Guide to herbal medicine

Introduction to herbal medicine

Using herbal medicine as an alternative to orthodox methods is becoming more and more popular but what are the benefits of using herbal medicine and is herbal medicine safe? To answer these questions about herbal medicine and many others here’s’s essential guide.

What is herbal medicine?

Herbal medicine is a complementary therapy that uses plants or plant extracts to treat illness. There are numerous herbal products available that claim to treat a wide range of problems, from depression to colds and flu. Many well-established medicines come from plants. For example, morphine comes from poppies, aspirin from willow bark, and digoxin (a treatment for an irregular heart beat) from foxgloves.

What is the purpose of herbal medicines?

Herbal practitioners believe that the delicate chemical balance of the whole herb is needed for greatest effect and to reduce potential side-effects. Different parts of the same plant, such as the flowers or seeds, can have very different actions. Herbal medicine is not about isolating the active ingredients from a plant, which is the way that conventional medicines are often derived.

Treatment may include advice about diet and lifestyle as well as herbal medicine. The medicines prescribed may well be made up of several different herbs, and will be tailored to individual needs, as the herbalist sees them.

They can come in a wide range of formulations - including syrups, tinctures, lotions, inhalations, gargles and washes.

Benefits of herbal medicines to the ative person

There are herbal medicines available that claim to treat almost any common complaint, but there is usually limited scientific evidence that these work. Some herbal treatments are more established and have undergone clinical testing. These include:

  • St John's wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression
  • Black cohosh for menopausal symptoms
  • Echinacea to reduce the symptoms of colds
  • Garlic to reduce blood cholesterol levels and potentially lower the risk of heart disease
  • Ginger to relieve nausea and vomiting
  • Ginkgo biloba to improve mental performance in people with Alzheimer's disease
  • Hawthorn berries for mild heart failure
  • Horse chestnut for chronic venous insufficiency
  • Saw palmetto for enlarged prostate
  • Arnica for external treatment of bruising

However, the herbal medicines that are not listed may also be effective. The evidence for these is conflicting and further studies are needed before we will be comfortable listing them here.

Are herbal medicines safe?

Although some herbal medicines, such as the ones listed, may be helpful for certain problems, this does not necessarily mean they are safe in all situations. Some herbs may interact with steroids or other drugs.

They should not be used during pregnancy. If you have heart disease such as angina, high blood pressure or glaucoma, herbal treatments should not be taken without supervision from a trained herbalist or a doctor.

Like any medicine, herbal remedies can have side-effects and may interact with other drugs. There have even been reports of fatal toxic effects with some herbal products, although this is rare. Consult a doctor and/or herbal practitioner, before making any changes in prescribed medications. Some herbal medicine practitioners work alongside doctors and some doctors are willing to refer their patients for a herbal medicine consultation.

Be aware; herbal medicines will also show up in drug tests.

Comments (1)

  • ianthomas87 'The information here on the herbal medicines is very informative and one must have to read it ,if he/she is interested in herbal remedies...I will surely share this post with my father who is very keen to know about herbal remedies.. Firm Breasts'

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