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The Medicinal Use of Herbs


engraving of ginger plant


Take the Panoramic Tour of the Garret

"i do remember an apothecary ...
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff'd and other skins.
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves A beggarly account of empty boxes.
Green earthen pots, bladders, and musty seeds.
Remnants of packthread,
and old cakes of roses.
Were thinly scatter'd
to make up a show. "

William Shakespeare from Romeo and Juliet


The use of plants for medicinal purposes is as old as the human race, and many mainstream scientific drugs derive from folk-medicines:

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) traditionally used for treatment of heart failure, is still the active ingredient prescribed in millions of heart cases.

Meadow Sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) - a plant long used in herbal medicine, from which aspirin is derived.


Plant use was not always benign as some old folk remedies have been proven to be dangerous, and, as Shakespeare's quotation above implies, an unscientific approach could lead to the addition of very strange substances in medicines - hair, fingernails and bones of condemned criminals were sought after ingredients.

Powerful natural chemicals found in plants have also been misused as stimulants, intoxicants, and hallucinogens. Tobacco, alcohol, and opium being three examples whose effects can have devastating effects on personal lives.

Administering herbal medicines

'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs M Grieve. spacer image

spacer image Notes from St. Thomas's archives concerning herbs and the apothecary spacer image

spacer image Herb List from Guy's Hospital spacer image Medicinal use of Herbs spacer image Apothecaries in Londonspacer image Administering herbal medicines spacer image 'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs M Grieve. spacer image