Herbalism is the study of botany and the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Dating back millennia, herbal medicine is the oldest system of medicine in the world today. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on doctor prescribed medicines, many people are choosing to treat symptoms, sickness, aches, and pains naturally rather than introducing man-made medicines into their bodies. Whether they are looking for cost savings, abundant supply, or avoidance of potential allergic reactions to the chemicals used in synthetic drugs, savvy consumers are opting for nature over chemistry.
Herbal medicine is increasingly being validated by scientific investigation which seeks to understand the active chemistry of the plant. Many modern pharmaceuticals have been modeled on, or derived from chemicals found in plants. For example, digoxin, a medication used to treat various heart conditions, was first isolated in 1930 from the foxglove plant (Digitalis purpurea). Before you decide to alter any existing courses of treatment, consider first the pros and cons of plant based medicines.
Advantage 1 – Natural Ingredients
You could be treating disease every day and not even be aware of it! For lowering blood sugar and reversing insulin resistance there’s arguably no better natural treatment than adding turmeric into your diet. Chamomile tea is ingested for upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion and colic, and salicylic acid, found in willow bark, is used most commonly to help remove the outer layer of the skin. As such it is used to treat warts, psoriasis, dandruff, acne, ringworm, and ichthyosis.
Companies that bring you herbal medicines only make use of natural ingredients for their products. There are, however, many ways to prepare herbal medicines including:
- Herbal teas
- Infusion – hot water extracts made from herbs with medicinal constituents in their flowers, leaves and stems such as chamomile, mint, green and black tea among others.
- Decoction – boiling tougher parts of plants, such as roots or bark, for a longer period of time such as ginger or cinnamon tea.
- Herbal Tinctures – made by soaking a plant, or parts of a plant, in alcohol
- Capsules/Tablets – made from dried, powdered herbs that are packed into tablets or gelatin capsules
- Extracts – stronger than herbal tinctures, are thicker than a liquid, and can be made with alcohol or glycerin
- Juices – prepared by crushing the plant into juice
- Herbal Poultices – used externally to treat affected areas, they are generally prepared fresh for each use by crushing the medicinal parts of the plants to a pulpy mass
- Herbal Ointments/Salve – semi-solid preparation made to be applied to the skin
- Essential Oils – extractions of volatile liquid plant materials and other aromatic compounds from plants
Advantage 2 – Cost-Effective Solution
Americans seem to believe in alternative medicine, shelling out more than $21 billion in 2015 alone on vitamins and herbal supplements. One reason for this is also another advantage of herbal products: their price. They are a lot cheaper compared to synthetic medicines commonly prescribed by doctors today. In fact, low-budget consumers are opting for this solution to their health problems in order to get as much savings they can get to address their health-related concerns. For example, Oxycodone is a pain reliever, a strong opioid painkiller meant primarily for the relief of moderate and severe pain. A prescription of 30 20mg tablets can cost as much as $38.00, or $1.27/tablet. Feverfew, a member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, stomachaches, and toothaches. Nowadays it’s also used for migraines and rheumatoid arthritis. 60 Capsules of Nature’s Way Feverfew 415mg costs $5.68, or $.09 cents/capsule.
The reason why alternative herbal medicines are cheaper is because of their ingredients, or rather the lack thereof. No expensive chemicals are used in the formulation of the medicine and the ingredients can be grown almost anywhere under the right conditions.
Advantage 3 – No Allergic Reactions
What’s the last thing the doctor asks you before you leave his office? “Are you allergic to any medicines?” Why? Because all medications have the potential to cause side effects. But only about 5 to 10% of adverse reactions to drugs are allergic. Penicillin and other similar antibiotics are the drugs most people are allergic to.Other medicines commonly found to cause allergic reactions include sulfa drugs, barbiturates, anti-seizure drugs, and insulin.
Since the ingredients are 100% natural, you don’t have to be uber-watchful about your natural medicines causing allergic reactions that will compromise your health. Be mindful of what you are allergic to and keep away from it! With a list of ingredients that are easily read, this is easier to do with natural medicines.
As with any regimen change, it would be best to have a doctor look at the herbal medicine you plan to use and undergo a serious of laboratory exams to determine that your system is compatible with it. Even if the product worked for some, there are no guarantees that it will have the same effect when you take it yourself.
But Be Mindful….
With all the advantages stated above in the use of herbal medicines as a treatment method, you might conclude that there are no complications when taking these medicines. This is a common misconception that often leads to additional health-related problems.
Just because there are no synthetic ingredients, doesn’t mean there are no allergens. The Asteraceae are a group of flowering plants with over 20,000 species worldwide. Exposure to these plants is not only common; it is inevitable. They occur worldwide, and are found in gardens, roadsides and wilderness; they account for 10% of all flowering plants. The most familiar are the cultivated flowering species such as chrysanthemums, dahlias, sunflowers, marigolds, safflower and daisies. Edible plants such as lettuce, safflower, chicory and artichoke are also in the Asteraceae family. Less well known are weeds such as Ambrosia (ragweed) species, Artemisia (mugwort, sagebrush, wormwood) species, Parthenium (feverfew). Some Asteraceae are used as herbal medicines, including Echinacea, dandelion, chamomile, feverfew, milk thistle and wormwood.
Asteraceae may cause contact allergic dermatitis. Echinacea, daisies, chrysanthemum, chamomile, tansy, dandelion, feverfew and sunflowers have all been associated with contact allergy in gardeners and florists. Similar symptoms may be triggered by plant extracts in cosmetics, shampoos and massage oils. Contact with airborne plant-derived allergens can also trigger rashes. The exposed areas of the face, eyelids, sides of neck and “V” area of the neck are mainly affected.
Again, it is important to be cognizant of what you are allergic to before you take any herbal medicines! As with any course of medicine, proper formulation and dosage is necessary for safe use. To avoid toxicity, consumers are urged to follow the dosage indicated on the label of the herbal medicine or to consult a health expert or your family doctor to safely determine the proper usage of the product. Good luck and good health!