Herbal Medicine - how does it work?

By Brendon Lye

Herbal Medicine dates back thousands of years and has been recorded in almost every culture on earth.

But how does it work, and why is it still so popular? We know that if the ingredients we put into our body are pure, natural, colorful and alive, then so will we be, and medicine is no exception.

 Herbal medicine is growing in popularity again in modern times due to the fact that it is natural, largely safe and free from side effects. The other major bonus from using Herbal Medicine is that it gives your body the opportunity to heal itself by triggering healthy functions. This is something modern pharmaceutical medicine still fails to achieve successfully. This is because the components of our body are made naturally and originate from nature itself.

In this article I will explain how herbal medicine achieves this incredible feat, and how science is now recognizing this.

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal Medicine is the practice of using plant material and plant extracts for the purpose of sustaining or restoring health. Plants parts used include roots, leaves, bark, flowers, fruit or any other plant part that contains the active compound required medicinally.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aborigine, African and most other cultures have a long history of herbal medicine. Since the times of the hunter gatherer mankind has known about the drug effect of plants. Sick animals were followed and found to eat specific plants when convalescing. These herbs are often found to have benefits to humans as well.

Even the Bible speaks of Herbal Medicine “And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.”  Ezekiel 47:12

The First Drugs

An extract from the bark of the white willow tree had been used for centuries to treat various fevers and inflammation. The active principle in white willow, salicin or salicylic acid, had a bitter taste and irritated the gastric mucosa, but a simple chemical modification was much more palatable. This was acetylsalicylic acid, better known as Aspirin®, the first blockbuster drug. At the start of the twentieth century, the first of the barbiturate family of drugs entered the pharmacopoeia and the rest, as they say, is history. (1)

In-fact 25% of modern pharmaceutical medicines originate from plants.

What medicines do plants contain?

Plants contain therapeutic compounds called Phyto-chemicals. We all know about substances like caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and opium. These are examples of pyto-chemicals. There are thousands of different phyto-chemicals which are applied in herbal medicine and each plant is unique.

These compounds range from simple fibre, gel and proteins, to complex neurotransmitters and cell specific mediators. We will not go into all of the different types of compounds in this article.

Herbal Medicine Superiority

What makes plant medicine superior is that plants are uniquely composed of an exact cocktail of several compounds, not just one isolated chemical, like a pharmaceutical. This means that the effect is more balanced, and that side effects are averted. The problem with conventional man made drugs is the many side effects and eventual toxicity.

When a herbal medicine is used the effect is much more gentle, balanced and healing. Usually the organ or system being treated is supported and encouraged to function properly. This means after a course of treatment with a herbal medicine the body is potentially healed. The herbal treatment can then be stopped without a rebound effect.

This is usually not the case with artificial drugs.

The choice to follow a course of herbal treatment usually involves more commitment from the patient, as dietary and lifestyle changes are required to get the best results.

Home Remedies

Another great thing about herbal medicine is that you can find a lot you can do yourself at home. You can grow plants such as these for your home pharmacy:

  • Aloe Vera: for healing burns amd wounds
  • Lavender: for congestion, coughs, and colds
  • Comfrey: for aches pains and damaged joints
  • Thyme: to keep away the viruses
  • Feverfew: avoid migraine headaches
  • Rosemary: protect the brain
  • Dandelion or Nettle leaves: keep the kidneys clear of stones

You can make your own cough mixtures, healing lotions, herbal teas and much more. It’s really just a matter of doing some research and taking control of your health.

Preventative Medicine

Herbal medicine often falls in to the category of preventative medicine. This means it can be used on a long term basis to strengthen and tonify the organs, tissues and glands. Examples of this approach are tonic herbs such as Ginseng and Ginkgo for brain health or Bitters for digestive health.

A Herbal Detox each year to cleanse the colon and liver is also a great way to use herbal medicine to prevent metabolic imbalances, toxicity and inflammation.

I hope this has been helpful

Brett Elliott

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