Herb for Heroes and Hajduks

Achilles, an almost invincible hero of the Trojan War, owed his immortality to his mother Thetis, a nereid – a sea nymph – who regularly dipped him in the river Styx; however, he was left vulnerable in one part of the body – that by which his mother held him while dipping him in the river: his left heel which never touched the sacred waters of the river Styx. Thetis also used other methods in an attempt to strengthen her son. Some unorthodox methods which were opposed by her husband Peleus involved Thetis anointing the boy in ambrosia and holding him over a fire in order to burn away the mortal parts of his body. After she had been stopped by Peleus, she abandoned both her husband and her son in a rage and returned the the depths of the sea.

Peleus entrusted the upbringing of Achilles to Chiron the Centaur who achieved a feat that even modern medicine would be envious of – he carried out the first transplantation. He implanted the bone of the giant Damiso, a famous runner, in Achilles leg, thus making Achilles an extraordinary runner. Achilles had all the advantages of the most modern education of the time: his diet consisted of the intestines of lions and wild boar (so that he should become strong) and honey to make him sweet and eloquent. In effect, Achilles had all the advantages of the traditional medicine of the period.  

As the Greek fleet gathered in Aulis, Achilles mother gave him Hephaestus weapons, a divine horse and the slave Mnemon. Legend has it that the Greek army first reached Mysia on its way to Troy. Convinced that they had arrived in Troy, they set out to ravage the city, until Telephus, the son of Heracles, appeared. After Telephus had stumbled on a vine, Achilles struck him in the thigh with a spear.  

After many adventures Telephus and Achilles met in Greece again. Telephus’ wound was not healing and – as he leant from the oracle – it could be healed only by the person who inflicted it. Therefore Telephus donned beggar’s clothes and went searching for Achilles. In Aulis, he managed to get medical help thanks to his cunning: he promised the Greek army to show them the way to Troy if Achilles healed his wound.

A version of the story says that Achilles scraped pieces of his spear onto Telephus’ wound, which miraculously healed. According to another version, he used herbal medicine – he applied yarrow to Telephus wound. We all probably know how Achilles ended his life and how his heal became legendary, but that is not all. In year 1753 his healing powers inspired Carl Linnaeus to name a very special plant by Achilles’ name. That is how yarrow was given its scientific name Achillea millefolium. 

Many heroes’ wounds were healed by this herb.  In our region it became legendary thanks to hajduks (legendary anti-Ottoman freedom fighters and highway brigands in West Balkans), who are fated to have carried it on themselves, just in case. Centuries have passed, but yarrow (in Serbian called hajdučka trava /hajduks’s herbs/) does not cease to fascinate. It has a beneficial effect on the liver and kidneys, the reproductive system, digestive organs, the nervous system, and circulation; it lowers blood sugar, relieves the symptoms of the flu and colds, regulates blood pressure and cures haemorrhoids. As Achilles and hajduks have known for centuries, it can stop bleeding and can promote wound healing. 

Yarrow has a very good reason to be one of the ingredients used in Femisan A and B. Thanks to achilleine and tannin this precious plant soothes lengthy and heavy bleeding and has a positive effect on the hormonal balance. With its soothing effect on the nervous system it calms its oversensitivity in perimenopause and menopause, and after the onset of menopause it has a positive  effect on the cardiovascular system by preventing diabetes and strengthening immunity. 

Myths a legends are one thing but reality is something completely different. We all know that women are in effect the biggest silent heroes. That is why this heroes’ herb is here to ease their way through many heroic deeds – both those experienced on a daily basis, but also some momentous events in one’s life. 

Ancient Knowledge, Modern Approach

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.