The Greek God of healing was called Asklepios and his attribute is a staff around which a snake curls. The Asklepios-staff remains to this day a symbol of medicine and healing.
When the Roman Empire fell, so did a lot of the knowledge about herbs and aromatic substances. What was left moved into the cloisters of Europe. Plants were grown and cultivated in the gardens of the monasteries, monks, and later nuns, made medicinal potions, wines, vinegars, liquors, infusions and other herbal extractions.
The art and knowledge of distillation was rediscovered by the Persian physician Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) who had a passion for roses. He published his book “Canon of Medicine” in the 11:th century, which remained a standard work until the mid-sixteenth century. The Arabs were great explorers and colonizers and were responsible for introducing many new herbs and spices from the East, such as ginger and pepper amongst others. They created their main medical training center in Italy to which monks and nuns were sent from all of Europe. One of these nuns, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) wrote the much known herbal “Physica“. Her work is still referred to today.
During the Plague or Black Death, it turned out that the glove-makers and perfumers seemed less susceptible to contamination, both these groups worked on a daily basis with essential oils. This knowledge was used by thieves who doused themselves in an aromatic vinegar to be able to rob the corpses. The essential oils used were: Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis), Camphor (cinnamomum camphora), Lavender (lavandula augustifolia), Nutmeg (myristica fragrans), Sage (salvia officinalis) and Cinnamon (cinnamomum ceylanicum). These were mixed with pure garlic in vinegar.
The doctors wore full-fitting leather-robes and gloves, over their heads and faces the “bird-mask” was worn. The mask was doused with amber, nutmeg, cinnamon and other herbs, oils and spices, and they washed themselves twice daily with aromatic vinegars. Though this seemed to work well enough not to get contaminated, once the disease kicked in there was no cure or help.
In 1492 Columbus landed in what he thought was East Indies, but in reality was the Bahamas. This opened a channel for new plants and plant-matter from The Americas, such as Coca leaves that were chewed by the Incas, and balsams of Canada and Peru. These plants now entered the European pharmacopoeia.