Herbal Therapy and its Origination..


ALTHOUGH the use of plants in the alleviation and cure of bodily ills goes as far back as the history of the human race itself, probably the first official reference to herbalism as a definite art and the practice of a distinct group of persons, is contained in no less important a document than an Act of Parliament of the reign of King Henry VIII. The enactment headed “Annis Tricesimo Quarto et Tricesimo Quinto, Henrici VIII Regis.
Cap. VIII” is still part of the Statute Law of England, and is popularly known as “The Herbalists’ Charter.”

It seems that in the early years of the sixteenth century there was considerable discontent concerning both the methods of practice of the official school of medicine and the fees charged by its practitioners for the conferring of dubious benefits. Further, the Act referred to makes it fairly clear that the doctors of the period did not boggle at legal and other persecution of those who disagreed with their theories and who used, apparently with some success, a different method of healing to their own. The abuses must have reached rather serious dimensions, and have affected even the high and mighty of the land, as it is extremely unlikely that a Tudor monarch and his advisers would have deigned to notice officially a matter that oppressed only the poorer population. The text of the Act first draws attention to the fact that in the third year of the same king’s reign it was enacted that no person within the City of London or within a seven-miles radius should practise as a physician and surgeon without first being “examined, approved and admitted” by the Bishop of London and others. Since then, the new Act tells us, “the
Company and Fellowship of Surgeons of London, minding only their own Lucres, and nothing the Profit or Ease of the Diseased or Patient, have sued, troubled and vexed divers honest Persons, as well Men as Women, whom God hath endued with the knowledge of the Nature, Kind and Operation of certain Herbs, Roots and Waters, and the using and
ministering of them to such as been pained with customable Diseases. …”

The first name to be associated with herbal practice and to be attached to
writings on the subject is that of Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), the
“father” of medical herbalism. This son of the Rev. Thomas Culpeper,
M.A., Rector of Oakley, Surrey, was by no means the untutored hind he is
alleged to be by uninformed or biased critics. Although his system is
regarded by the health philosopher of our day as “Culpeperism” rather
than medical herbalism as we know it, the independently-minded Nicholas
Herbal Manual by Harold Ward – Page 5
The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine http://www.swsbm.com
was probably the equal of his more orthodox contemporaries whether
judged from the general cultural standpoint or by the results of his
curative methods.
A piquant position arose as long after Culpeper’s death as the year 1802. In this year a Dr. George Alexander Gordon, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, had published an edition of Culpeper’s Herbal or English Physician, in which he claimed a medical degree for its distinguished author ! That a fellow of Britain’s foremost medical college should bestow such a dignity upon such a staunch medical libertarian is remarkable and even amusing. It is slyly hinted in some quarters that Edinburgh University, a comparatively progressive institution in the eighteenth century, conferred a posthumous degree upon Culpeper.

Whether this theory is correct, or whether Gordon’s strange fervour for Culpeper caused the doctor to foist such a “quack” upon his alma mater has never been satisfactorily settled. A preface addressed by Nicholas Culpeper to students of physic appears in
the original edition of the Herbal, published in 1652. The following are the concluding words, evidence of broad humanitarian sympathies and zeal in the search for truth: “What remains but that you labour to glorify God in your several places, and do good yourselves first by increasing your knowledge, and to your neighbours afterwards by helping their
infirmities; some such, I hope, this nation is worthy of, and to all such I
will be a friend during life, ready of my poor power to help.”  Herbal Manual by Harold Ward – The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine http://www.swsbm.com



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