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Origin of Herbalism

Unani Medicine is an age-old system that originated in Greece, from where it later spread to India through Arab and Persian traders. Hence it is also known as the Greco Arab system of medicine. Indian physicians enriched this system with their local knowledge of indigenous herbs, their own observations and experiments to make it one of the nationally accepted systems of treatment. Though the Unani system of medicine in India is largely different from that of old Greece, it is also referred to as 'Unani Tib' to indicate its origin.

Origin of herbalism

To trace the history of herbalism in Unani Medicine we must go back to the history of Pharmacology, for until the last century medicinal plants were still being processed for general use. The discovery of the curative properties in plants must have sprung from some natural and innate instinct - primitive man used plants for both food and medicine. He would have learnt after trial and error and perhaps many an unfortunate experiences, that some plants contained certain specific properties, and was able to identify them by the result they induced. Similarly, he would also have observed which plants and animals are utilized or consumed when they were sick. After seeing an injured deer rubbing itself against geum he might have discovered, for instance, that this plant would heal his own wounds, and realized that dog tooth grass would act as an emetics as it did with the cat.

The German botanist Molish made an interesting observation concerning six plants containing Caffeine -namely coffee, cola, mate, tea, cocoa and guarana. Among innumerable plant species man was able to pick out these six with great precision even though they lack particular features which enable them to be easily distinguished for their medical properties.

The earliest botanical knowledge as applied to the Unani system of medicine was thus based largely on instinct and natural experimentation. But in due course as prehistory gave way to antiquity, man began to make rational deductions from his observations and to use these deductions creatively in order to improve the quality of life. An example of this is an ancient Egyptian medicine, as recorded in the Ebers Papyrus (G.M.Ebers, German Egyptologist and Novelist 1837 - 98) which illustrates the great advances that had been made in the understanding of suitable drugs and pharmaceutical preparations. The medicinal value of ricinus communis from which castor oil is made and of pepper mint and flax (used for linseed oil as well as linen) were already known. Embalmers, too made use of resins such as sweet flag or sweet rush (acoris calamus) also used for dyspepsia, Benzoin and a number of fragrant essences that have still to be identified. We know, too, from cune tablets that the Babylonians knew as much about the medicinal uses of plants as the Egyptians. There is also mention in the bible of how hyssop and cedar were used by the Hebrews to treat various disorders.

Unani medicine has passed through various ages and stages. At the beginning of 20th century, Chemistry started its birth in the field of drugs by the synthesis of Acetyl Salicylic Acid followed by thousands of chemical compounds, which are now in extensive use. But inspite of the great achievements and developments of the chemical drugs which succeeded in combating many diseases, still so many compounds derived from plants have their own place and are neither deleted nor omitted till now. Some outstanding examples of such compounds, which initiated a new era in the treatment of certain diseases, are Codiene, Morphene, Reserpine and Digitalis.

Unani Medicine
Introduction of Unani Medicine
Theories and Principles