Dulce Rodrigues, writer

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Introduction to Plants



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All my life I have been in love with Nature, with its grandeur and diversity in general, with plants in particular. Already in my early years at my parents’ house I had the joy of having a garden, and maybe because of that, the truth is that I had to always be surrounded by trees and flowers, no matter how tiny the strip of land I owned and how often I moved house... from one country to another!

There is everywhere a piece of land waiting for us to come, and both the plants we cultivate ourselves or those that grow spontaneously in the fields, they all are source of a natural pharmacy rich of varieties: man has been collecting and using them as medicines since the dawn of times.

The use of plants for therapeutical purposes is discribed in medicine treaties dating back to the great civilizations of the past. The oldest known medical treatise is a little clay tablet found in the ruins of the ancient Nippur, in Sumeria; it is now in the United States as part of the collections of the University of Philadelphia. This historical document was written by an anonymous Sumerian physician who lived towards the end of the third millenia BC; it was meant as a legacy of his knowledge to his students and to other practitioners of the healing profession.

Also the Chinese, the Egypcians and later the Greek have left for posterity their writtings about the amazing healing power of certain plants. Hippocrates – usually named as the “father of medicine” – describes in his treatise Corpus Hippocraticus the infermities known to his times and prescribes for each of them the respective healing plant. Discorides, another famous Greek, also mentions hundreds of drugs made from plants in his treatise De Materia Medica. And the prominent Galen left his name for ever linked to “Galenism”, which advised the use of plants for therapeutical purposes.

The mark on natural medical practices will, however, be left by Paracelsus, a Swiss Renaissance physician, botanist, and alchemist of the 15-16th centuries.

Portugal, too, must be proud of its great pioneers in Botany: Avelar Brotero and, above all, Garcia da Horta. Horta’s treatise Símplices e Drogas da Índia (Conversations about Drugs and Herbs) shows major scientific research and was internationally acclaimed at the time of its writing and beyond, serving as a study book for other books on the same subject. Some fifty years before Horta’s publication of his book, during king Manuel’s ruling, another Portuguese, Tomé Pires, had also presented a detailed description of plants from India.

Unfortunately, a period of proved “obscurantism” arrived in the history of mankind, and this fact, together with the “thirst for financial benefit”, has led to a decline in the use of plants against certain diseases, since these healing principles of the plants have been produced synthetically by the pharmaceutical industry. Though we should apparently rejoice about this, the truth is that in plants the various essential substances present a very particular chemical aspect, their action has a progressive effect on the organism, and this has the unique advantage of not causing the same side effects of similar medicines produced synthetically by the chemical industry.

According to the famous Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl von Linné - known as the father of modern taxonomy (the discipline concerned with finding, describing and naming species), Portugal’s flora is a synthesis of the floras of the whole world. This statement is not surprising because the large diversity of geographic, geological, and climatic conditions of Portugal allows the cultivation of plants from almost any region of the world, and the country could easily become the orchard and the vegetable garden of Europe. Unfortunately, the Portuguese seem to be the first not to praise the natural wealth of their own country; they have never received an education to the purpose. Maybe the future generations will learn with the mistakes of the past and help change this view!

Such would be my deepest wish for the third century, and also that modern and natural therapies could finally melt together at least in the field of illness prevention: as Paracelsus stated “the physician’s task is to stimulate the body’s resistance to illness through natural ways and medicines, thus allowing the organism to recover by itself.” I obviously do not mean by this that medicinal plants are powerful in replacing chemical medicines in every medical circumstance – such chemical medicines are sometimes the only medicine able to cure diseases like meningitis and other equally dangerous health problems.

I sincerely hope that my articles on the healing power of the plants may rise in my readers the interest for cultivating some of these marvellous plants, either for benefiting from their medicinal properties as infusions, decoctions, essential oils, culinary herbs; or simply for enjoying their perfume and the beauty of their flowers and their foliage.

© Dulce Rodrigues 


How to use the plants?
Now to use the plants?

Herbal infusions
Herbal infusions


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