Herbal Medicine

Written by Lissa Reidel

Herbal medicine is the use of a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for healing and medicinal purposes. The scope of herbal medicine also includes fungal and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts. Herbs have been integral to both traditional and non-traditional forms of medicine dating back at least 5000 years. The enduring popularity of herbal medicines may be explained by the tendency of herbs to work slowly, usually with minimal toxic side effects. Herbs are becoming more mainstream as improvements in analysis and quality control, along with advances in clinical research reveal the value of herbal medicine in treating and preventing disease.

Plants have been used for healing and medicine before the advent of recorded history. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants as early as 3,000 BC. Indigenous cultures, such as African and Native American, used herbs in healing. Traditional medical systems, such as Ayurveda in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine prescribe herbs. Modern research reveals that people in different parts of the world use the same or similar plants for the same purposes.

Indigenous healers often claim to have learned by observing that sick animals change their food preferences to nibble at bitter herbs they would normally reject. Field biologists have provided corroborating evidence based on observation of diverse species, such as chickens, sheep, butterflies, and chimpanzee. Lowland gorillas take of part of their diet from the fruits of Aframomum melegueta, a relative of the ginger plant, that is a potent antimicrobial and apparently keeps shigellosis and similar infections at bay.

Herbalists must learn many skills, including the wildcrafting or cultivation of herbs, diagnosis and treatment of conditions or dispensing herbal medication, and preparations of herbal medications. Education of herbalists varies considerably in different areas of the world. Lay herbalists and traditional indigenous medicine people generally rely upon apprenticeship and recognition from their communities in lieu of formal schooling

In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to extractactive ingredients from plants. Chemists began making their own version of plant compounds. Eventually herbal medicines declined in favor of drugs. Almost one fourth of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from botanicals o.r herbs

Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 to 700 plant based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70% of German physicians. In the past 20 years in the United States, public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use.

About the author

Lissa Reidel

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