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The Doctrine of Signatures

The Doctrine of Signatures is a fascinating part of the history of Herbal Medicine.

In ancient times the knowledge of herbs and essential oils was gained by sitting in the fields with nature, listening to her whispers, breathing in the feel-good melody of fragrant notes and observing the shapes, colors and astrology that mother nature offers. Intuitively remedies were created and the “ah hah” moments documented as “The doctrine of Signatures”

The medicinal attributes of plants were discovered over time by observing their colour, texture, smell, shape, taste & Astrology. It was believed that God Himself had created plants that resemble the parts of the body that they could cure.

"And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food." ~Genesis 1:29.

Although the science of nutrition was not known then, the application of this principle through careful observation was memorialized in early herbal texts and has been revived today in homeopathy, herbalism and the study of flower essences.

While the doctrine probably dates back to antiquity, it was popularised in the early 15 th century by Paracelsus a Swiss alchemist, physician and astronomer who wrote about the Doctrine’s virtues. He believed that plants tended to grow where they are most needed.

"We men discover everything that lies hidden in the mountains by external signs and correspondences, and thus also do we find all the properties of herbs and everything that is in the stones." Paracelsus

He ascribed to the idea that 'similar cured similar," and observed a pharmacological relationship between the human anatomy and the shape, colour, and texture of various plant materials.

For example, dock leaves useful in treating the sting from a nettle grew near nettles. Fennel grows near sugar cane and is useful in treating diabetes

“Connecting to the essence of a plant is the gateway to its spirit or consciousness”. Paracelsus

Astrological influences were developed and put forward by Nicolas Culpeper in his book, "Judgement of Diseases" in the mid sixteen hundred’s. This was a sort of scientific version of the Doctrine of Signatures that set itself up in opposition to the simpler folk style we have seen previously

Culpeper’s theories and Astrology’s influence on Herbalism continue to be challenged to this day.

Chinese herbalists believe that yellow and sweet foods relate to the spleen; red and bitter foods relate to the heart; green and sour foods relate to the liver and black and salty foods relate to the lungs. Hot, dry, cold or damp is also taken into consideration.

Islamic Herbalists believed that plants growing above the ground were appropriate for ailments of the upper body and plants that grew below the ground were appropriate for ailments of the lower body.

e.g. Ginger root was appropriate for lower body illnesses such as indigestion and Aloe Vera was used to treat headaches and mouth sores.

Hollow stemmed herbs indicated as cleanser of the hollow tubes in the body--blood, intestines, and respiratory systems.

Plants with thorns indicate helping with sharp pains.

Bitter herbs indicate---bitter to the taste, sweet to the stomach--sweet to the taste, bitter to the stomach.

"Every herb must tell to man by its form or leaves, stem or flowers, of what use it might be in curing his ills." Helen Noyes Webster, Herbs

We certainly have come a long way in terms of scientific and evidence based practical knowledge however many aspects of this very primitive intuitive system continues to be practiced widely today.

Scientists and natural health companies today rely heavily on clinical proof and double-blind trials. However, the initial history and understanding of the use of the herbs was intuitively based.

I love the way that Herbalist Mathew Wood writes about the intuitive aspects of Herbal Medicine in his forward to the book: The Language of Signatures by Julia Graves

Quote: “There is something about holistic, intuitive communication that brings joy to those of us fortunate enough to have such experiences. Intuitive insight generates “äha” moments that lift the mind to a level of spiritual perception in which one knows the essence and the higher purpose of a creature. This gives the mind and the soul a feeling of Joy and liberation from materialism, which science can never generate. The fact that we lost that component is part of the disease of Modern life, and we need to recover it to be healthy and whole.” Mathew Wood

And this quote really resonates with me as so many times I have felt the magic that Mathew verbalises so beautifully.

"By magically changing our lives, our green friends restore physical health, psychological happiness, and spiritual purpose. A little miracle occurs and the magical level clicks in, in fact, whenever an herb cures in a real and radical way. This is a sign that something great and new has come in from a different world to enrich and develop our lives to their fullest and most beautiful potential"

Matthew Wood from "The Earthwise Herbal"

At Signature Herbals we design personalised herbal medicines  and or offer you the opportunity to attend one of our courses on how to know and understand your unique signature.