Starting in 1950s, a cave in the Zagros Mountains in northern Iraq has been in spotlight of archeologists and anthropologists from all over the world. The spacious Shanidar cave has given shelter to the remains of eight adult and two infant Neanderthals for over 60 000 years, as well as numerous remains of the later Neolithic age. Apart from human bones, stone tools and animal skeletons, this cave holds another piece of precious evidence: pollen of eight plants that are believed to have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties. Out of eight of them, seven are still in use today by modern phytopharmacy.
One of the plants used by these pre-historic ancestors of ours that had sought refuge in the cave was yarrow. Millennia later, in the 11th century, on the other side of the Caspian Sea, the same plant was used by the well-known physician, philosopher and Father of Chemistry: Ibn Sina. Having become a qualified physician at the age of 18, Ibn Sina plunged into the enormous field of research, eager to help and treat as many patients as possible, and for free. During the 58 years of his prolific life, this brilliant scientist of the Islamic Golden Age authored numerous books that were used not only in the Islamic world, but in Europe as well, up to the 18th century.
In his Canon of Medicine, a five-volume work that encompasses all known medical knowledge of the time, Ibn Sina explains that the best way to treat a patient is to improve the power of his body – to increase the immune system. He was the first to use quarantine as a public health measure against an infectious disease, to define syndrome, and to use controlled studies in medical research. All this 10 centuries ago.
Believing that plants have the ‘vegetable’ soul, Ibn Sina took great care not only in using them for treatment, but in collecting them: the second book of the Cannon of Medicine contains detailed instructions on collection and storage of medicinal plants. As for yarrow, he used it to treat numerous diseases, from headache, nasal congestion, stomach pain, urinary tract disorders, to female disorders, irregular and heavy periods.
Ibn Sina was very interested in alchemy, and there are two alchemical treatises attributed to him. It is interesting that another medicinal plant derives its scientific name from the Arabic ‘alkemelych’ – the alchemist, because of its leaves that collect dew which was thought to be able to turn metal into gold: the lady’s mantle. Today we know for certain that its dew is more decorative than magical, however its medicinal properties have not changed, and have been confirmed by modern research. Lady’s mantle is a very powerful astringent and can efficiently stop the bleeding of wounds. It’s leaf is the greatest protector of women: it can help with menstrual disorders, cysts, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, it can boost fertility and help the body recover after childbirth.
Ibn Sina was a famous doctor with well documented work. However, there are numerous women and men all around the world who possess great, undocumented knowledge on medicinal properties of herbs. Women in Mecca, for example, are the primary household health carers and can skillfully treat most common ailments, especially gynecological problems, pregnancy and childbirth. Plants available locally play an important role in their home pharmacy. Similarly, lady’s mantle has been used all around the world by women – to help women. With the arrival of modern medicine, traditional medicine was regarded as healthcare of the poor, but today we are witnesses of its grand revival. We are aware that, even though modern medicine has numerous cures, it lacks holistic approach to the patient, and there are still disorders that remain a mystery. Modern medicine also usually provides a quick fix which is inefficient in the long-run. This is particularly the case in female disorders, which are usually treated with artificial hormones.
In the Middle Eastern region, there are more than 2600 known plant species, and approximately 250 of them are still being used for the treatment and prevention of health disorders. However, modern, urban way of living, pollution and climate change is making it impossible for us to collect, preserve and use herbs properly. This is why we need to approach herbal remedies in a new, modern way.
Phytopharmacy today fills the gap between tradition and science: it collects all the knowledge of our ancestors and processes it in modern laboratories. One of its products is Femisan A – a modern herbal medicine based on centuries-old tradition. Apart from yarrow, used by Ibn Sina, and lady’s mantle – the ancient, great protectress of women, Femisan A also contains marigold, crane’s bill, shepherd’s purse, golden maca root and zinc. The best plants from all over the world are there, collected in a capsule, for women all around the world.