Herbal Medicine
For Therapeutic and Medicinal Value



Herbal Medicine, sometimes referred to as Herbalism or Botanical Medicine, is the use of herbs for their therapeutic or medicinal value.

An herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, aromatic or savory qualities, producing and containing a variety of chemical substances that act upon the body.

Known to be the oldest form of health care known to mankind, herbs had been used by all cultures throughout history.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 25% of modern drugs used in the United States have been derived from plants:

  • Three quarters of plants that provide active ingredients for prescription drugs came to the attention of researchers because of their use in traditional medicine.
  • Among the 120 active compounds currently isolated from the higher plants and widely used in modern medicine today, 80% show a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they are derived.
  • At least 7,000 medical compounds in the modern pharmacopoeia are derived from plants.
  • Up to 80% of the world's population presently use herbs for some aspect of primary health care, and its use is almost universal among non-industrialized societies.

herbal-medicine-herb-plant

Interest in medicinal herbs is on the rise again and the interest is primarily from the pharmaceutical industry, which is always looking for new drugs and more effective substances to treat diseases, for which there may be no or very few drugs available.

The word drug itself comes from the Swedish word "druug", which means dried plant. Some examples of widely used ingredients found in herbs include:

  • Inulin from the roots of dahlias
  • Quinine from the cinchona
  • Morphine and codeine from the poppy
  • Digoxin from the foxglove
  • Salicylic acid from willow bark which lead to the development of aspirin

Most of the medicinal use of plants seems to have been developed over time through observations of wild animals and by trial and error, not through proper double-blind clinical trials.

Many consumers believe that herbal medicines are safe because they are natural. Which is not always the case:

  • Herbs may interact with synthetic drugs causing toxicity to the patient
  • Contamination may be present
  • Herbs, without proven efficacy should not be used to replace medicines taht have a proven efficacy
  • Standardization of purity and dosage is not mandated and even products made to the same specification may differ as a result of biochemical variations within a species of plant
  • Plants have chemical defense mechanisms against predators that can have aderse or lethal effects on humans.
  • Herb drug interactions are a concern and usage of herbal remedies should be clarified with a physician

herbal-medicine-motar-pestle

Most herbalists concede that pharmaceuticals are more effective in emergency situations where time is of the essence, such as where a patient has elevated blood pressure that posing imminent danger.

However they claim that over the long term herbal medicine can help the patient resist disease and in addition provide nutrition and immunological support that pharmaceuticals lack.

Herbalists use extracts from parts of plants, such as the roots or leaves, not isolating particular phytochemicals, whereas pharmaceutical medicine prefers single ingredients on the grounds that dosage can be more easily quantified.

Hebalists reject the notion of a single active ingredient, arguing that the different phytochemicals present in many herbs will interact to enhance the therapeutic effects of the herb and dilute toxicity.Of course, just as with pharmaceutical medicine, herbal medicine produces some obviously good results and sometimes some very questionable results.

Herbal remedies or "grandma remedies"
have claimed to cure just about everything from heart conditions to insomnia. And sometime an herb's popularity seems to grow over night in a frenzy claiming to cure just about everything, as has been in the case with cinnamon or green tea.

herbal-medicine-herb-garden

It is important to research any home remedies and seek out a qualified Herbalist to understand all the botanical benefits for each herb and usage.

Some examples of plants used as medicine are:

  • Artichoke: may reduce production of cholesterol
  • Cranberry: treating urinary tract infections in women
  • Echinacea: limits the length and severity of colds
  • Garlic: may lower total cholesterol levels
  • Ginger: may have some antihypertensive, antifungal and antibacterial effect
  • Oregano: may be effective against multi-drug resistant bacteria

The goal of the herbalist is to release the volatile oils, antibiotics, aromatics, and other healing chemicals contained in the herbal medicine.

Herbs can be prepared in a variety of forms depending on their purpose. Such techniques include:

  • Juice squeezed from herbs
  • Mashing herbs into a paste
  • Decoction or extracting the active ingredients by boiling down the herb in water
  • Hot infusion (like tea) steeped in hot water
  • Cold infusion (like sun tea) steeped in cold water
  • Herbs ground into a powder and used as such or as compressed into a pill
  • Herbal wine made by adding the herb to water and sugar and letting it ferment
  • Tincture, made by combing ground herbs with alcohol, glycerin or vinegar and used internally
  • Liniment, made like a tincture except it is used externally
  • Salves and ointments made by adding herbs to a medium such as petroleum jelly
  • syrups, made by adding herbs to a medium such as honey, sugar or glycerin
  • Poultice, applied directly to the wound or body part and held in place with a cloth
  • Herbal oil, made with common base oil, such as olive, almond, grape seed, or sesame oils. The herb is allowed to sit in the oil for a week then strained and bottled

Interest in medicinal herbs is on the rise again and the interest is primarily from the pharmaceutical industry, which is always looking for "new drugs" and more effective substances to treat diseases, for which there may be no or very few drugs available. Considering the very long traditional use of herbal medicines and the large body of evidence of their effectiveness, one can only wonder why we are not generally encouraged to use traditional herbal medicine, instead of synthetic, incomplete copies of herbs, called drugs.

Is it that there's little or no money in herbs for the pharmaceutical companies?

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