The origin and the tradition of European herbalism for human wellness: from the roots of an ancient approach to modern herbalism

  • Maria Laura Colombo
  • Stefania Dalfrà
  • Bruno Scarpa


Since the beginning of civilization, people have used plants to improve their health. In recent years, there has been a reawakened scientific interest in the fundamental role plants play in many areas, including human health. Beginning from the 20th century, the field of folk tradition experienced a shift from the raw compilation of data to a greater methodological and conceptual reorientation. Research has concentrated mainly on the following periods: the Roman period, the Medieval Ages, the Renaissance, and the Modern Ages, and thousands of documentations focused that Italy and the whole of Europe have a consolidated tradition in the use of plants for wellness and human health, and not only as food. In Italy, at present there are about 5,000 “erboristeria” shops in which dried herbs and spices are sold packed or unpacked and mixed according to the consumer’s request. The purpose of this paper is to underline that a large enough body of evidence has survived to show that the folk tradition was impressively wide in its botanical reach and equally impressive in the range of situations it treated. The review will focus on the links between plants and traditions, art and history of typical Italian and European food plants. There has been a growing body of evidence and research, which studies the efficacy and safety of employing traditional knowledge based on approaches to health and healing. A significant number of food plant and/or plants for wellness have been used successfully for centuries, and in some cases millenniums. Many plants have a long and established history of use, no apparent adverse side effects, and social acceptance.


Plant tradition Traditional use: aromatic plant Plant food history 


Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Laura Colombo
    • 1
  • Stefania Dalfrà
    • 2
  • Bruno Scarpa
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Drug Science and Technology, School of PharmacyUniversity of TorinoTurinItaly
  2. 2.Directorate General of Food Safety and NutritionMinistry of HealthRomeItaly

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