Herbal Medicine: An Ancient, Effective Healing Art

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Herbal Medicine: Article

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Herbal medicine is the use of plant materials to enhance well being and treat disease. Today, tribes all over the world are still using their herbal concoctions, which have been past down through the generations.

Herbal medicine


Herbal Medicine: An Ancient, Effective Healing Art That's Still Relevant Today


Danny T. Siegenthaler


Herbal medicine is arguably the oldest form of medicine and has been used by man for millennia.

Herbal medicine is the use of plant materials to enhance well being and treat disease. Today, tribes all over the world are still using their herbal concoctions, which have been past down through the generations.

Herbal substances have been used for hunting, as many herbs such as curare can be lethal and can quickly kill pray, as well as for healing purposes when disease strikes.

Herbs are used as medicines for both man and beast, they are used to flavour food, enhance taste and are common ingredients in natural skin care products, soaps, potpourris, ointments, food and many other areas of human life.

Animals too selectively eat plants instinctively to treat themselves. Cats for example will eat grasses if they have fur balls. Similarly, dogs will do the same if they have an upset digestive system.

Up until about 200 years ago, before western medicine was conceived of, herbal remedies where the only medicine available to man for treatment of illnesses and diseases. The Chinese and Egyptians developed traditional systems of medicine (Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, respectively) which incorporate a systematic approach to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Since the early 19th century, methods of chemical analysis became more sophisticated and chemists began making their own synthetic versions of the ingredients originally found in herbs, beginning the transition from raw herbs to synthetic pharmaceuticals.

Today, pharmaceutical companies are still heavily researching herbs/plants for ‘new medicines’ that may prove useful in treating many of today’s diseases, for which orthodox medicine has little or no answers.

Since the advent of drug manufacture, users of pharmaceutical drugs have increasingly experienced more and more side-effects as well as resistance to these modified forms of medications.

This begs the question, why try to fix something, when it’s not broken? Herbal medicine is working as well today as it has for hundreds of years and with respect to side-effects, herbal medicine causes far fewer adverse reactions and related health problems than their synthetic counterparts. In addition, herbal medicines are more easily tolerated because the constituents are not of a synthetic type, which are known to have potential long term, irreversible side effects.

This is not to say that taking any old herb is safe, far from it. Herbal medicines need to be treated with great respect and due diligence, as they too can cause harm if not used appropriately. However, herbal medicines in general do not pose the same risks of side-effects or adverse reactions as their synthetic counterparts. The human metabolism is designed to metabolise naturally occurring substances, and is not always able to metabolise synthetic drugs fully, potentially causing a myriad of health problems and occasionally deadly side-effects.

There have been many very good, authoritative books written on herbal medicine. The Little Doctor (Der Kleine Doktor) by Alfred Vogel, a very famous Swiss Naturopath/Herbalist is just one such book. It contains information on the traditional uses of a wide variety of medicinal plants that have been used for centuries, as well as practical information on how to make use of plants that are growing in your backyard.

Similarly, an Australian herbalist, Dorothy Hall, has written many books on the topic of herbal medicine and other aspects of natural medicine. Dorothy Hall and Alfred Vogel were long-term friends, before Alfred died, and shared many philosophies in common. Both believe in utilising nature’s pharmacy to treat diseases and maintain a healthy mind body and spirit.

Maurice Mességué, a famous French herbalist, is another ‘prophet’ of herbs and their application in the treatment of many diseases. His father taught him herb lore and he developed the practice of herbal medicine throughout his life, which he describes in his book “Of People & Plants”.

An interesting insight into the conflicting philosophies between modern synthetic pharmacology and traditional herbal medicine is carefully analysed and discussed in “Green Pharmacy” by Barbara Griggs. She also illuminates her readers about the key role herbal medicine still plays in today’s pharmaceutical industry.

Herbal medicine is far more than just a drinking a cup of chamomile tea at night to help induce sleep. It is a complete system of medicine with roots dating back as far as mankind itself. Choosing a good, qualified medical herbalist can present a challenge however, as this profession is not well regulated in many countries.

It is important therefore to make sure that the herbalist you seek is a member of a professional association. In Australia there are several associations such as ANTA (Australian Natural Therapies Association), ATMS (Australian Traditional Medicine Society), and others. Europe, Canada and the US also have professional associations that will be able to help in finding a qualified, reputable medical herbalist.

It is important to take time and care in choosing an experienced herbal medicine practitioner who is qualified and recognised by his/her peers through membership of a recognised association.

© Wildcrafted Herbal Products, 2006

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