Archaeological evidence indicates that the use of medicinal plants dates at least to the Paleolithic, approximately 60,000 years ago. Written evidence of herbal remedies dates back over 5,000 years, to the Sumerians, who created lists of plants. In ancient Egypt, herbs are mentioned in Egyptian medical papyri, depicted in tomb illustrations, or on rare occasions found in medical jars containing trace amounts of herbs. The earliest known Greek herbals were those of Diocles of Carystus, written during the 3rd century B.C, and one by Krateuas from the 1st century B.C. Only a few fragments of these works have survived intact, but from what remains scholars have noted that there is a large amount of overlap with the Egyptian herbals. Seeds likely used for herbalism have been found in the archaeological sites of Bronze Age China dating from the Shang Dynasty.
Among the hundreds of culinary and medicinal herbs are some that, while less commonly found in stores, are regarded as essential ingredients in some recipes or preparations. These include tarragon, St. John's wort, borage, echinacea, chamomile, and lovage. These are just a few of the dozens of specialty herbs eagerly sought by many cooks and natural healers.