Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine still practiced today. Written records of Chinese herbal medicine date back many thousands of years and modern medicine still uses herbal extracts and other herbal preparations in their pharmaceutical drugs.
An Introduction To Herbal Medicine
The History of Herbal Medicine?
Medicinal plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. For example, ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal plant uses. Indigenous cultures (e.g., African and Native American) used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (e.g., Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used systematically. Scientists found that people is different parts of the globe tended to use the same or similar plants for the same purposes (UMM).
In the early 19th century, when methods of chemical analysis first became available, scientists began extracting and modifying the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their own version of plant compounds, beginning the transition from raw herbs to synthetic pharmaceuticals. Over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favour of pharmaceuticals.
Herbal Medicine Today
Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary healthcare. In the last twenty years in the United States, increasing public dissatisfaction with the cost, efficacy and potential of side-effect of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in the use of herbal medicines. In countries such as Germany and Switzerland, roughly 600 to 700 plant-based medicines are available are prescribed by approximately 70% of physicians.
How do Herbs Work?
For most herbs, used in herbal medicine, the specific ingredient that causes a therapeutic effect is not known. Whole herbs contain many ingredients, and it is likely that they work synergistically to produce the therapeutic effects. Many factors affect how effective an herb will be. For example, the type of environment (climate, bugs, soil quality, altitude, etc.) in which a plant grew will affect its constituents. In addition, how and when it was harvested and processed will also influence the quality of the resulting herbal extract.
How are herbs used?
For the reasons described in the previous section, herbalists prefer using plant extracts from the whole herb or various parts such as roots, flowers, seeds, etc., rather than extracting single active ingredients from them. Herbal extracts have many components and are usually too complex to manufacture synthetically by the pharmaceutical industry.
These components contained in medicinal herbs work together to produce therapeutic effects, while at the same time moderating potential side-effects often associated with pharmaceutical preparations. Several herbs are often used together to enhance effectiveness and synergistic actions and to reduce toxicity.
Are Herbal Medicines Safe?
In a study by the World Health Organization on the use of herbal medicine, about 80% of the world's population still rely on herbal medicine to treat certain ailments and about 74% of the pharmaceutical drugs we use today contain at least one botanical element.
For instance, Chinese Herbal Medicine's uses Ephedra, which contains ephedrine in the treatment of some respiratory conditions. Ephedrine remains an active ingredient in many pharmaceutical drugs being prescribed to relieve asthma symptoms.
Herbal medicine is defined by three schools of thought: Ayurvedic Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Herbalism and Western Herbal Medicine. While both Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine have moved on to advanced forms, western herbal medicine remains a part of folk treatments. Herbal medicine is, first and foremost, holistic. It aims to address not just a particular symptom, but also to help the whole body rejuvenate strengthen itself.
Research into herbal medicine is growing and evidence of efficacy is growing at a rapid rate. Universities such as the University of Meryland Medical Centre, are publishing good quality, researched information on herbal medicine, herbs and other aspects of alternative medicine.
Always keep in mind that herbal medicines are medicines and, therefore, need to be regarded with as much care as pharmaceutical drugs. Some people have the misconception that because herbal medicines are natural, they are 100% safe. This is not so. Always consult a fully qualified, experienced medical herbalist to have your health problems assessed and treated.
The Australian Traditional Medicine Society provides a list of qualified herbal medicine practitioners for hundreds of locations across Australia. You can easily find a qualified herbalist or Chinese medicine practitioner in your area.
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