Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism or botanical medicine

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been THE medicine of every single group of people, of every culture, and in every country on this entire planet, since the beginning of time.


Herbal medicine has been THE medicine of every single group of people, of every culture, and in every country on this entire planet, since the beginning of time. People have used extracts from plants for thousands of years to treat their ills, some say the origin is traced to Egyptians, who were using herbal remedies some 3,500 years ago, while there is evidence other ancient peoples, such as the Persians, the Chinese, the Indians and the people of the Americas have used medicinal herbs for centuries.

In the medieval time what do you think was used before synthetic drugs? One of the common things that were used was Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine or phytomedicine, and refers to using a plant's seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. Herbalism has a long tradition of use outside conventional medicine. It is becoming more mainstream as improvements in analysis and quality control, along with advances in clinical research, show the value of herbal medicine in treating and preventing disease.

Since ancient times, herbal medicine has been used by many different cultures throughout the world to treat illness and to assist bodily functions. While herbal medicine is not a licensed profession in the United States, 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.

All foods and plants (basically anything that grows) contain chemicals. And when you ingest plants, your body breaks the plant material down, using everything from saliva to digestive juices, and then your body assimilates these various chemicals. One of the reasons that we eat food is so that our body can assimilate the phyto-chemical nutrients from the plant. Nutrients that sustain life, like vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc. Without plant nutritional chemicals, we couldn’t survive. Herbs are also foods, but usually people don’t consume them for food, as they taste stronger. Sometimes we do, like raspberries, artichokes, dandelion, burdock, etc. But, when it comes to the stronger tasting ones (like coffee) most cultures have discovered that these plants have more medicinal uses, instead of nutritional uses. These stronger tasting plants taste stronger because they have stronger chemicals in them. This is one way that nature protects us and tells us the difference between food and medicine. When we ingest these medicinal herbs, the same way as food, we breakdown the plant and assimilate the chemistry in the plant. But, with many herbs it is these stronger medicinal chemicals that we assimilate, instead of nutrients. So, when we consume medicinal herbs by just chewing them or using herbal teas, tablets, capsules or liquid extracts (like tinctures and tonics), instead of nutrition, we assimilate the medicinal plant chemicals or phytochemical medicines.

In many cases, scientists are not sure what specific ingredient in a particular herb works to treat a condition or illness. Whole herbs contain many ingredients, and they may work together to produce a beneficial effect. Many factors determine how effective an herb will be. For example, the type of environment (climate, bugs, and soil quality) in which a plant grew will affect it, as will how and when it was harvested and processed.

When you consult an herbalist, they will usually take about an hour to discuss your problem, your medical history, your diet and lifestyle and build up a picture of the ‘whole’ person. The herbalist will then use their knowledge of plants and their different effects on the body to find a mixture that will treat the underlying cause of a problem. The herbalist will usually give you enough of the remedy, or tell you where to buy it, to take away with you to use before your next consultation. You can expect a lot of herbal remedies to taste nasty owing to the bitter compounds found in many plant extracts.

When taking medication, you should definitely 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.

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 colds
  • ginger ingested for nausea and motion sickness and as an anti-inflammatory
  • mullein ingested for chest congestion and dry, bronchial coughs
  • 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.