Early humans had to rely on their senses and experiences to identify edible plants and animals through trial and error. Here are some of the ways they likely distinguished between edible and inedible items:

  1. Observation: Early humans closely observed animals to see what they were eating. If an animal consumed a plant without any adverse effects, it was likely edible.
  2. Taste and smell: They would cautiously taste and smell unfamiliar plants or foods in small quantities to check for bitterness, foul odors, or other signs of toxicity.
  3. Trial and error: Unfortunately, some trial and error was inevitable. If someone got sick after eating something, that item would be avoided in the future.
  4. Color and appearance: Bright colors like reds and yellows in plants were often associated with toxicity, while greens were safer bets.
  5. Familiarity: Over time, early humans developed knowledge of which plants and animals were safe to eat based on familiarity passed down through generations.
  6. Animal behavior: They may have looked for plants being eaten by herbivores they hunted, assuming these were likely safe.
  7. Seasonal knowledge: Early humans learned which plants were edible during different seasons based on their life cycles.

While risky, this process of discriminating edibles through sensory experiences and shared knowledge helped early humans survive and thrive on the foods available in their environments.

The earliest herbalists played a crucial role in systematically identifying and utilizing edible and medicinal plants. Here are some ways the earliest herbalists segregated edibles:

  1. Empirical observation: They closely observed the effects of plants on humans and animals that consumed them, noting which ones were poisonous or beneficial.
  2. Taste and smell tests: Herbalists would carefully taste and smell small amounts of unfamiliar plants, looking for bitterness, off-putting aromas, or other signs of toxicity.
  3. Animal trials: They would feed plants to animals and observe the effects before deeming them safe for human consumption.
  4. Collection of knowledge: Early herbalists compiled knowledge about edible and medicinal plants, passing it down orally or through early written records.
  5. Regionalization: They became experts on the native flora of their regions, focusing on locally available plants.
  6. Seasonal cycles: Herbalists tracked when plants sprouted, flowered, and produced edible parts to know the best times for harvest.
  7. Plant characteristics: They looked for patterns like leaf shapes, flower colors, and growth habits to identify plant families more likely to be edible.
  8. Controlled cultivation: Some of the earliest herbalists may have cultivated edible plants in gardens to study them more systematically.

The pioneering work of these early herbalists laid the groundwork for traditional medicine systems still used today and our modern understanding of ethnobotany.

There is no definitive point in time when the various methods of identifying edible plants and herbs became a widespread “norm.” It was a very gradual process that unfolded over tens of thousands of years as human societies advanced.

However, we can trace some of the major milestones and transitional periods:

  1. Paleolithic Era (2.6 million – 10,000 years ago)
  1. Neolithic Revolution (Started around 12,000 years ago)
  1. Ancient Civilizations (Around 3500 BCE – 500 CE)
  1. Middle Ages (500 CE – 1500 CE)
  1. Renaissance (1300-1600s)
  1. 1800s – Present

So while empirical plant knowledge is ancient, the systematic study and global sharing of herbal traditions is a more recent phenomenon over the last few centuries.

The systematic study and documentation of plants for food, medicine and other uses transitioned into a scientific field relatively recently, primarily in the 16th-19th centuries. Here are some of the key developments and timelines:

  1. 1500s – 1600s: The Renaissance period saw a surge in detailed botanical writings, illustrations, and herbals organized by new taxonomy systems. This included works by pioneers like Otto Brunfels, Hieronymus Bock, and Gaspard Bauhin.
  2. 1637: The earliest botanical gardens focused on medicinal plants were established, such as the Leiden Botanical Garden which allowed more formalized cultivation and study.
  3. 1753: Carl Linnaeus published Species Plantarum which established the modern system of binomial nomenclature for naming and classifying plants systematically.
  4. 1804: The study of medicinal plants became more formalized as the field of pharmacognosy, defined as “the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical and biological properties of drugs of natural origin.”
  5. 1812: The ancient practices related to plants were formalized under the academic discipline of ethnobotany, coined by William Withering.
  6. Mid-1800s: The development of the microscope, anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry accelerated the scientific understanding of plants.
  7. 1900s: Fields like phytochemistry, paleobotany, and economic botany emerged to comprehensively study plants from chemical, evolutionary and applied perspectives.

So while the empirical knowledge is ancient, the formalized sciences studying plants in a comprehensive, standardized, analytical manner didn’t fully take shape until the Renaissance and became established fields in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine that originated in ancient India, had a highly developed understanding and systematic approach to identifying and utilizing edible and medicinal plants long before it became formalized as a science in the modern sense.

Here’s how the principles and practices mentioned earlier relate to Ayurveda:

  1. Observation: Ayurvedic texts like the Charaka Samhita (100 BCE – 200 CE) describe careful observation of plants, animals, and their effects as a key source of knowledge.
  2. Taste and smell: Ayurveda classified all plants and substances based on their rasa (taste) and gandha (aroma/smell) which guided their properties and uses.
  3. Animal trials: Some Ayurvedic texts mention observing animals or giving herbs to animals first before human use.
  4. Collection of knowledge: Ayurvedic knowledge was systematically compiled and codified in texts like the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita (600 BCE) and passed down over centuries.
  5. Regionalization: Different regions of India had their own traditional Ayurvedic pharmacopoeias based on local flora.
  6. Seasonal cycles: Ayurveda provides guidance on the best seasons and timing for harvesting and using different medicinal plants.
  7. Plant characteristics: Plants were classified based on characteristics like morphology, tastes, energetic properties in elaborate taxonomies.
  8. Cultivation: Ayurveda recommended cultivating medicinal plants in specific environments and using different plant parts.

While the empirical foundations were ancient, Ayurveda developed into a highly complex system of plant-based medicine over centuries before modern botany and pharmacognosy emerged. Its systematic approach greatly influenced later scientists studying natural products.

According to the principles of Ayurveda, the ideal approach is to emphasize prevention over cure, while also utilizing therapeutic interventions when necessary – promoting a balance of preventive and curative measures.

Prevention is considered the highest ideal in Ayurveda, as it aims to maintain optimal health and prevent the manifestation of disease in the first place. This is achieved through:

  1. Dinacharya (daily routines) and Ritucharya (seasonal regimens) – Following prescribed routines and seasonal-appropriate habits for diet, exercise, hygiene etc.
  2. Rasayana (rejuvenation) therapies – Using herbs, nutrition, and practices that promote longevity and revitalize the body’s tissues.
  3. Sadvrtta (virtuous living) – Ethical precepts and lifestyle recommendations to cultivate mental/spiritual wellbeing.

However, Ayurveda also recognizes that disease can manifest due to internal imbalances or external factors. In such cases, therapeutic interventions or “cures” become necessary, achieved through:

  1. Herbal formulations and treatments
  2. Detoxification/purification procedures
  3. Dietary and lifestyle modifications
  4. Yoga, breathing exercises, meditation

The idea is to first prevent disease through balanced living attuned to nature’s cycles. But when imbalance occurs, curative therapies are employed to regain equilibrium.

So prevention and cure are not seen as mutually exclusive, but as complementary aspects of maintaining ideal health according to one’s individual mind-body constitution and nature’s rhythms. The ultimate goal is to establish a dynamic state of balance.

From the perspective of traditional Ayurvedic principles, modern pharmaceutical medicine and nutraceuticals would not necessarily be considered conceptually or logically “better” than Ayurveda’s approach. Here’s an analysis:

Pharmaceutical Drugs:

Ayurveda views this as an overly reductionist approach that fails to take into account the holistic mind-body-environment connections. It treats symptoms, not the underlying imbalances.


Ayurveda appreciates using nature’s bounty, but nutraceuticals separate components from their synergistic wholes in the original herbs/foods.

According to Ayurveda, ideal prevention and cure arises from:

  1. Adhering to dinacharya/ritucharya – attuning oneself to nature’s rhythms
  2. Whole foods/herbs in optimal mind-body contexts and formulations
  3. Addressing imbalances of doshas (mind-body energies) at their roots
  4. Integrated body therapies like panchakarma detox
  5. Yoga/meditation to harmonize the inner and outer environments

So while appreciating the role of modern medicine for acute interventions, Ayurveda emphasizes holistic self-regulation as the ideal preventive approach, using nature’s intelligence in synergistic wholes rather than isolated compounds.

Conceptually and logically, Ayurveda prioritizes prevention focused on establishing fundamental inner balance over externally-oriented treatments when possible. But it employs a full spectrum of prevention and cure.

In cases of life-threatening or acute medical emergencies, Ayurveda recognizes the necessity and importance of modern emergency and intensive medical care as the primary go-to treatment.

While Ayurveda aims to prevent severe illnesses through its holistic lifestyle approach, it does not advocate forgoing critical modern medical interventions for life-threatening conditions. The sanctity of life is the highest principle.

Some key perspectives from Ayurveda in such situations:

  1. Trauma care: For injuries, accidents, excessive bleeding etc., Ayurveda acknowledges the need for urgent surgical and emergency procedures used in modern medicine.
  2. Acute infections: Serious bacterial/viral infections requiring hospitalization and critical care would be treated first with modern antimicrobials and supportive care.
  3. Advanced diagnostics: Ayurveda endorses using modern diagnostic tools like imaging, labs etc. to accurately identify and treat grave illnesses.
  4. Supported by Ayurveda: Once stabilized, Ayurvedic therapies can complement modern care as an adjuvant to accelerate healing and manage side effects.
  5. Last resort substances: Certain Ayurvedic formulations using metals/minerals are recommended only as a last resort for the most difficult to treat diseases.
  6. Prioritizing life: If Ayurvedic and modern treatments conflict for a life-threatening emergency, Ayurvedic scholars state that saving the life takes precedence.

So while Ayurveda’s philosophical emphasis is on preventing serious diseases through dinacharya and holistic living, it does not undermine modern critical care. The two systems are meant to work in conjunction, especially when life is at stake initially. Modalities are combined judiciously based on need and stage of treatment.

According to Ayurvedic principles, here is an ideal lifestyle that can help evade many lifestyle-related ailments:


Daily Routines (Dinacharya):

Seasonal Routines (Ritucharya):


Lifestyle Practices:

Rejuvenation (Rasayana):

By integrating these Ayurvedic lifestyle tenets involving balanced diet, exercise, daily/seasonal routines, ethics and rejuvenation – one can prevent accumulation of toxic imbalances that manifest as lifestyle diseases. The holistic mind-body-environment approach is key to evading chronic ailments.

Yes, according to Ayurvedic principles, water, sunlight, and rest can facilitate significant detoxification and rejuvenation of the body when practiced correctly.




Additionally, Ayurveda recommends fasting periodically using just water, which gives the digestive system extended rest to expel accumulated toxins.

However, these are primarily gentle, ongoing detox practices. For more intensive cleansing and renewal, Ayurveda prescribes:

So while water, sunlight, and rest form a simple, accessible foundation for detoxification according to Ayurveda, they work best in conjunction with other herbalized protocols for more thorough and guided cleansing of deep-rooted toxins.

Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are the three fundamental doshas (humors or mind-body principles) in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian system of natural healing.

  1. Vata Dosha:
  1. Pitta Dosha:
  1. Kapha Dosha:

According to Ayurveda, maintaining a proper balance of these three doshas is essential for optimal health and well-being. An imbalance in any of the doshas can lead to various physical and mental disorders.