts had a rich religion, which was administered by the Druids. Learned men--with knowledge extending from ritual, poetry, and astronomy--the Druids also functioned as the healers in their society. Most rituals performed by the Druids were enacted in a ‘holy place,’ such as a pool or grove. At these places, the priests would harness the power of nature, and thus the gods. Archeological sites throughout Brittany and England have found evidence that local Druids in many areas ran healing sanctuaries. Pilgrims would come bearing wooden figures of themselves which demonstrated their illness. These carvings would be placed at the edge of a sacred spring, in hope that the gods would recognize the pilgrim’s illness, and in return for the figurine, grant health. In other cases, a local priest would come and administer healing to a specific household. Because of their role as the ‘doctors’ in their society, the Druids held all the knowledge of an area’s herbs. Often plants would be used in rituals by Druids to reach alternate states of mind. These vision-enducing herbs were known and used only by the priestly class, solely for religious matters. Slide6:  The Angle-Saxons: Nine Sacred Herbs In old English ,wort cunning means herbal smarts. Like the Celts, the medical practices of the Angle-Saxons were holistic, seeking to heal both body and spirit. Every malady, from protection from spirits to cuts, was cured with a combination of magical and herbal means. The nine sacred herbs are the main constituents of most of the Saxon charms which have been passed down to today. The nine herbs are: mugwort, waybroad (plantain), stime (watercress), atterlothe, maythen (chamomile), wergulu (nettle), crabapple, chervil and fennel. A Saxon poem: A worm came creeping, He tore usunder a man. Then he took Woden Nine magic twigs And he smote the serpent That flew into nine bits. Now these nine herbs have power Against nine magic outcasts Against nine venoms Against nine flying things And against the loathed things That over land rove. Slide7:  Methods of Preparation for Medicinal Uses Drying: One of the most common forms for medicinal herbs, the result should yield a completely brittle plant, with leaves flakey and snappable roots Infusion: Placing the fresh herb in either hot or cold water and leaving for many hours. After prescribed time the liquid is drained and the left over herb thrown away. Salve: Grinding the fresh herb in high-proof alcohol, and then squeezing result through thin cloth. With enough squeezing the oil of the herb can be rendered. Poultice: Like a salve with a heavy base (such as flax) a poultice is used hot, placed between cloths, to reduce inflammation. Tincture: Placing of either fresh or dried herbs into a large quantity of high-proof alcohol. After several days, the liquid will take on a green tinge and will contain all of the healthful constituents of the herb. Slide8:  Mistletoe (viscum album) Mistletoe played a vital role in many Early European societies. Revered for its healing properties, the plant was thought to cure illnesses, counter poisons and drastically increase fertility. The Celtic word for mistletoe is translated as “all-healing.” In the Celtic societies of Gaul and Britain, mistletoe that grew on oak trees played a particularly important role in religious ritual. As described by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, every ritual a Druid performed was accompanied in some way by a bough from an oak tree. Early each year, on the sixth day of the moon, the high Druid would cut mistletoe with a golden sickle from the branches of an oak. According to Pliny’s account, two white bulls would then be sacrificed--both the mistletoe and the blood of the bulls was supposed to increase the fertility of the tribe and its domesticated animals. Today, mistletoe is mostly known for its holiday function: making people kiss under its leaves. This tradition comes from a Scandinavian myth which tells the story of Frigga, the goddess of love, and her son, Balder, who was the god of the sun. One night Balder had a horrible dream that he was soon to die. In desperation (knowing that if her son died all life on earth would as well), Frigga went to every thing which occupied the earth and extracted a promise from each that they would not harm her son. But Loki, the god of mischief, knew she had forgotten one plant: mistletoe, which was Frigga’s own sacred plant. So Loki made an arrow and on its tip put a leaf of mistletoe. He tricked the blind god Hoder into shooting the arrow, and Balder was hit and died. For three days and three nights all things of the world tried to restore Balder, and finally Frigga brought him back to life. She was so happy that her son was alive that every person who passed under mistletoe received from her a kiss. It is now known that mistletoe, although thought by many to be poisonous itself, has a general numbing affect on the nervous system. The plant can be used to treat epilepsy, mainly in preventing seizures. But, if taken in large doses, mistletoe can wreck havoc on the body. Slide9:  Plantain, Waybread (plantago maior) The role that the plantain played in early European medicine was mostly due to the plant’s hardiness. Today known mainly as a weed, the plant exists in nearly all areas of the world which were at one time colonized by the British empire. What was once considered a potent medicine is now merely a headache for anyone who wants an orderly lawn. When plantain was more appreciated, it was used to help heal wounds, stop bleeding and soothe skin irritation. In the Highlands of Scotland, the plant is to this day known as “Slan-lus”, meaning plant of healing. In Pliny the Elder’s diaries, he accords plantain with the ability to re-form any organism which has been torn apart. Even in the U.S. it was found that juice from a plantain is the most effective agent against the poison of a rattlesnake. Slide10:  Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) Deemed the “mother of all herbs,” mugwort was revered for its repelling qualities: it would protect its user from demonic possession and ward off evil spirits. More mundanely, the plant is supposed to cure headaches and sore throats. A more common use, though, was as a flavoring for beer before the discovery of hops. Like mistletoe, mugwort also helps balance the nervous system, and can be used to treat epilepsy and hysteria. Slide11:  Chamomile (anthemis nobilis) The main quality of chamomile which bewitched early Europeans was its wonderful smell. Still sold today as herbal tea, chamomile has a long history as an emollient. For centuries the herb was used to help soothe the pains of menstruation. It is a completely harmless sedative which can prevent nightmares, hysteria, and delirium. Further uses as are poultices to relieve swelling and inflammatory pain. Slide12:  Nettle (urtica urens) The stinging nettle, like the plantain, is a hated weed throughout much of the world. Known mainly for its burning properties, pain caused by the plant can last for days after contact. Armed with stinging hairs, both the stem and leaves can cause extreme pain. Medicinally, nettle is an effective arrester of bleeding, and can also help alleviate lung ailments, such as consumption. Ironically, a lotion made from nettle is an effective healer of burns. In the Middle ages--before the large-scale cultivation of cotton--nettle also served as a fiborous base for cloth. Slide13:  Beginning with Caesar's Gallic Wars, nearly all of Europe fell to Rome. As Romanization spread, many of the religions which had existed for centuries in Northern Europe became muddled with Roman practices. Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire only continued the decline of the European religions--and thus their medicinal practices. Slide14:  Although Christianity took centuries to wipe out paganism, early on in its introduction to Europe medicinal practices were stifled. Many of the old traditions were thought threats to Christianity, and were termed heresy. The new emphasis was health through faith healing, i.e. asking God for forgiveness. The concept of sin also greatly changed the medical mindset. The new doctrine blamed physical shortcomings, such as ill-health, on the sins of the patient. Opposed to pagan practices, the new healing techniques rarely examined the whole patient--and explained illness through the imbalances of the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. Common prescriptions were bloodletting and diet modification. Leech books (physician desk guides in the Middle Ages) did include many herbal remedies carried down from pagan society. The Leech Book of Bald, copied between 924 and 946 from an earlier Saxon leech book, references many herbs used by pagan practitioners. Herb knowledge in the early Middle Ages was carried on by nuns and monks in their monasteries--mirroring the responsibilities of priests in pre-Christian societies. Monks kept extensive herb collections, growing hundreds of plants in abbey gardens, effectively carrying on the herbal tradition. In a sort of limbo between paganism and Christianity, the new medicine was both incredibly superstitious and yet lacked the holistic sense which had made pre-Christian medicine strong. Medieval physicians would generally only examine a patient’s excreta, and occasionally prescribe herbal medicines. Christian prayers replaced the incantations of pagan healing. Christianity and Pagan Medicine Slide15:  The Witch Hunts Women, who in pagan societies were often healers and wise women, became midwives and local healers under Christianity. Using many of the herbs and spells already discussed, these women lived by helping other women give birth and cure minor illnesses. Because these women carried on the practices--and held the knowledge--of the pagan healing techniques, the Church attempted to eradicate them. Religious zeal fueled many to try and kill ‘witches’ because the women were a Beginning as early as the 10th century and reaching their zenith from 1400 to 1700, the witch hunts of Europe were an example of the new role of the church. convenient target to name evil. Blamed for poor harvests, pestilence, and general misery, these women became the scapegoats for Medieval society. Slide16:  Within the last few decades there has been a Rediscovery of the benefits of medicinal plants. As more people become disillusioned with the medical establishment, or simply curious as to other options, herbal medicine has become more popular. Hopefully, we can use the knowledge of our ancestors as a partner to modern medicine. Slide17:  Sources Presentation by Francesca Root Dodson Christianity & Medicine: http://www.planetherbs.com/articles/ herbhist.html, http://www.intermaggie.com/med/index.php Druids & Medicine: Green, Miranda J. The World of the Druids. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1997 Herb Information: http://www.heorot.dk/woden-notes.html, http://www .allthingschristmas.com/traditions.html, http://www. skell.org /explore/medtexts.htm, http://www.christmas.com/pe/1327, http://www.botanical .com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html Images: http://www.canoe.ca/HealthHerbal/m.html#mistleto http://www.findonvillage.com/0420_stanley_roy_badmin.html http://www.24carat.co.uk/1987coinsets.htm http://www. imcclains.com/gallery 2001.html, http://www.antique-maps-online.co.uk/roman-empire-map-2.htm Saxon Herbs: http://www.octavia.net/wort/worcunning equalsherbalsmarts.htm, http://www.regia.org/diancech.htm

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