Along with the evolution of civilization came the increased use of natural plants and compounds for medicinal purposes. Many early humans observed the methods used by animals to determine the effects of different substances and plants. Through methods of trial and error, various individuals discovered the benefits of using these sources of medical relief and shared their information with others, which resulted in larger application within their culture.
One of the earliest instances of the use of pharmaceuticals occurred in the widely accepted birthplace of civilization, ancient Babylon. Babylonians recorded using specific compounds to heal various ailments as early as 2500 BC. Although their methods were closely intertwined with religious beliefs, their methods are considered to be one of the original implementations of pharmacy.
In ancient China, a mythic man by the name of Shen Nung supposedly tested and recorded the various medicinal effects of 365 different herbs, many of which are applicable in pharmaceuticals today, and are still prominent in Eastern and herbal medicine.
Ancient Egyptians also used early forms of pharmaceuticals. In one record of early pharmacy, Egyptians recorded the effects of roughly 700 different drugs used to heal the sick. Many substances ancient Egyptians used may still be used today, including aloe and linseed oil, while others are used for less-than-medicinal purposes, such as wax and milk.
Theophrastus of ancient Greece was a botanist whose work with natural medicines is considered surprisingly accurate in pharmacy today. His examination of plant life had direct applications with the medicinal purposes of natural substances.
As widely used and known as Tylenol today, ancient humans on the island of Lemnos, near Greece, created and branded a general-use drug called Terra Sigillata. It was supposedly an anti-poisonous substance and could also be used as a cure-all. It is one of the first known branded medicines, and was first stamped with the head of Artemis, the Greek deity, and then with the seal of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire of Hungary. It was widely distributed and used throughout the island.
Pedanius Dioscorides, another Greek, authored a five-volume account of the medicinal purposes for various herbs and substances, titled “Regarding Medical Materials.” Many consider him to be one of the most important contributors to the development of empirical pharmaceutical study. The medicinal encyclopedia described the uses of roughly 500 different medicinal substances used by Greek and Roman civilizations.
Another pivotal individual within the ancient pharmaceutical field is the Greek physician Galen. He was a teacher and practitioner of pharmacy in second century Rome. Many of his methods have modern adaptations, though he also partook in the infamous method of bloodletting (letting a patient bleed as a method of curing an illness).
While many ancient medical methods are no longer used today, many of the substances and herbs used for medicinal purposes during antiquity continue to have benefits for the health of humans. The positive medical effects of substances like aloe and marijuana have been known for many years. Though we continue to develop more complicated and synthetic compounds, these natural remedies are still some of the most effective. With continuing medical efforts, perhaps one day all ailments will be remedied through the use of pharmaceutical compounds and natural herbs.