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Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West

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In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance, John Riddle showed, through extraordinary scholarly sleuthing, that women from ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. In Eve's Herbs, Riddle explores a new question: If women once had a In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance, John Riddle showed, through extraordinary scholarly sleuthing, that women from ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. In Eve's Herbs, Riddle explores a new question: If women once had access to effective means of birth control, why was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? Beginning with the testimony of a young woman brought before the Inquisition in France in 1320, Riddle asks what women knew about regulating fertility with herbs and shows how the new intellectual, religious, and legal climate of the early modern period tended to cast suspicion on women who employed "secret knowledge" to terminate or prevent pregnancy. Knowledge of the menstrual-regulating qualities of rue, pennyroyal, and other herbs was widespread through succeeding centuries among herbalists, apothecaries, doctors, and laywomen themselves, even as theologians and legal scholars began advancing the idea that the fetus was fully human from the moment of conception. Drawing on previously unavailable material, Riddle reaches a startling conclusion: while it did not persist in a form that was available to most women, ancient knowledge about herbs was not lost in modern times but survived in coded form. Persecuted as "witchcraft" in centuries past and prosecuted as a crime in our own time, the control of fertility by "Eve's herbs" has been practiced by Western women since ancient times.


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In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance, John Riddle showed, through extraordinary scholarly sleuthing, that women from ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. In Eve's Herbs, Riddle explores a new question: If women once had a In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance, John Riddle showed, through extraordinary scholarly sleuthing, that women from ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopoeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. In Eve's Herbs, Riddle explores a new question: If women once had access to effective means of birth control, why was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? Beginning with the testimony of a young woman brought before the Inquisition in France in 1320, Riddle asks what women knew about regulating fertility with herbs and shows how the new intellectual, religious, and legal climate of the early modern period tended to cast suspicion on women who employed "secret knowledge" to terminate or prevent pregnancy. Knowledge of the menstrual-regulating qualities of rue, pennyroyal, and other herbs was widespread through succeeding centuries among herbalists, apothecaries, doctors, and laywomen themselves, even as theologians and legal scholars began advancing the idea that the fetus was fully human from the moment of conception. Drawing on previously unavailable material, Riddle reaches a startling conclusion: while it did not persist in a form that was available to most women, ancient knowledge about herbs was not lost in modern times but survived in coded form. Persecuted as "witchcraft" in centuries past and prosecuted as a crime in our own time, the control of fertility by "Eve's herbs" has been practiced by Western women since ancient times.

30 review for Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    I'm not done yet...but as a feminist doula in training with a focus on reproductive justice work and herbalist with a bent on ethnobotany and folk medicine and reclaiming suppressed women's histories this book is a treat! I tried to start a reading group around it, and people showed interest, however it's hard to come by and unavailable as of yet in open source. I want to read all of his books on contraception in the ancient eastern world too, and give these books to everyone I know with a femal I'm not done yet...but as a feminist doula in training with a focus on reproductive justice work and herbalist with a bent on ethnobotany and folk medicine and reclaiming suppressed women's histories this book is a treat! I tried to start a reading group around it, and people showed interest, however it's hard to come by and unavailable as of yet in open source. I want to read all of his books on contraception in the ancient eastern world too, and give these books to everyone I know with a female reproductive system or woman identified. That said--it's taken me months to get through!--it is very thoroughly researched but sometimes challengingly organized and while some details included are very revealing and engaging, others seem a little inappropriately curated as far keeping reader engagement and not directing to (at times blandish) tangents. Despite this I think everyone should read it!!!!!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dafna

    My overall impression was quite positive and I think I might say that I liked the book. However, I have some critical thoughts about it. The most important thing for me is that the way the data is organized is a but messy. I guess that instead of chronological order it would have been more useful to organize it topically: for instance, to trace first the folk tradition of using herbs and than to turn to herbals that were written by more authoritative people. Also, I sometimes lacked the author's My overall impression was quite positive and I think I might say that I liked the book. However, I have some critical thoughts about it. The most important thing for me is that the way the data is organized is a but messy. I guess that instead of chronological order it would have been more useful to organize it topically: for instance, to trace first the folk tradition of using herbs and than to turn to herbals that were written by more authoritative people. Also, I sometimes lacked the author's comments because of the amounts of details that is provided. Though he seems to be extremely knowledgeable on the subject, it was sometimes difficult for me to follow his thread of thoughts, so I wish there were fewer details but more comments and bridges between the fragments. Despite all that said, I did like the book and think it's worth reading!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Bit long-winded at times and it took me a few sessions over a long time period to finish, but interesting, with quite thorough research by the author. Scary how medieval women had more knowledge and choice than modern women in this way, or at least knew someone who did and could help them. In the 21st century, we've lost a lot of our reproductive rights and it's still being fought over by politicians, mostly male, and women who've fallen for the lies told about themselves. Every empowered woman Bit long-winded at times and it took me a few sessions over a long time period to finish, but interesting, with quite thorough research by the author. Scary how medieval women had more knowledge and choice than modern women in this way, or at least knew someone who did and could help them. In the 21st century, we've lost a lot of our reproductive rights and it's still being fought over by politicians, mostly male, and women who've fallen for the lies told about themselves. Every empowered woman should have a copy (even if it's to piss off visitors when they see it on your shelf).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Pretty good... lists all the DOZENS of herbs with contraceptive properties, and definitely makes you wonder why hormonal birth control is such a clusterfuck. The book is more history than science, however, too many reviews of ancient judicial systems for me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ruby Cooper-Karl

    This book had some amazing information but it was a slow read. I think thats on me; non-fiction really isn't my thing. The information was very useful for my essay and was very clearly written. Just bland, sorry. Pomegranates and acacia for contraceptives! Everyone always thinks contraceptives started when they were legalized in the 60's but that is grossly inaccurate. Riddle did a really good job of bringing it from ancient times to relatively current. I don't find it surprising this informatio This book had some amazing information but it was a slow read. I think thats on me; non-fiction really isn't my thing. The information was very useful for my essay and was very clearly written. Just bland, sorry. Pomegranates and acacia for contraceptives! Everyone always thinks contraceptives started when they were legalized in the 60's but that is grossly inaccurate. Riddle did a really good job of bringing it from ancient times to relatively current. I don't find it surprising this information has been erased and suppressed, "there's no way women would be smart enough to figure it out, especially not back then" the patriarchy ruins everything. Without these advancements our species would be a wreck. Because of our upright walking humans have to have very narrow hips, but we also have very large heads, if we had wider hips we would be able to stay in gestation longer and come out of the womb more self sufficient. Look at other animals and how they can just get up and walk almost immediately after birth. This also makes birth much more dangerous for humans than other animals. Without birth control and abortions humans will just keep getting pregnant until they die from it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ann Evans

    Meticulously researched book on the uses of contraceptives and abortifacients from ancient times to the present, in the Western world only. It is so full of surprises, and so full of implications for all women. I am wondering how I have ever gotten through life not being aware that women in ancient Rome were every bit as capable of controlling family size as we are today. It suggests that we have bought in to some silly presumptions, and given all power over to pharmaceutical companies when we c Meticulously researched book on the uses of contraceptives and abortifacients from ancient times to the present, in the Western world only. It is so full of surprises, and so full of implications for all women. I am wondering how I have ever gotten through life not being aware that women in ancient Rome were every bit as capable of controlling family size as we are today. It suggests that we have bought in to some silly presumptions, and given all power over to pharmaceutical companies when we could keep hold of it ourselves, up to a point.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rosanna Henderson

    Riddle presents some convincing evidence for the widespread use of contraceptive and abortifacient herbs throughout history, relying on historical texts, census data, and animal studies of these herbs' effects. He argues that the historical fascination with emmenagogues was really a coded way to talk about abortifacients and contraceptives (since this secret women's knowledge was persecuted as witchcraft). Riddle presents some convincing evidence for the widespread use of contraceptive and abortifacient herbs throughout history, relying on historical texts, census data, and animal studies of these herbs' effects. He argues that the historical fascination with emmenagogues was really a coded way to talk about abortifacients and contraceptives (since this secret women's knowledge was persecuted as witchcraft).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sky

    This was a fascinating read! I recommend it for anyone interested in old wise woman lore. The information is just as valuable today as it was hundreds of years ago. Also, it gave an interesting chronology of pro-life vs pro-choice. To see how vastly the population's opinion of what constitutes life has changed over the years was enlightening. This book is a great stepping stone to further research as well. This was a fascinating read! I recommend it for anyone interested in old wise woman lore. The information is just as valuable today as it was hundreds of years ago. Also, it gave an interesting chronology of pro-life vs pro-choice. To see how vastly the population's opinion of what constitutes life has changed over the years was enlightening. This book is a great stepping stone to further research as well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I read this as research for a writing project. It was much better than anticipated. I learned a great deal.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Very thoroughly researched! And not a topic that you see a lot of research on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Graeme

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kris

  13. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Bonnabel

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dava Sprague

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vimaris

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kaisha

  18. 4 out of 5

    Betty

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Hoover

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katharine Grubb

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amber

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rosalie

  25. 5 out of 5

    McPhaul M.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Becky

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Levins

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leeann

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Leasure

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