Lets start with a brief history of herbal medicine. The first evidence we have of the use of herbal medicine is from Egypt in around 2000 B.C.
From there it spread both East, into spiritual medicines like Ayurveda, and West, where it is still gaining in popularity even now. It is estimated that 80% of world uses some form of herbal medicine today.
Herbal medicine has continuously grown since those times, but benefited particularly from the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. From this point on, recipes and remedies were easily available to more than just doctors. Famous herbalists included the Chinese author Chung Yun (who died in 1933 after supposedly using herbs to live 256 years!).
These days herbal medicine is marketed aggressively across the world, so it’s a good time to take a look at why this is, and what advantages herbal medicine can offer over prescription drugs.
The first point to make is that roughly half of today’s prescription and over-the-counter medicines are derived from plants. New drugs don’t just get created in the lab. Scientists trawl through jungles, rivers, wetlands and any other natural habitat they can find, looking for a new compound to test against all the sample viruses and bacteria they keep for this purpose.
In other words, natural medicine really is the basis for modern medical practice, just a few steps back along the line of development. The difference is that you are taking a 100% natural product, rather than one that has been processed in a lab and lost much of its goodness along the way.
Secondly, herbal medicine has gone through the most rigorous clinical trial imaginable! After thousands of years of regular use by a cross-section of the population, it’s safe to say that any side effects or interactions have been well documented and explored.
Compare this to a typical 10 week clinical trial, commissioned by a pharmaceutical company desperate to bring its new drug to market, that will often take no heed of longer term effects.
Lastly, remember that natural supplements often bring other benefits beyond what you strictly expect. For example, you might take feverfew to give relief from a migraine, then find that your stomach upset has also disappeared. These dual effects are what makes herbology so interesting.
Additionally, many herbs contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that your body desperately needs. Needless to say, it’s far better to get your Recommended Daily Amount from a natural plant or herb than from a manufactured supplement.
The arguments against using herbal remedies are also worth looking at. It is true that they offer little statutory protection, because many are not regulated by the FDA like drugs are.
For this reason we would always recommend to check with your doctor before starting any herbal treatment. It is also important to read the label and see what precautions the manufacturer is recommending.
Secondly, one of the reasons that prescription drugs can be so strong and effective is that the pharmaceutical companies have isolated the active ingredients in the herb or plant. In other words you are getting exactly what you need and nothing more.
Herbalists would say that this misses the point, because it is the interaction of all the parts of the herb that results in its power as a remedy. Isolating the active ingredient eliminates vitamins, minerals and other substances that may work in support of the active ingredient. Why change something that has worked for thousands of years?
In conclusion though, there is certainly room in medicine for both traditional herbal remedies and modern drugs. When a severe illness takes hold, the strength of modern medicine cannot be doubted. For milder, long-term complaints however, patients may find that herbal remedies can be a useful supplement to the recommendations of their doctor.