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Ancient Greek Medicine Relied Heavily on Herbs Still Used Today

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Greek civilization dates back to around 700 B.C.E. and has made major contributions to modern medicine. For example, the ancient Greek started using practical rational thinking to solve health issues, rather than relying in divine interventions; an approach that set the foundations for modern medicine. Ancient Greek medicine was a complex system that included a wide variety of treatments and remedies but was heavily reliant on herbal remedies. Some of the most commonly used medicines and medical procedures in ancient Greece included:

HERBAL REMEDIES: Herbal remedies were widely used in ancient Greece, and many plants were believed to have medicinal properties. Here are some examples: 1. Chamomile: Chamomile was used to soothe digestive problems, promote sleep, and relieve anxiety. 2. Garlic: Garlic was used as an antibiotic and to treat a variety of respiratory problems, including coughs and bronchitis. 3. Sage: Sage was used to treat sore throats, digestive problems, and menstrual cramps.

4. Peppermint: Peppermint was used to treat digestive problems, including indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. 5. Echinacea: Echinacea was used to boost the immune system and treat infections, including the common cold and flu. 6. St. John's Wort: St. John's Wort was used to treat depression, anxiety, and nerve pain. 7. Aloe vera: Aloe vera was used to treat skin conditions, including burns, wounds, and rashes.


8. Licorice root: Licorice root was used to soothe sore throats, coughs, and digestive problems. 9. Ginger: Ginger was used to treat nausea and vomiting, as well as digestive problems, including indigestion and bloating.

10. Fennel: Fennel was used as a digestive aid and to treat respiratory problems, including coughs and bronchitis.

11. Lavender: Lavender was used to treat headaches, insomnia, and anxiety.

12. Rosemary: Rosemary was used to treat digestive problems, including indigestion and bloating, and to improve memory and concentration.

13. Nettle: Nettle was used by the Greeks and Romans to treat arthritis and respiratory problems, including allergies and asthma.


14. Thyme: Thyme was used as an antiseptic and to treat respiratory infections, including bronchitis and whooping cough.

15. Valerian: Valerian was used as a sedative and to treat anxiety and nervousness.

16. Cretan dittany: Origanum dictamnus, or Cretan dittany, is almost exclusively found on Crete's mountainous areas. Historically it symbolizes love and has been used as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used the herb to cure many ailments, and especially stomach aches and issues with the digestive system, as well as for wound healing. Even the philosopher Aristotle wrote that when goats that had been shot with an arrow they would eat Cretan dittany that, in turn, would rid them of the arrow.



OINTMENTS & SALVES: Ointments and salves were used to treat a variety of ailments, including wounds, skin conditions, and respiratory problems. Ingredients included olive oil, beeswax, and various herbs and spices.


POULTICES: Poultices were made by crushing herbs and other materials and applying them directly to the skin. They were used to treat a variety of conditions, including inflammation, pain, and infection.


BLOODLETTING: Bloodletting was a common practice in ancient Greek medicine. It was believed to balance the body's humors and was used to treat a variety of conditions, including fever and inflammation.


BATHS AND STEAM TRATMENTS: Baths and steam treatments were used to treat a variety of conditions, including respiratory problems, musculoskeletal pain, and skin conditions.


It is interesting to see that many of these medicinal practices and used have survived over thousands of years to this day - especially the use of herbs. While clinical trials, as we know them today, may not have been performed for many of these therapeutic agents, thousands of years of validation through practice is quite reassuring for their potency and usefulness.

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