Ancient Medicine

Ancient peoples used herbs and other naturally occurring materials to produce the first forms of medicine. Most of the time knowledge of medicinal qualities of plants were passed down by word of mouth from shaman to shaman. Other names for these “healers” were medicine men, witches, etc. The earliest civilizations to have documented medicinal practices were the Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, and Babylonians.

The oldest medical text ever discovered came from ancient Egypt. It is a document dates from 1800 BCE, describing thirty-four cases of diagnosis and treatments of injuries and diseases. We also find the first evidence of public health systems and hospitals called, “Houses of Life”. There are numerous ancient medical Papyrus prescribing herbal medicines. Some of the most popular ingredients in Egyptian medicine were honey, pomegranate juice, castor berries, gengent beans, male palm, and cannabis.

Traditional Chinese medicine dates from the fifth century BCE, when the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon was written. Ancient Chinese medicines are made using nine to eighteen different ingredients. These compounds contained plants, animal or human parts, and minerals. These medicines were classified according to The Four Natures,(hot, warm, cool, cold), and Five Phases (Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water).

Ancient medicines hailing from India come from three distinct cultures Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha peoples. Drugs made by these people fall into three categories thadhu (inorganic), thavaram (herbal), and jangamam (animal). The categories are further broken down into five properties veeryam (potency), pirivu (class), gunam (character), suvai (taste), and mahimai (action). Ingredients were mercury, sulfer, churanam, vadagam, kudineer, etc.

The ancient Babylonian text known as the Diagnostic Handbook describes medicine dated to 1069 BC. This text describes examination, diagnosis, prognosis, and prescriptions used on a patient. Medicines were mixed and given orally, inhaled, or through ointments. They used the same ingredients as ancient Egyptian medicines.