Herbs have been used to promote health and wellness for several thousand years. Herbology is the study of combining medicinal herbs. Medicinal herbs are used to prevent and treat diseases and ailments or to promote health and wellness. Medicinal prescriptions are based on specific combinations of herbs meant for an individual.
As much as 80% of the world's population uses herbs in one way or another. In fact, the use of herbs for treatment and illness is more common in developing countries versus developed countries. In China, traditional Chinese medicine has been used as a primary form of medicine for over 2,500 years. In fact, the Chinese consider the balance and interaction of herbal ingredients as more important that the effects produced by the individual herbs. In India, herbs are used as part of Ayuvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years.
In the U.S. about 25% of prescription drugs sold in the United States are plant based. Examples of these medicines include aspirin from willow bark (Salix species) and digitalis from foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). In a recent survey conducted, herbs or use of natural products other than vitamins and minerals were the most commonly used complementary alternative medicine.
Usually, the green leafy part of a herb is used for culinary purposes while the shrub or other woody plant is used for its medicinal properties. Herbs may be used fresh, dried, powdered or crushed. They may be used in extracts, teas, tinctures or as poultices or compresses.
Here are some examples of popular herbal medicine used for health and wellness:
- Ginseng to increase stamina and as a mild sedative,
- St-John’s wort for mild depression.
- Echinacea aid the immune system and alleviate colds.
- Black Cohash for relieving menopausal symptoms.
- Ginkgo biloba to improve short-term memory.
- Peppermint tea for relieving irritable bowel syndrome and nausea.
However, please note that all herbs are not necessarily “safe”, though many people equate them to be so. In fact, over the years, many plants have developed chemical defence properties against predators. These properties can have adverse effects on humans. Examples of such herbs include poison hemlock and nightshade, both of which can be deadly. Other problems associated with the use of herbal medicine are the lack of control over dosage and purity.
In addition, herbs are subject to misuse due to manufacturers taking advantage of loopholes by FDA regulation. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, had in 1994 passed that herbs be reclassified as dietary supplements rather than food additives. This meant that herbal preparations are not as highly regulated and while manufacturers are not allowed to make claims that their products "diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease," they are likewise not required to disclose potential allergens or drug interactions.
Misuse and overuse of herbs can cause problems ranging from diarrhea to serious medical complications. Herbal supplements have a reputation for causing few side effects, but even in average doses, herbs such as ginkgo and St. John's Wort can interfere with blood thinners and MAO inhibitors.
Nevertheless, there are countless herbs that are safe and that have effectively promoted health and wellness. They provide a natural alternative to the treatment and prevent of disease and illness, without one having to resort to drugs or even surgery.
Those wishing to use herbal remedies should first consult with a professional practitioner. Some herbal remedies can have potent results when used in combination with various prescription and OTC drugs. As a result, it is best that the practitioner also have good knowledge of pharmaceuticals for a proper recommendation of which herbs are safe for combination.
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