Herbal remedies, western
Herbal remedies involve the use of plants as medicines to restore and maintain health. The origins of western herbal remedies are found in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. After the arrival ofColumbus, many New World plants became available to Europeans, and by the time of Henry VIII in England (1491-1547), a European medical system that blended plant use and astrology had developed.
For centuries, medicine in the West meant herbal remedies. During the late 20th century, modern medicine with its synthetic drugs and high technology became so dominant that herbal cures were almost totally eclipsed. However, at the turn of the millennium, herbal remedies were beginning to be accepted as being at least complementary to conventional medicine. Much of this renewed popularity is attributable not only to a belief in the effectiveness of herbals,but also because of herbal medicine's holistic emphasis, its respect for theindividual, and its emphasis on self-help.
Herbal medicine expresses great concern for the uniqueness of the individual.As a result, two people with the same medical condition may receive two verydifferent herbal prescriptions. Another difference from modern medicine is the makeup of herbal remedies: they are not just a single, chemical ingredient, but the entire plant, made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of different chemicals.
Herbal remedies must be treated with care, especially if combinations are taken. A qualified professional herbalist or naturopathic physician should consulted, since mainstream physicians only rarely prescribe herbal remedies. Certain insurance companies cover the cost of herbals, but only when prescribed by a healthcare professional.
Herbal remedies can be dangerous and must be treated with respect. Some of the most potent and toxic chemicals come from plants. Simply because somethingis described as "natural" does not mean that it cannot have serious side effects. While most commonly used herbal remedies are safe, it is best to obtainthe advice of a well-trained practitioner before using any plant-based medication that is not well known, especially since herbals may interact with conventional drugs. Further, it is important to use herbal remedies correctly andstick to the prescribed doses. It should also be recognized that the sale ofherbals in the United States is largely unregulated, and consumers cannot becertain of their quality.
The improper use of herbal remedies can bring unwanted and sometimes dangerous results. Some remedies are toxic when taken in high doses, or if taken by pregnant women or small children. Herbal remedies should never be substitutedin cases of severe, acute illness when rapid and strong-acting medicines arerequired, nor in cases of major physical injury when n surgery is necessary.Self-prescribing without consulting an herbal expert can be dangerous.
Many of modern medicine's standard pharmaceuticals were derived from plants.Aspirin, for example, came from the bark of the willow tree. Morphine and codeine are derived from the opium poppy. Chamomile and peppermintare recognized relaxants, and aloe effectively soothes skin problems. The heart drug digoxin comes from the common flower called foxglove. Tubocurarine,a powerful muscle relaxant, is derived from a South American plant containing curare. Cocaine comes from the cocoa plant, and the anti-malarial quinine is derived from the cinchona tree. Valerian has been helpful for insomnia, garlic has reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and St. John's wort has been shown to have powerful antiviral and antidepressive qualities. Herbal remedies are indeed chemicals in their natural state and should be regarded as dilute forms of drugs that can produce a biological effect.
Plant or herb remedies have shown to be particularly effective for skin conditions, such as eczema, for problems of digestion, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and for urinary conditions, like cystitis. What should not be expected, however, is for conditions to respond immediately as is sometimes the casewith modern synthetic drugs. Since herbal remedies attempt to treat the underlying condition or problem rather than the symptoms, individuals who take these natural remedies should not expect the symptoms to disappear until the basic underlying physical problem has responded to the herbal and been resolved.
The World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations estimates that as much as 80% of the world population relies on the use of various formsof traditional (herbal) medicine for its primary healthcare.
While herbal remedies in the United States demonstrated the beginnings of a real renaissance in the late 1990s, no such resurgence was necessary in Europe. There, herbal remedies have never really gone out of fashion. Still, even in countries with a strong herbal tradition, interest and actual use of herbalremedies has increased.
Despite this increase in attention, research, and use, herbal products sold in the United States remain largely unregulated, since they are considered tobe dietary supplements, and, therefore, are regarded as "food" rather than "drugs." For drugs to be sold, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to conduct lengthy studies to prove the safety and efficiency of both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. However, manufacturersof herbal remedies are held to no such rigorous standard. By placing herbalremedies in the same category as dietary supplements, like vitamins and minerals, the FDA effectively exempts them from having to berigorously tested. Further, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and EducationAct allows herbal manufacturers to make "limited claims" on their labels as long as they do not claim to "diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure a specific disease."