Herbal Medicine is as ancient as humanity itself. Medicinal herbs have been found during Archeological excavations and date as far back as 200,000 years ago. Archeologists have found remains of medicinal plants in bedding, Yarrow, Opium Poppies, Ephedra, Cannabis and other medicinal plants or herbs.
Herbal medicine is also known as botanical medicine or herbalism, is a medical system based on the use of plants or plant extracts that may be eaten, taken as powders or pills, drunk as a decoction or tea, soaked in as a therapeutic bath or applied as a poultice to the skin. Since ancient times, herbal medicine has been used by all cultures throughout the world to treat illness, facilitate healing and keep the body healthy.
About 100 years ago, natural herbs were the main remedy for treating human diseases. It has been estimated that 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally, such as aspirin, artemisinin and ephedrine.
About 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspects of their primary health care. In 2008, the global market for herbal remedies was about USD 83 billion, and now it is about 100 billion. In China, the industry output value of Chinese patent medicines reached about USD 80 billion in 2013.”
The following is a write-up from the American Herbalist Guild for Herbal Medicine and answers most questions regarding herbal therapies:
WHAT IS AN HERB?
Medicinally, an herb is any plant or plant part used for its therapeutic value. Yet, many of the world’s herbal traditions also include mineral and animal substances as “herbal medicines”.
WHAT IS HERBAL MEDICINE?
Herbal medicine is the art and science of using herbs for promoting health and preventing and treating illness. It has persisted as the world’s primary form of medicine since the beginning of time, with a written history more than 5000 years old. While the use of herbs in America has been overshadowed by dependence on modern medications the last 100 years, 75% of the world’s population still rely primarily upon traditional healing practices, most of which is herbal medicine.
HOW ARE HERBS DIFFERENT FROM PHARMACEUTICALS?
Most pharmaceutical drugs are single chemical entities that are highly refined and purified and are often synthesized. In 1987 about 85% of modern drugs were originally derived from plants. Currently, only about 15% of drugs are derived from plants. In contrast, herbal medicines are prepared from living or dried plants and contain hundreds to thousands of interrelated compounds. Science is beginning to demonstrate that the safety and effectiveness of herbs is often related to the synergy of its many constituents.
HOW IS HERBAL MEDICINE DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE?
The primary focus of the herbalist is to treat people as individuals irrespective of the disease or condition they have, and to stimulate their innate healing power through the use of such interventions as herbs, diet, and lifestyle. The primary focus of conventional physicians is to attack diseases using strong chemicals that are difficult for the body to process, or through the removal of organs. Not only does this ignore the unique makeup of the individual, but many patients under conventional care suffer from side effects that are as bad as the condition being treated. The philosophical difference between herbalists and conventional physicians has profound significance.
WHAT IS AN HERBALIST?
Herbalists are people who dedicate their lives to working with medicinal plants. They include native healers, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, medicine makers, wild crafters, harvesters, and herbal farmers to name a few. While herbalists are quite varied, the common love and respect for life, especially the relationship between plants and humans, unites them. Persons specializing in the therapeutic use of plants may be medical herbalists, traditional herbalists, acupuncturists, midwives, naturopathic physicians, or even one’s own grandmother.
HOW CAN HERBS AND HERBAL MEDICINE HELP ME?
Herbs can offer you a wide range of safe and effective therapeutic agents that you can use as an integral part of your own health care program. They can be used in three essential ways:
1. to prevent disease
2. to treat disease
3. to maximize one’s health potential
Herbs are also used for the symptomatic relief of minor ailments.
HOW CAN I KNOW IF A PARTICULAR HERB WILL WORK FOR ME?
Medicine is an art, not just a science. No one can predict which herb will work best for every individual in all situations. This can only come with educated self-experimentation and experience or by seeking the assistance of those who are knowledgeable in clinical herbal medicine. The simpler the condition, the easier it is to find a solution. The more complicated the condition, the greater the need there is to seek expert advice.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR HERBS TO BE EFFECTIVE?
The success of herbal treatment always depends upon a variety of factors including how long the condition has existed, the severity of the condition, the dosage and mode of administration of the herb(s), and how diligently treatment plans are followed. It can be as short as 60 seconds when using a spoonful of herbal bitters for gas and bloating after a heavy meal; 20 minutes when soaking in a bath with rosemary tea for a headache; days when using tonics to build energy; or months to correct long-standing gynecological imbalances. Difficult chronic conditions can often take years to reverse.
HOW SAFE ARE HERBS?
It depends on the herbs. Most herbs sold as dietary supplements are very safe. When used appropriately, the majority of herbs used by practitioners have no adverse side effects. A review of the traditional and scientific literature worldwide demonstrates that serious side effects from the use of herbal medicines are rare. According to Norman Farnsworth: “Based on published reports, side effects or toxic reactions associated with herbal medicines in any form are rare. In fact, of all classes of substances reported to cause toxicities of sufficient magnitude to be reported in the United States, plants are the least problematic.”
WHERE CAN I GET SAFETY INFORMATION?
Read product labels carefully. Many manufacturers provide appropriate information. There are also a number of references that are commonly available (see sidebar). As with all medicines, the primary determination of whether a medicine is appropriate for you is based on your own experience.
HOW IS THE HERBAL INDUSTRY REGULATED?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) primarily regulates the marketing and advertising of products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) primarily regulates the manufacture and labeling of herbal products and has legal authority over assuring that products are manufactured correctly and are truthfully labeled with respect to ingredients and claims. Additionally, there are a number of trade associations that require member companies to adhere to specific codes of ethics and conduct their own testing programs.
HOW DO HERBALISTS PRACTICE?
Herbalists can practice either as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. 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. The herbalist, with your involvement, should develop an integrated herbal program that addresses your specific health needs and concerns. You should be treated as a whole person, not as a disease.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO USING HERBS?
Various herbal traditions have developed worldwide. In the West there are a number of different traditions which include folkloric herbal practices, clinical western herbal medicine, naturopathic medicine, practitioners of Ayurveda or Chinese medicine, and numerous Native American herbal traditions. Some practitioners use highly developed systems of diagnosis and treatment while others base their treatments on individual knowledge and experience. Every person must find the herbal practitioner that is most appropriate for them.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HERBALISTS?
Traditional Western, or Community Herbalists, base their work on traditional folk medicine or indications of historical uses of herbs and modern scientific information. Backgrounds may include folk, Native American, eclectic, wise woman, earth-centered, or other traditions. They may be trained through traditional or non-traditional methods such as apprenticeships, schools, or self-study. Medical or Clinical Herbalists are present in the United States and in most of the nations in the European Union. Professional education is offered in the USA and throughout Europe in a variety of formats. Most programs cover the traditional uses of herbs, the basic medical sciences of biochemistry, nutrition and anatomy as well as diagnosis and prescription. The most common titles given to medical herbalists from the Western world include: RH (AHG), Registered Herbalist, American Herbalists Guild; MCPP Member, College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy; FNIMH Fellow, National Institute of Medical Herbalists; MNIMH Member, National Institute of Medical Herbalists; FNHAA Fellow, National Herbalists Association of Australia.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the traditional medicine system of China, is the second-largest medical system in the world after Western medicine. TCM doctors go through extensive training in theory, practice, herbal therapy, and acupuncture. Quite a few states now licensed acupuncturists, and many consider them primary health care providers. Their titles may include L.Ac Licensed Acupuncturist; OMD Doctor of Oriental Medicine; or Dip. C.H. (NCCA) Diplomat of Chinese Herbology from the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.
Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine, (Ayurveda), the traditional medical system of India and Nepal, is the third largest herbal medicine system in the world today. Ayurvedic doctors treat more than 80 percent of the people on the Indian subcontinent and go through extensive training that can last as long as 12 years. Some use the title M.D. (Ayur.) when they come to English speaking countries, while those who have passed the accreditation process of the American Ayurvedic Association are given the title D.Av. Diplomate in Ayurvedic Health Sciences.
Naturopathic Medicine integrates traditional natural therapeutics with modern scientific medical diagnoses and western medical standards of care. Most licensed naturopathic physicians, (N.D.) have received full medical training at one of four fully accredited medical universities in North America. There are currently 13 states that license the practice of naturopathic medicine.”