- Despite popular belief otherwise, pre-modern humans were very aware of the connection between intercourse and pregnancy. As such, they developed means to prevent or abort unwanted pregnancies.
- Most scholars assume that contraception was achieved through more "mechanical" means, not through use of chemical agents. On quite the contrary, it seems that chemical-based contraceptives and abortifacients were the most common means of fertility control used by pre-modern humans and modern humans, although for the latter subset in more of a clandestine manner as a result of new laws based on humankind's changing perception on when life actually began.
- These chemical-based agents were derived from herbs!
- Knowledge of which herbs could be used to control fertility, the effective and safe dosage, and how to administer them was originally retained and perpetuated by the common woman. While there were herbals and other writings published (all male authors except one) that trepidatiously discussed herbs used for "female woes," most of the knowledge transmission occurred orally.
- Original herbal compounds were simple, often consisting of only one herb or a few, which made them easy to prepare. As time progressed, common herbal knowledge was lost or steadfastly guarded or communicated in circumlocutions for fear of persecution and prosecution. In tandem with these trends, medical universities were beginning to teach advanced pharmaceutical theory, and more complex compounds were being developed by apothecaries. Here we have the advent of polypharmacy. This change in compound structure led to a shift of power in the reproductive realm. Common women were no longer self-reliant in regards to their reproductive status and had to depend on the apothecary or physician (men) to obtain guidance on appropriate herbal compounds for their needs. Interestingly too we also see the transformation of pharmaceuticals from cheap home remedies to marketable goods and the first instances of questionable relationships between pharmaceutical supplier/preparer and physician ("Rules were established periodically that sought to govern overly close relations between physicians and apothecaries." (Riddle, p. 107) )
- Herbs are still used today in folklore medicine to control fertility.
That's my synopsis, with conscious effort to stay focused on the herb part of the work and not get too sidetracked by the social and political factors that inevitably were discussed, even though they did creep in a little bit. I will say that being reminded of the social and political factors of ages past that disenfranchised women definitely incited the passion of my feminist side, and I now view herbs as representing feminine power/empowerment.