When confronted by ill health, human beings have always sought medicines from the natural world, in particular from plants. Today, we have the opportunity to combine traditional knowledge of herbal medicine with the clarity that scientific research can provide.
Back To Nature
Strange as it may seem to us today, one reason why herbal medicines fell out of favor among doctors and scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries was because they were natural! While conventional medicines, such as aspirin, are mostly made up of single chemical compounds, herbal medicines may contain many hundreds of different constituents. As a consequence, it can be a daunting task for researchers to discover how an herb works and to identify the constituents responsible. No wonder it has been found much more straightforward to focus attention on single chemicals, which, if necessary, can be extracted and purified from medicinal plants.
Herbal medicines are also viewed with suspicion because they are prone to natural variation. Different seasons produce slightly different crops. As one authority has put in, good quality in erbal medicine is not too different from good quality in wine. As in the case of grapevines, medicinal plants need to be tended with care, harvested at the right time, and processed appropriately to achieve the best results. Even then, some crops will be better than others.
The most serious complaint laid against herbal medicines, however, is that they can easily be adulterated. To most people, one pile of dried green leaves looks very much like another. If one is worth five times more than the other, the temptation will always be there to “cut” the more valuable one, or to substitute a cheaper variety. In order to prevent poor-quality material from being sold and to guarantee safety, quality control is essential.
WHY USE HERBS?
If herbal medicines are so complicated and variable, why use them? Some of the strengths of herbal medicines are listed below, and you will find examples of them throughout this book.
- Human beings have evolved alongside plants, using them as food and medicine.
- Herbal remedies are often dilute and can be adjusted to individual strength.
- They usually work with the body’s own physiological processes.
- When used sensibly, they have an enviable safety record.
- Medical research endorses a number of key herbal remedies where safety and effectiveness have been established.
- Other remedies have longstanding traditional use as evidence of their efficacy.
- They can be safely self-administered in minor acute and chronic conditions.
- Some remedies can be taken long-term in low doses.
- Many remedies can be taken to prevent illness or enhance performance.
- As natural products, they are a permanently renewable resource. When grown organically, they can have a positive impact on the environments.
The Herbal Medicine Chest
Medicinal plants can be processed in many different ways. The most common examples are teas, tinctures, and extracts made into capsules and tablets.
Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevallier