Herbs - Mother Nature's Medicine Cabinet
The medicinal values of plants were probably discovered eons ago by our forefathers through a process of trial and error. Throughout history cultures discovered what plants that were native to their regions assisted in the recovery process for specific maladies. The Plains people of North America used Purple Cone Flowers (Echinacea) to treat headaches and head colds, while the Choctaw combined mashed elder leaves and salt for the same symptoms. The Egyptians used mint to aid the digestive process, the juice of aloe vera to treat cuts and burns and garlic to maintain health. Incas used Peruvian Balsam as an antiseptic, both internally and externally. Chinese physicians used Dong Quai to assist women through menstrual cramps and menopause. It seemed that no matter where a group of people gathered there were native plants that could heal.
As trading developed between cultures, the local medicinal secrets of each region were shared with others. Europeans imported healing teas and herbs from China, India and other distant shores. Societies grew dependant on the plants that soothed our pain, healed our wounds or altered our feeling of well being. Until recently, herbalism was the only way to treat, cure or lessen the effects of diseases.
In the late 1800's modern science with its the knowledge of chemistry began examining and isolating the curative elements of botanical healers. The natural healing elements were then synthesized into chemicals which have become the mainstay of medical practices today. Have you ever taken an aspirin? Do you know it was created by first isolating the acetylsalicylic acid found in the bark of a willow tree and then duplicating those properties in a synthetic form?
The age of miracle drugs began in the early 1900's with the discovery of penicillin, cortisone and a wide rage of antibiotics. Pharmaceuticals became an international enterprise that raked in billions of dollars. As the drugs became more powerful, so did the side effects. New drugs have been developed to replace old drugs whose potency and effect on disease had mutated viruses and bacteria into new stronger strains.
That alone is a reason why many people have gone back to the tradition of using herbs rather than the chemical compounds created by science. When one asks why there is such a resurgence in herbalism, the answers are abundant, varied and depend on the person you ask. Cost has much to do with the rediscovered ancient form of healing. Even though herbal remedies are not generally covered by insurance, they are far less expensive than pharmaceuticals. Some people are fed up with lack of results or the side effects they have experienced while taking synthetics. Some people just want to feel more natural about their remedies or, if they are in good health, their preventative health care. Because of these concerns and issues raised by patients, scientific research has been conducted on many common herbs and some M.D.s and R.N.s are beginning to include herbs in their treatments. (see Scientific Analysis and the Benefit of Using Herbs)
Herbs are not drugs and are not regulated by the FDA. However, they are medicines and should not be thought of as a completely safe method of treatment. If herbs are treated as a medication, taken at the correct times, with proper doses, they can have a positive effect on an illness. But, because various herbs can interact with prescribed drugs, it is vital that you discuss the use of herbs with your primary health care provider.
If you are concerned about the use of plant medicines, make an appointment with an herbalist that can help you determine what it is you need. An herbalist can also direct you away from a number of herbs that are considered dangerous. (see More Harm Than Help?) It is also important to know what herbs will affect what illness and how. An example of the use of such knowledge is that people with Lupus, or other auto-immune disorders, should avoid Echinacea as the herb creates adverse reactions to the diseases. In this example an herbalist can be of great assistance in determining what might harm and will help.