Herbal  Medicine

What is herbal medicine

Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism or botanical medicine, is a medical system based on the use of plants or plant extracts that may be eaten or applied to the skin. Since ancient times, herbal medicine has been used by many different cultures throughout the world to treat illness and to assist bodily functions, herbal remedies in the form of extracts, tinctures, capsules and tablets as well as teas may be recommended by healthcare practitioners of many different disciplines as a practical way to address a wide variety of medical conditions.
Herbal medicine blurs the line between foods and medicines – a line that, in many cultures, was never drawn in the first place. Using herbs and spices that have disease-preventive effect in foods is one of the best ways to take advantage of their healing power. For example, it appears that the daily use of the spice  turmeric in curry dishes is one reason elderly people in India have one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s diseasein the world.
What conditions is herbal medicine used for?
Herbal medicine has been used to treat or alleviate virtually every possible medical condition. Some of the most popular herbal remedies and the conditions for which they are used include:
  • Aloe used topically for minor burns, sunburns, skin irritation or inflammation
  • Arnica used topically for bruises, sprains, sore muscles and joints
  • Chamomile tea ingested for upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion and colic
  • Comfrey, in a topical poultice only, for bedsores, diabetic ulcers, certain spider bites and staph infections contracted on tropical beaches
  • Dong quai for women and ginseng for men and women, ingested to improve general health and stamina – in this application, these are known as tonics. Other tonics include eleuthero and rhodiola
  • Echinacea ingested for colds, flu, sore throat
  • Garlic ingested to possibly reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, treat fungal infections and cold.
  • Ginger ingested for nausea and motion sickness and as an anti-inflammatory
  • Mullein ingested for chest congestion and dry, bronchial cough
  • Passionflower ingested for non-sedating relaxation
  • Peppermint tea ingested for indigestion, nausea and other digestive problems
  • Peppermint oil (in enteric-coated capsules) ingested for irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic intestinal ailments
  • Tea tree oil applied topically for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and fungal infections of the toenails and fingernails
  • Turmeric ingested to combat inflammation and protect against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Valerian ingested for sleeping problems.
This is only a brief overview of some of the many safe and effective herbal remedies.
What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of herbal medicine?
What to expect depends on the type of practitioner you’re consulting. A medical doctor, osteopathic doctor, or naturopath may recommend an herbal remedy in the course of an office visit if you have made a specific complaint. A practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine may recommend an herbal remedy in the course of a consultation for a specific health problem or to address whole health from a holistic perspective.
 herbalists can practice either as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. The Guild explains that most visits to an herbalist begin with a consultation about your past and current health history, your dietary and lifestyle practices, or other factors related to your health issue. Then, according to the Guild “the herbalist, with your involvement, should develop an integrated herbal program that addresses your specific health needs and concerns.”
Are there any side effects or conditions where herbal medicine should be avoided?

Yes. When taking medication, you should investigate possible interactions with an herbal remedy you may be considering. Be careful about mixing herbs and drugs that have similar actions. For example, it may not be a good idea to mix anticoagulant drugs with ginkgo, a natural blood thinner; the herb valerian, a sedative, probably shouldn’t be mixed with prescription sleeping pills. Similarly, avoid mixing herbs and drugs that have opposite actions. Other agents may alter the way a medication is handled by the body. For example, St. John’s wort, a natural remedy for depression, may reduce the effectiveness of some drugs by causing them to be metabolized too quickly. When in doubt, check with your pharmacist about herb/drug interactions. In addition, herbs that can thin blood, such as dong quai, feverfew, supplemental garlic, and ginger could cause problems if taken before surgery as could herbs such as ginseng and licorice root that affect heart rate and blood pressure. Sedative herbs like kava and valerian may increase the effects of anesthesia. It is best to stop taking any of these herbs at least 10-14 days before surgery, and be sure to tell your physician that you’ve been taking them.
  • Pregnancy:  It is best to avoid taking any herbs during pregnancy, especially the first trimester, unless you’re under the care of a knowledgeable practitioner. Exceptions: it’s considered safe to take up to 1,000 mg of ginger in capsule or candied forms for morning sickness; short-term use of echinacea also seems safe for pregnant women who develop colds or flu.
  • Nursing: Apart from herbs that can stimulate breast-milk production (fenugreek, blessed thistle, and alfalfa), women who are breastfeeding should avoid most medicinal herbs for the first four to six months of a baby’s life.
  • Children: Herbal remedies that are safe for adults may not be safe for children.
Are there other therapies that might work well in conjunction with herbal medicine?

Herbal medicine is considered most effective when used as part of a program of natural treatment that includes dietary modification, proper exercise, stress reduction, and mobilization of mental resources directed toward healing.
because of the many unsubstantiated claims made for herbal remedies, and because the market is not well regulated, he recommends that consumers follow these guidelines:
  • Don’t buy whole dried herbs from bins or jars in stores. These loose herbs are probably worthless because dried plants deteriorate upon exposure to air, light and moisture and the more finely chopped the plant parts are, the faster they lose their desirable qualities.
  • Avoid encapsulated powdered herbs because when plants are ground into powders, they’re exposed to oxidation which causes them to deteriorate.
  • Buy reputable brands that advertise the purity of their ingredients.
  • The best herbal medicines are those you grow yourself. Maintaining a personal herb garden can ensure freshness and quality.
  • Look for herbal preparations that have been “wildcrafted” (harvested from wild stands) or cultivated organically.
  • Buy Chinese herbal products only from reputable sources and avoid those that do not list ingredients. (Some herbs from China have been contaminated with toxic metals).

Herbs are Good Medicine

Of course, drug companies always say their unique molecules are better, stronger and safer than herbs. I’ll readily agree that they are stronger. In fact, they’re often too strong and may have more side effects than their herbal precursors.
As for pharmaceuticals being better, that’s hard to say. In some studies, herbs clearly perform better. Ginger, for example, has been shown to be superior to the pharmaceutical dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) as a preventive therapy for motion sickness. In several recent studies in Europe, St. John’s wort has proven as good as synthetics for treating mild to moderate depression; saw palmetto as good as synthetics for enlarged prostates; ginkgo biloba as good as the first approved synthetic for Alzheimer’s disease. And all have fewer side effects and all are cheaper than the competing synthetics.
I’m not saying pharmaceuticals are bad. I am saying we need more research comparing herbs against pharmaceutical drugs in fair, well-designed trials. Until that happens, we simply won’t know which is better. That leads me to the conclusion that peoples are not necessarily getting the best medicine. In many cases, herbal therapies may prove to be more economical,. more effective and safer — all with fewer side effects — than the pharmaceuticals.
Our challenge is to transcend the assumptions made by doctors, drug companies’ promotions and the restrictive drug approval process . Our challenge is to think green — not the monetary green of the pharmaceutical firms but the cleansing, empowering green of chlorophyll, which feeds, fuels, oxygenates and medicates our planet.


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