Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy. It refers to using a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. With the growing interest in health and wellness, alternative medicines are becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Also, with the increasing prices of prescription medicine, herbal medicines are often cheaper than their conventional medicine counterparts.
In addition, a growing body of scientific research shows that herbal medicines can be highly effective for certain diseases and conditions. Moreover, as research in this area increases, the optimum doses for herbal medicines are known to ever greater accuracy.
Under the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), herbal medicines are classified as dietary supplements rather than as medications. This means they can be sold without being tested to prove they are safe and effective. Moreover, some can interact with other drugs you are taking. For that reason, it is vitally important for you work with a highly trained and experienced herbalist and keep your doctor informed what you are doing.
Origins of Medicinal Herbs Herbal medicines have been around since prehistoric times. They have been used for medicinal purposes for as long as recorded history. People from many cultures around the world use herbal medicines. They were used in Ancient Chinese, Greek, Egyptian, and Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine. Native American and African cultures also use herbs in their healing rituals.
Active Ingredients of Medicinal Herbs While conventional medicine isolates just one active ingredient, in herbal medicines, there may be multiple ones. Unlike prescription medications, herbs tend to have several different active components. And often, naturopathic doctors or herbalists may recommend them together because the combination is more effective or because several herbs taken together has fewer side effects. If you are going to take herbal medicines for any medical condition, it’s best to work with a specially trained herbalist.
Benefits Using medicinal herbs can sometimes be better than using pharmaceutical drugs. Here are some reasons why medicinal herbs may be better.
They cost less—The rising cost of prescription drugs have led the people to look for alternatives. While medicinal herbs may not be as strong or as fast acting as conventional medicine, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows their efficacy and in what doses.
They may have fewer side effects—While the side effects of any herbal medication depend on the herb in question, many have fewer side effects than conventional medicine. For example, St. John’s Wort, which is used for mild to moderate depression, has fewer side effects than most other prescriptive anti-depressants.
There is a choice on how to use them—Medicinal herbs can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the kind of herb that is to be used. Some herbs can be mixed with food. Some can be made into tea, and there are some that are available in capsule or tablet form and still others can be dosed in a liquid form diluted in water to make them more palatable.
They are good for more than one condition—Most prescription drugs are designed for one specific health problem. By contrast, many herbal medicines act on several parts of the body at once. For example Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is good for circulatory disorders, but it also helps enhance memory.
Respiratory Problems—There are different varieties of medicinal herbs that can be used for respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, and others. Some medicinal herbs that can be used for respiratory problems, like ginkgo, can help people with asthma. Horehound is known for being an expectorant and is used to treat coughs. Dandelion can be used by people with bronchitis. Eucalyptus is popularly known to be good for loosening the phlegm and making it easier to breathe. Thyme can be used as a cough remedy, and there are more medicinal herbs that can be used for different respiratory problems.
Skin problems—Some medicinal herbs can be made into creams and salves, which can be used to help heal many skin problems like psoriasis, acne, burns, rashes, and others. Some medicinal herbs that can help with skin conditions are allspice, aloe, basil, mint, and turmeric.
Cancer—There some medicinal herbs that can help in preventing and slowing the growth of certain cancer cells in the body. Dandelion and garlic are examples of herbs that can help in preventing cancer. Fennel and anise are said to be good at fighting the development of prostate cancer. It is said that ginseng can help patients who are undergoing radiation therapy for cancer.
Side Effects While medical herbs are generally good for the body because they can be used for many health conditions, there are some side effects that are associated with using them.
Allergic reactions—Like any drug, herbal medications affect the body and so can cause an allergic reaction. And some herbs may cause allergic reactions when taken together with conventional drugs. Some may be toxic if used improperly or at high doses, so always work with a properly trained herbalist.
Not regulated—Unlike medical drugs, medicinal herbs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, they are considered dietary supplements under the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Although their dietary supplement status means that they can be sold without being tested to prove they are safe and effective, there are a growing number of studies that look at the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines. That is why it is always recommended to work with a trained and experience herbalist.
Can Interact with drugs—The effects of medicinal herbs can interact with medical drugs. It may heighten the effect of the conventional medicine, negate it, or even cause it to become dangerous. It’s important to tell your doctor that you are using herbal or naturopathic medicines, especially if you are taking any prescriptions.
It can make other health conditions worse or cause other unwanted conditions—There are some medicinal herbs that can make other health conditions worse, like Tarragon, which should not be used by people who have had any form of cancer. Mistletoe should never be used by pregnant women because it may cause a miscarriage.
Medicinal herbs can be a good alternative for many diseases and conditions. They are low cost, and tend to have fewer side effects. Moreover, they can be bought in health food shops, pharmacies, and on-line without the need for a prescription. However, herbal medicines can still have unwanted health effects, especially when used in combination with other drugs.
If you are using more than one herbal medicine, or using them for a serious condition, it’s best to consult with a an established herbalist. It’s also important to tell your physician that you are using an alternative medicine to prevent drug interaction.
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