A foot in both worlds | Herb Map

A friend on Facebook recently posted a link to an article containing a very interesting poster. This poster is from America, and was created in 1932 for the National Wholesale Druggists Association as part of a promotional campaign. 

It is a fascinating map of herbs grown across America, and as a herbalist who uses many American herbs myself, seeing them on a map really helps me to place things. It’s an interesting document because it visualises the subject and really brings it alive to me. But what is more interesting still is the story this poster tells…

… The 1930s were basically the last ‘hurrah’ of herbal medicine as part of the orthodox medicine system of most of the western world. France was setting about banning the training of pharmacists with herbal diplomas, Britain was getting ready to do something similar, ultimately culminating in the medicines act, 1960, and America was on the edge of a similarly draconian crackdown on herbal medicines. This is the point in history at which Modern Herbal Medicine well and truely split off from the profession of the pharmacist and physician. The ‘Pharmaceutical revolution’ of synthetic drugs was just starting and the world was awash with wonder-drugs and magic bullets.

But the interesting thing is that this map is basically trying to promote the druggist as a place to go to obtain herbal medicines. Synthetic drugs might have been all the rage in the 30s onwards, but this was a time when most of the western world was well and truly broke, and people couldn’t afford anthing (Fancy that happening today eh? ho ho ho). This was an attempt to target the bottom end of the market – to sell cheap but effective herbs to the masses. Better that someone buy a cheap herb in a druggist’s shop and still spend money with the druggist, than go and spend it somewhere else (like a herbalist perhaps?).

It reminds of very much of the way over the counter herbal medicine is going today. Large companies are spending money making herbal medicines for OTC sale (Often at stupid prices. £10 for 50 ml of Valeriana tincture? For goodness sakes…). Such companies are returning to this mindset… if people won’t buy a drug from us, perhaps they’ll buy a herb from us and we can still make some money. Fair enough, they’re businesses, not charities. As a small scale herbalist, I don’t agree with it but if it gets herbs publicity, so be it.

What goes around, comes around.

Most interseting to me though, politics aside is how visually appealing this poster is. It’s a real pity that someone doesn’t re-print them as I’d have one on my dispensary wall as a curio. Better yet, isn’t it a pity we can’t make a similar visually appealing map of the British Isles with our native herbs on it so people can see the kinds of areas various herbs grow in and have a visual represntation of what’s in the brown bottles?

Many thanks to CoreyPine Shane for sharing a link to an article referencing this image on Facebook where I got this image from. It’s given my an opportunity to put the historical and modern context on this from a herbalist’s point of view! The Image is from the David Rumsey Map Collection

Edit – 18/05: A similar herb map of Europe has since been brought to my attention on facebook: it is similarly enchanting and intresting, though I still intend to cook up a British herb map specifically aimed towards the hedgerow/forraged herbs.

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