Herbal Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide

herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is the use of plant-derived medicines that treat a range of illnesses and conditions. This alternative form of treatment has many benefits to the user and the obvious advantage of being all natural, but just how useful is it? We explore the traditional use of herbal medicine and how it has progressed to today.

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The power of plants is no doubt phenomenal, as they can be used for everything from eating for dinner to cleaning our homes. The most powerful use of plants, however, is with herbal medicine, where a part or whole of the plant is used to treat various medical conditions and improve health.

Herbal medicine is by no means a new phenomenon with thousands of years of history behind it. In this day and age as we look for more natural solutions to our health and wellness problems, it’s certainly been picking up in popularity.

There are many different forms of herbal medicines including capsules, teas, and powders, each designed to heal a number of conditions. Both mental and physical health can be treated with herbal medicine, but there are risks involved that mean you should never attempt to treat yourself without some background knowledge and expert advice.


What is Herbal Medicine?


Herbal medicine is a broad spectrum of medicine that involves hundreds of different plants and species. According to the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, 11 per cent are exclusively plant derived. It is the hope of those who research herbal medicine that much more will be added to the list as well.

A general description of herbal medicine is the study of the therapeutical and medicinal use of plants. This can encompass everything from a cup of green tea to a herbal leaf extract designed to target gastrointestinal problems. It is believed that over a quarter of the drugs prescribed around the world are actually derived from plants, so it may be more popular than you think.

These naturally occurring substances are derived from plants and over thousands of years have been used to treat medical problems, aid mental wellbeing, and perform cultural healing processes. Although herbal medicine has a strong historical use, it is a popular alternative method today for those who wish to stay away from harmful drugs and medicines that are often over-prescribed.


The History Behind Herbal Medicine


When you look back into the history of almost every culture on earth, you’re likely to see some form of herbal medicine at work. Herbalism is closely tied with the rest of medicine’s history as well as the history of food, and it has played a significant role in both areas.

Plant-derived medicines and treatments have been used for over 5,000 years, with pathological reports stating that records of humans using medicinal plants dates back as far as 60,000 years. Ancient Egypt, India, China, Greece, and Rome are just a few of the civilizations that have a long history using herbal medicine, and it’s one that continues in the western world today as well.


Common Forms of Herbal Medicine


One of the biggest benefits to herbal medicine is that there are so many methods you can try to reap the benefits. If you have a particular aversion to drinking a tea or taking a capsule, there’s usually an alternative you can try. Here are some of the most reliable and safe forms of herbalism.

Herbal Teas

There are two types of herbal teas including a decoction which includes the boiling of tougher parts of a plant and infusions that are made with leaves flowers and stems. Popular types of herbal teas include mint, green, and chamomile.

Herbal Tinctures

Alcohol is used to soak parts of the plant which creates a potent tincture. The alcohol helps to remove the herb’s medicinal ingredients and preserve them.

Fluid extracts

These are similar to herbal tinctures but usually stronger. A fluid extract is also made with alcohol and sometimes glycerine, and can include licorice and Hawthorne.

Capsules and tablets

Dried plants and herbs are used to make capsules and tablets. These are ideal for taking regular doses of medicine and can make it easier to ingest without the powerful smell or taste.

Herbal ointments

Another word for salve, herbal ointments are made to be applied topically and usually used for sores or other skin conditions. They might be thick like a paste or more greasy, and are mixed with olive oil, beeswax, or vegetable oil as their base.

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This form of herbal medicine is intended to be consumed, usually with a more potent taste and smell than other forms. Although they can be potent, they are a great way of getting the medicine directly and having it work more effectively.


Herbal poultices

This refers to a bunch of herbs and plants that have been crushed together to form a pulpy mass. They are best used for skin conditions and applied directly to the affected area.

Essential oils

Plant-based oils including lavender, tea tree, and bergamot are all popular scents used in aromatherapy and massage. Each oil has its own special purpose and can be used to treat both mental and physical conditions.


What Can Be Treated With Herbal Medicine?


One thing that makes herbal medicine so astounding is its ability to usually treat more than just one ailment. When compared to drugs and other harsh medicines, the natural remedies usually work for a number of conditions which makes them even more appealing. These are the common areas that herbal medicine works with.

Cardiovascular

Herbs like garlic are great for heart disease, as is kelp and alfalfa.

Mental health

A number of herbal medicines are helpful with mental health and wellness, and can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.

Respiratory problems

Issues with breathing can be helped using herbal teas, aromatherapy, and capsules.

Skin issues

When applied directly to the skin or ingested, herbs are used for conditions like eczema and hydration.

Digestive problems

Any upsets in the stomach, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and more can be treated with herbal medicine.

Generally speaking, if you have a health issue or ailment you can find a herbal remedy that might be able to help out. People these days tend to prefer the herbal solution first without reaching for prescription medicines or invasive surgeries, and there’s usually an effective option available.


The Benefits of Herbal Medicine


Botanical medicine has a number of benefits for the user, provided you are follow a professionally instructed health plan and sticking to the recommended doses. Here are just a few reasons why people might prefer the herbal approach when it comes to their medicine.

Affordable

Plant-based medicines are usually affordable when compared to prescription drugs and can be used in a number of ways.

Easier to access

Compared to needing prescriptions or drug stores, using herbal medicines can be a lot easier for the average person to get.

Fewer side effects

Although there are some possible side effects with any type of medicine, the risk of side effects when using the right herbal medicines is lower.

Choice in how to use them

There are teas, tablets, tinctures, and aromatherapy options for your herbal medicines so you can choose which method suits best.


The Risks of Herbal Medicine


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People often assume that because herbal medicine is natural that it’s always going to be safe, but the reality is very different. There are plants and herbs out there with the potential to be harmful and even fatal, so it’s essential to consult a professional when you’re using this type of treatment.

Recent studies by professors at Baylor College have even called the herbal medicine trend a “global health hazard” as people are using their own judgement to treat themselves with these potentially powerful medicines. Therefore, it’s crucial to follow the guidance of an expert and never try to concoct your own herbal remedies without doing some serious research.


A Natural Approach to Your Health Problems


Herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years and it’s a natural remedy that only continues to be proven more effective as time goes on. If you’re suffering from any health condition whether it’s physical or mental, there’s usually a natural and less harmful way of treating it with herbal medicine.

As with any type of medicine, you should never take anything without speaking to a health professional first. Just because herbal medicines are natural it doesn’t mean there aren’t potential side effects, so don’t assume that it will all be safe to take.

With a quarter of all medicines prescribed these days being plant-derived, it’s clear to see that herbal medicines are the way of the future. They’re healthier, more affordable, and easier to use, so there’s no reason why its popularity won’t continue to grow in coming years.

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