MEDICINAL PLANTS AND AROMATIC HERBS: THE PRECIOUS LEGACY OF ANCIENT CIVILISATIONS

09 January 2020

We're all used to hearing about medicinal plants and aromatic herbs: but do we really know the difference between them?

Medicinal plants are plant species used in pharmaceutical laboratories (also called "officinal" plants, from the Latin "opifex" meaning artisan) to produce preparations that have health benefits, thanks to the active ingredients contained in one or more parts of the plant used (leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds or roots).

Aromatic plants, meanwhile, are plant species characterised by a distinctive fragrance or taste that makes them suitable for use in cooking or for making perfumes, liquors and essential oils.

From a legislative perspective, however, the Ministry for Health published a single list of "permitted substances and preparations" in the Official Gazette of 21 July 2012 that included all aromatic herbs, from rosemary to sage and thyme to chives. As such, it is reasonable to assert that there is no real boundary between medicinal plants and aromatic herbs: all of the aromatic herbs that we use every day in our kitchens can be included in the broader category of medicinal plants.

Historically, man has treated medicinal plants with great care and respect, developing knowledge that dates back to the most ancient times. The Mediterranean cradle of such knowledge is the Greek island of Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, a source of its dissemination since 600 B.C., thanks also to the conquests of Alexander the Great, the renowned ancient Macedonian military figure and king. Our access to such wisdom is thanks to the tireless work performed by Galen (physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died in 190 A.D.) in gathering and sorting the information. He compiled knowledge from Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as other Eastern civilisations with whom the Greeks came into contact.

These texts were invaluable in later drafting the Herbaria. Despite the lack of advanced technological and scientific means, these compendia of the plant world – containing the precious knowledge handed down to us from ancient civilisations – succeeded in classifying medicinal plants based on experience and experimental observations made while treating people. In particular, they combined natural aspects (the 4 elements, the 4 seasons, the 4 phases of the moon and the day), anthropological considerations (the 4 temperaments of man) and specific characteristics of medicinal plants (such as the 4 speeds of actions of plants). It is perhaps thanks to this ancient way of understanding Nature, as an orderly, inter-dependent and complex system, that we can learn to redefine the role of humans: from a focal point around which everything revolves, to an element that coexists with many others within the same natural context.

This is the spirit underpinning our passion and our commitment to growing organic aromatic plants since 1997, adhering to scrupulous production processes that respect the environment and the health of all.

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