Most people either think herbal medicines are useless or use them in the same way as drugs.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “What is the best herb for headaches?” over the past 25 years since I first started in the natural health field. My answer is always the same: “That depends on whether your headaches are a symptom of stress, neck tension or misalignment, anxiety, excessive radiation from computer work or television, liver problems, gallbladder problems, blood sugar fluctuations, neurotoxic chemicals in your food, head trauma, chemicals in your home or office, or other factor.” I think you get the point. To help aid in the understanding of herbal medicines, here are 11 things you need to know about these powerful but misunderstood natural healers:
Herbal medicines work.
Just ask the billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies that are getting rich scouring the earth for new plant compounds they can extract, synthesize, patent and then manufacture into so-called wonder drugs.
There are thousands of studies documenting the efficacy of herbal medicines from around the globe for many common or serious health conditions. I pore through dozens of studies every day so I’m always amazed when someone who has no training or background in herbal medicines says “They don’t work” or “I don’t believe in herbs.” Believe in herbs? People were more knowledgeable about the medicinal potency of herbs in the Dark Ages than in modern times if they are still uttering these ignorant words.
Herbal medicines tend to be safer than pharmaceuticals.
In the process of separating out plant compounds from the essential nutrients and other beneficial substances found naturally alongside the original compound in plants, and then attempting to re-create these naturally occurring compounds in the laboratory—the list of side effects tends to grow. When used correctly in the correct form, most herbal medicines have an extensive history of safety.
Herbal medicines tend to be an affordable option.
Herbal medicine is the ultimate in sustainable medicine.
It is a local option that is readily available to people around the world, no matter how remote their communities may be. While some of the indigenous wisdom of herbal use may have been lost in some places, the plants still exist. Only in relatively recent times have we lost touch with these ancient healing agents in favor of drugs.
Most herbs contain dozens and sometimes hundreds of healing compounds.
These compounds tend to work best and cause the fewest side effects when used in synergy. As a result it is almost always better to take herbal medicines that use the whole, medicinal parts of the plant, such as teas or tinctures (alcohol extracts) rather than a single compound isolated in a laboratory.
Herbal medicines and pharmaceuticals may interact.
After all, they are both medicines. So, it’s important to check with your doctor or qualified herbalist before taking both.
Herbs used in cooking retain their benefits.
Many people classify herbs as either culinary or medicinal, but in reality there is a tremendous amount of crossover. In other words, many of the herbs we regularly use for cooking also have great healing properties, and vice versa.
Herbs should not be used in the same way drugs are used.
In the pharmaceutical world, the idea is to take this drug for this symptom. Herbs work on a holistic level: they strengthen the body from the inside out. So, they may take longer to notice the improvement of symptoms, but that is simply because they are going to the source of the problem first, not just slapping a Band-Aid-type solution to a symptom or set of symptoms.
Always make sure you are using the correct plant.
There are a variety of herbs referred to as oregano, for example, so always make sure that you know the scientific name of the plant you are interested in using for medicinal purposes. That way, you’ll ensure greater efficacy and safety.
Always be sure to use the correct part of the plant.
Some plant parts may be toxic if used internally. For some plants the roots are the medicinal part while for others it may be the leaves, flowers or seeds. It is best to refer to a reputable guidebook or site that indicates the correct part of the plant to use prior to using herbal medicines.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking