Herbalism has been around for 10's of thousands of years. Early humans (like many animals) discovered that if they ate certain plants, they felt better. That knowledge expanded and was passed on generationally. Since women were, in many cultures, the gatherers, it makes sense that they were the keepers of this knowledge and became healers in the community. That knowledge was passed from mother to daughter as a strategy for survival and a tradition of community building.
Most contemporary medicines have their roots in plants. But they have been extracted, refined, condensed and the "partner" elements in the plant, that enhanced its effects and prevent side effects were eliminated in the process. A profit driven ethos supplanted that of communal care-based activities.
The age of enlightenment changed our perceptions. Rational thought superseded belief. Myths or anything that wasn't provable through a scientific method became suspect. Training for medicine moved into institutions but women were confined to the home and could not participate.
This was a power grab. Traditional healers were elbowed out of their esteemed positions and men in white coats stepped in. (I think the white coats came later but you get the gist.) Of course, now women make up half of the population in medical schools but the traditions of herbalism were nearly scrubbed from the collective mind. My father's family ran an herbal medical school in Munster Province from 1400-1700 (when it became illegal for Irish Catholics to have a profession or become educated.) My mother's maiden name and my middle name is Lee. Lee is a derivative of the Gaelic word Leighis, which means medicine. So I inherited healing genes from her side of the family as well.
I am reclaiming the rich tradition of herbalism. It has worked its way into my sculptures, photos and videos/performances. I've incorporated herbal infusions or woven herbs into the sculptures themselves.
Ceremonies often accompanied traditional healing. The shaman, medicine women, healers performed in designated environments designed to encourage a mind and body collaboration. I think about the ceremony of contemporary biomedicine. The white coats and stethoscopes, the grand buildings as centers for healing, the conviction of practitioners and a patient's belief in all of it.
My son wears a white coat and I worked as an RN for 13 years in a Harvard affiliated hospital in Boston. I have nothing but respect for members of the biomedical field. I think there's room to share newly acquired knowledge with that which has survived the millennia.