The pace of development and production of chemically synthesized drugs has transformed health care in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. However, vast swaths of the developing world still rely on traditional, herbal medicines for their primary care. In India, Japan, Korea, and countries across Africa, hundreds of millions of people depend on traditional medicine for their health care needs.
One of the goals of the Naturopathic doctors at Balanced Care is to convey that using herbs is a safe, effective way to alleviate a variety of health conditions or to maintain your health. As with any medication, though, you should make sure that you understand the effects of using herbal medicine by getting information from reliable sources. Further, take the time to make your health care provider aware of any herbal medicines you’re considering or taking.
Use of Herbs in History
Barbara Griggs writes in her seminal work, the well-received Green Pharmacy: The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine, a plethora of evidence points out that humans have, since prehistoric times, been using herbal medicine to treat and manage an array of ailments. One example comes from a 60,000-year-old grave of a Neanderthal man buried in what is now Iraq, where a series of pollen analyses of the plants found in the grave with the corpse indicated that they all possessed medicinal value.
Blurring the Lines between Food and Medicine
Herbal medicine, known alternatively as herbalism or botanical medicine, is not a licensed medical profession in the U.S., yet it is a revered and closely followed medical system based on the ingestion or topical applications of plants or plant extracts.
Although herbal remedies do not have licenses in the U.S., healthcare practitioners of all persuasions and disciplines recommend healing with botanicals such as concentrated extracts, tinctures, tablets, capsules, teas, and more as practical ways to manage a vast array of medical conditions.
People all around the world use herbal medicine to treat illnesses, address mental conditions, and assist in bodily functions. Unlike here in the U.S., many cultures believe that there is no distinction between natural foods and medicines, and they use herbs and spices as natural ways to prevent diseases by taking advantage of the curative powers within.
For instance, it’s believed that one reason elderly Indians have one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world is due to the everyday use of the yellow spice turmeric in their ubiquitous curry dishes.
What Types of Conditions Do Herbal Medicines Address?
You may be surprised to know that herbal medicine has been used to treat or correct a host of medical conditions. Here is a small list of common herbs and the conditions they address:
- Aloe – minor burns, sunburns, skin irritation/inflammation
- Arnica – bruises, sprained/sore muscles, and joints
- Tea tree oil – Athlete’s foot, fungal infections of toenails and fingernails
- Comfrey – bedsores, diabetic ulcers, some spider bites, and staph infections
- Ingested Applications
- Chamomile – ase a tea for upset stomach, heartburn, and indigestion
- Ginseng – for overall health and stamina
- Echinacea – for colds, flu, and sore throats
- Garlic – for blood pressure, treat fungal infections, and colds
- Ginger – for inflammation, nausea, and motion sickness
- Peppermint – for indigestion, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestive or intestinal ailments
- Turmeric – for protecting against inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease
- Coca leaf – general gastrointestinal problems, including both constipation and diarrhea
The Benefits of Herbal Medicine
People all over the world continue to use herbal medicine due to its variety of benefits, which include:
- Affordability (especially compared to prescription medicine)
- Ability to stabilize hormones and metabolism
- Capacity to strengthen the immune system
- Natural, versatile healing powers
- Ease of access (especially compared to prescription medicine)
- An array of chemical compounds with therapeutic effects
- Fewer side effects
A significant number of medicinal plants contain myriad chemical compounds that have versatile therapeutic powers. The whole coca leaf is the most prominent medicinal plant for Andean Indians, who use it to treat the opposite conditions diarrhea and constipation.
This treatment of opposite maladies is possible coca contains 14 bioactive alkaloids; some restrict gut activity, while others help stimulate it. When ingested, coca naturally biosynthesizes with the body to naturally address the problem via receptors in intestinal tissues that bind to the alkaloids necessary for the body to regain its balance.
Final Thoughts on Herbal Medicine
As with any medication your health practitioner recommends or prescribes, you should make sure you be careful. Be careful not to mix herbs that have similar actions or to combine herbs with other medicines.
For example, if you’re taking an anticoagulant, you should avoid ginkgo, which is a natural blood thinner. Valerian, an herb used as a sedative, should not be mixed with prescription sleeping pills.
For pregnant women, it’s advised that you avoid nearly all herbs, particular in the first trimester, unless one recommended by your healthcare provider; nursing mothers should do the same for the first 4-6 months of your baby’s life. Finally, be careful about which herbal medications you’re thinking about giving your kids, as what’s safe for you as an adult may not be so for a child.
If you’re ever in doubt, check with your practitioner or pharmacist about the interactions of herbs with herbs and herbs with drugs.
To Learn More about Herbal Medicine, Contact the Professionals at Balanced Care
At Balanced Care, we know that health and wellness is your primary concern. As experts in holistic health, it’s ours, too. That’s why we strive to provide you with a comfortable, informative experience that helps you naturally address your medical condition or concerns and reach your health goals.
It’s important to note that herbal medicine is at its most effective when implemented as part of a natural treatment program that includes regular exercise, dietary modification, and stress reduction, all directed toward your health and healing.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled specialists, who can help you develop a plan consisting of diet, herbal medications, and more to help improve your health and reach your wellness goals.
When you focus on the principles of healthy living, disease prevention, and leveraging your body’s natural healing powers, you’ll have a healthier, more satisfying life!