Presumably there have always been “herbalists” and natural healers since the dawn of time.
Primates have been seen placing leaves on sore wounds to soothe them. Archaeological investigations show evidence of mankind treating disease thousands of years ago. We are now able to identify bacteria and food in ancient remains through DNA analysis. This has identified several different ‘non food’ herb species which suggests that ancient man regularly medicated himself.
Another example is Otzi, a body which was found about 10 years ago in the Swiss Alps when a warmer summer melted snows which had been in place for over 3500 years BCE. Walkers found the body of a middle aged man which was so well preserved that he has been the focus of much research. This body has arthritis and scars at points paralleling the acupuncture points we use today to treat arthritis. Early man would use remedies handed down through generations for healing wounds or treating with disease. Dealing with disease would have been an everyday necessity.
We know that acupuncture is over 4,000 years old as recorded in China and that herbal knowledge stretches similarly back into the pre- history era.
So when did ‘doctor medicine’ gain superiority? Who decided that they had the right to define medicine as opposed to non-medicine? Who made laws allowing doctors to prosecute anyone whom they had argument with? We know that the College of Physicians arrived as an elite group in 1518. We also know that to secure their position the group petitioned parliament repeatedly to allow them powers to take anyone else claiming healing knowledge to court.
Nearly all forms of commercial activity were controlled by guilds in those days, which gave social as well as political standing to their members.
The College of Physician was small but its influence was enormous as it was a group of privileged university students.
Historically there has always been mixed feeling towards doctors. (Proverb: The Physician is more dangerous than the disease.)
Ironically College members were examined not on medical understanding as we would know it but on the works of the Greek scholar Galen who had lived 1500 years earlier. Galen believed in balancing 4 humours related to Water, Earth, Air and Fire and believed in imbalances producing Cold, Heat, Dryness and Moisture. This is not dissimilar from early Chinese basic beliefs at that time.
The College had to make a series of attempts to ask parliament to ratify their powers. This parliament refused to do for about 100 years, as the alternatives to their services were seen to be at least as effective as their medicine and often more affordable. Herbalists became targets for the doctor's prosecution, if there was even one complaint against them, with or without foundation. The doctor’s guild has been adversarial since their conception, regarding it as a necessity to prosecute competition whenever possible. In the days of the Round Heads and Royalists, of the Great Plague and the devastating Fire of London, of constant wars with France and uncertainty in so many of the basic necessities of life, it is understandable that these deep insecurities would produce a defensive protection of these educated men’s position and incomes. This same defensive attitude although deeply entrenched is less understandable today when so many new ideas are being explored.
Perhaps old habits die hard!!!