Herb Signatures...Who Knew

I learned about this concept in my Natural Healing Class!!! All I can say is Who Knew??? I find the concept of Herb Signatures Fascinating!!!Smile

The Doctrine of Signatures

The Signatures likewise are taken notice of, they being as it were the Books out of which the Ancients first learned the Vertues of Herbes; Nature or rather the God of nature, having stamped on divers of them legible Characters to discover their uses.
------------ William Coles, Adam in Eden (1657)

Matthew Wood MS (Herbal Medicine)
Registered Herbalist (AHG)
The doctrine of signatures is used around the world in pre-modern cultures where thought-by-association is accepted as a valid means of obtaining knowledge of the world. The idea is that a plant that looks like the disease, organ, or person it will heal. For instance, celandine (Chelidonium majus) has yellow/orange sap. Horsetail (Equisetum arvensis) looks like horse hair, so it is good for the hair. It also grows on wet sands, so it is remedy for the kidneys. Thus, the shape, color, and habitat all can be used to determine the uses of a plant.
In addition to the appearance, the taste, smell, touch or texture can also provide signatures. Thus, the putrid smell and bad taste of figwort (Scrophularia spp.) indicate that it is a remedy for putrefaction. Since it has gland-like or hemorrhoids-like flowers, it is also called figwort or pilewort and marked as a lymphatic remedy and a hemorrhoid remedy.
Even sound can provide a signature. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) have been pointed out to me as Snake Medicines by American Indians because the seeds in the seedpod produce a rattling sound. Samuel Thomson, the popularizer of herbal medicine in early nineteenth century North America, used rattlesnake oil to cure a case of 'the rattles' or croup.
Most often it is the appearance, shape, color, or habitat that implies the relationship. Usually Snake medicines look snake-like. The long flower raceme of black cohosh looks like a spine or snake. Baptisia, on the other hand, personifies necrosis: the leaves and pods, when injured, turn black like necrotic, poisoned tissue. Here is an example of Snake Medicine used by Amazonian Indians, as recorded by Jeremy Narby (1998, 29):
    On two separate occasions, Carlos and Abelardo showed me a plant that cured the potentially mortal bite of the jergon (fer-de-lance) snake. I looked at the plant closely, thinking that it might come in useful at some point. They both pointed out the pair of white hooks resembling snake fangs, so that I would remember it. I asked Carlos how the virtues of the jergon plant had been discovered. “ We know this thanks to these hooks, because that is the sign that nature gives."
The doctrine of signatures has been rejected by conventional science as an example of thinking that is 'magical' and therefore naive and superstitious. Yet, reasoning by analogy can lead to fruitful results. Signatures provide the backbone of an intuitive approach to knowledge. This mode of thinking stretches all the way back to Plato, who taught thinking from the eidos (idea, primal form, essence, archetype). It was advocated by Aristotle, for whom 'formal logic' signified thought from the form, idea, eidos or eidea.


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